Grady College doctoral student to lead panel at South by Southwest Interactive

Felicia Harris (MA '12), a doctoral student in the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will be a first-time presenter at the 2014 South by Southwest Interactive conference held March 7-11 in Austin, Texas.

Harris' session, “Hashtag Intervention: Why #BlackGirlsRun,” merges her research interests-black women's health and emerging media technology-as it explores how a culturally specific social media campaign has successfully contributed to the adoption of healthy behaviors offline.

Co-founded by Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey, Black Girls RUN! (BGR) encourages African-American women to prioritize fitness and healthy living. Since 2009, the organization has gained a massive presence on social media with nearly 21,000 followers on Twitter and over 99,000 likes on Facebook. It has also spawned a movement of more than 70 running clubs nationwide.

“Every single day black women are taking their first steps, actually hitting the pavement,” said Harris, BGR researcher and enthusiast. “It went from this cyberspace movement to something that is very real, where women can actually meet up and go running together.”

As the panel's moderator, Harris will engage the audience with questions. She will also summarize trends exhibited by BGR that have the potential to drive future health movements.

“That's why we wanted to take the conversation to a place where there are a lot of forward-thinkers,” Harris said. “They can hear it, see what's happening and try to replicate it.”

She will be joined by Hicks, chief visionary officer for BGR, and Carey, the organization's chief pavement officer.

Harris began tracking the hashtag #blackgirlsrun for a class project in summer 2013 by mapping Twitter conversations and following Facebook. Feeling inspired, Harris began her transition from an outside observer to an active BGR participant.

“I slowly but surely became a runner, and that was my conversion to healthy behaviors,” she recalled. “I have been able to feel that sense of connection and social support by being connected to the BGR Facebook page or following a conversation with a hashtag on Twitter and joining in from the confines of my own home.”

In hopes of distinguishing her panel pitch from thousands of entries, Harris authored a detailed proposal that included specific research questions and thorough descriptions of each of the panel's presenters. She also produced a YouTube video to explain the session's relevance.

Her panel was chosen based on a combination of public votes and decisions by South by Southwest advisory board members and staff.

Though it will be the first time Harris will present at the conference, she has attended twice before, each time returning with valuable takeaways.

“Whenever I get back to Grady, I just feel so invigorated by having been surrounded by so many techies, innovators and ambitious thinkers,” she said.

To keep up with Harris' session, which takes place on March 10, follow the hashtag #BGRSXSW. More information about the 2014 South by Southwest Interactive conference may be found at

Date: March 5, 2014
Author:  Stephanie Moreno,
Contact:  Felicia Harris,