In 1955, Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, led to a boycott of the city’s public transportation system. 381 days later, Montgomery’s buses were desegregated. Deo Kato used that historic number as the framework for Running for Justice, which he describes as “active activism.” He set a goal of running at least 10k per day for 381 days to raise awareness and campaign against racism. He achieved that last year, but kept going, and is still running for justice, peace, and equality.
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Deo was born in Uganda and moved to London with his family when he was 10 years old. He was very active as a child, but developed hypohidrosis, the inability to sweat, as a teenager. He was always at risk of overheating, so, he says, “going to university, going to work, going to do any activities like that, or daily things that any normal person would do, became extremely difficult.”
He consulted with numerous doctors, but none of them could help, so he resolved to cure himself. “I thought that running could aid in some kind of way, to force my body to sweat,” he explains. “That’s kind of a hunch I had: if I can force my body to sweat, I would be able to overcome this.” He started by running indoors, up and down the stairs of a three-story house. Eventually he was able to go outdoors. It was a slow process; it took years before he could run more than one kilometer. Now, over a decade later, he’s a trail runner, racing ultras.
Deo experienced racism when he arrived in the UK as a child, but, he says, it was “the recent experiences that have been happening from 2020, especially the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery that were the main catalyst to to bring the movement forward and say, ‘You know what, I’m gonna run 381 days, 10k, every single day and run for justice.” He had researched historical protests, to learn “how we could be able to change without being forceful, be more peaceful about things, and show, especially for my culture as Black and brown people, that we are more than just the color, that we have a lot more to offer to this world. That we’re not to be seen as a problem to society, as we’ve been portrayed in the media all the time.”
He could have chosen an easier distance to run, but he decided on 10k as “an example of the difficulty we have to go through to deal with issues and be able to overcome these issues. You go through difficulty and in the end you’ll be able to find a way through, even though you have to suffer, even though you have to deal with it every day, and every day you wake up and you say, ‘You know what, I don’t know if I can go through this today, but I have to do it. I’m gonna carry on. I’m gonna carry on today; I’m gonna carry on tomorrow. Let’s do this.’ Eventually you’re going to find a resolution and that’s what happened with the Montgomery bus company.”
It isn’t only the distance that has been a challenge. Deo is a passionate explorer, traveling to learn about himself, other people, and different cultures. That has meant that he often runs in areas that are predominantly white, and not only when he travels, but also at home. “I’ve lived in places where I’m the only black person in the area. So when I think about Ahmaud Arbery, and how he ended up losing his life, I think a lot that that could have been me.”
As dangerous as it can be for a Black man to simply be out running, Deo increases the risk by demanding equality as he runs. When he races, he explains, “I have a T-shirt, I have a banner, I have a sign calling out racism.” At the London Marathon, he ran with a Black Lives Matter sign. “Standing on that start line, for me personally, it’s very nerve wracking. It worries me a lot when I go on the start line and I have a sign and I’m a Black man calling out people who feel uncomfortable about racism.”
Deo emphasizes that Running for Justice is about running for peace and equality. “And when we talk about running for peace and equality, it’s not just about the Black people. Equality for all humans and nature and the environment and everything that surrounds that on this globe that we live on, on the planet. Equality matters to everybody. Equality is essential. And we tend to like put it in small pots, you know, like for Black people, for women, for LGBTQ+, but it’s for everybody.”
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“Thank you” to Deo. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.