It’s 5:30 on a warm, rainy July morning. Olu-Solo Leon meets his running partners outside to stretch and start their morning jog. They set out on the quiet streets of the Lower East Side, which will soon be bustling with people and cars. Everyone runs at a different pace but all are focused.
Leon runs fast, his strides long. This isn’t just exercise. Leon is running toward a better future.
He’s part of a running team from The Bowery Mission organized by the New York City chapter of Back on My Feet: a national non-profit that teaches independence and self-sufficiency within the homeless community through running.
Leon came to the United States from Jamaica at 22 to find better employment opportunities. Instead, he sold drugs and went to prison for six years on drug and weapons-related charges.
“I came home to nothing,” he said. “That’s how I became homeless.”
Leon, 31, runs with a group of 10 other homeless men from the mission and more than a dozen BoMF chapter volunteers. Their goal is to get back into the working world. Since joining the program, the men are more hopeful about achieving that goal.
Leon was released from prison in February. He learned about BoMF after he came to the mission in March and instantly believed it was his ticket to a better life.
“And as you say it really makes you be disciplined,” Leon said. “Because, in the working world you got to be disciplined. You got to show up on time, you got to do your job.”
The New York City chapter of BoMF, which launched in April, joined a network of eight other chapters across the nation, including the founding chapter in Philadelphia.
It partners with four other shelters in the city in addition to The Bowery Mission, including, Project Renewal, Common Ground, Camba and The Fortune Society.