Adrien McDonald working out at Churchill High School
Adrien McDonald. Screenshot of Facebook video.

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Adrien McDonald believes the videos speak for themselves.

In a viral incident recorded on video that the 32-year-old Clarksburg resident recently uploaded to his Facebook page, McDonald can be seen exercising in one of the outer lanes of the track at Churchill High School in Potomac, when a White man berates him. A woman who appears to be of Asian descent and connected to the man also chastises McDonald. They took exception to him using the lane for his stationary exercises. McDonald was the only Black man on the track. 

“I think at some point, you have to think that it’s racially motivated,” McDonald tells City Paper. “I think these opportunities and situations present themselves to Black Americans all too often and recently, especially. Some people will find these things surprising, and some people won’t.”

Before the incident, nothing about this particular day, Aug. 30, felt out of the ordinary for McDonald, the director of athletics and physical education at the McLean School in Potomac. He drove to Churchill to meet up with four young runners who he helps train. It was a Sunday morning around 10:30 a.m., and not many people were at the outdoor athletics facility. He often trains at Churchill because the McLean School does not have its own track.

After the runners—girls who attend local middle and high schools—finished their cool down laps, McDonald started to do his own workout in lane eight—the outermost lane on the track—and the space between that lane and the nearby fence. He recalls that there were “maybe seven people” total using the track.

“I was doing my pushups, and I heard a voice that I hadn’t normally heard, and when I looked up after my set of pushups, the individual told me I needed to move, that I was in his way,” McDonald says. “And I kindly said to the gentleman who was older, I said, ‘Sir, you know, you have lanes one through seven.’ I said, in a kind way, ‘No one’s using them.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Well, what are you going to do the next time I come around and step on your head?'”

McDonald felt the tension begin to rise, but decided not to pay too much attention to the man, whose identity has been widely speculated on social media but could not be independently verified by City Paper. Messages left for the person believed to be the man have not been returned. McDonald’s students were also nearby doing their exercises, and to his knowledge, he wasn’t doing anything against the rules, nor did he feel his actions warranted the threats directed at him. 

About three minutes later, McDonald says, he was doing curls with a resistance band when the man came around the track again. This time, the man came running as fast as he could in front of McDonald’s face. 

“Probably two to three inches in front of me,” McDonald says. “And he turned around and proceeded to look at me and backpedal and do punching fists towards my direction. And again, I’m not one to engage in conflict. I actually think it’s the last thing that needs to happen, especially when kids are nearby.”

At that moment, two spectators, who McDonald identified as African American, asked if he was OK. McDonald gave them the thumbs up. Then the man and woman went around the track again, and when they came back around near McDonald, the woman told him he needed to move and that he was breaking the rules. Around the same time, Negin, a Potomac resident who asked to only be identified by her first name, was several feet behind them, and pulled out her phone to record the interaction. 

In the first video, the man, who is wearing a green New York Jets T-shirt, steps in front of McDonald and appears exasperated. One of McDonald’s students is standing nearby.

“Come on sir, let him do his workout. Leave him alone,” Negin is heard saying. She questions the man and woman as to why they only seem to take issue with McDonald and not the young girl.

“Why do we have to go around him?” the man replies. “Why can’t he go move down here like everyone else?”

The video ends with the woman asking Negin, “Are you a judge?”

“I would say that Adrien did not do anything wrong,” Negin tells City Paper. “He was out of the way. He was in his own lane. And this was just an unfortunate incident where I strongly believe that he was targeted because of his color … He was targeted because he was Black.”

In Negin’s second video that McDonald uploaded, the man gets upset when the African American bystanders tell him he’s escalating the situation. “No, you’re escalating it,” he says while holding up a cell phone. “You’re not going tell me what to do. We’ve been here 52 years. I graduated 1980.”

The young girl in the video also stands up for her coach. “Why is it OK for me to stand there but [McDonald] is in the same lane?”

A discussion breaks out about where the girl was standing, and Negin tells the man to go on his way. “This is the United States of America,” the man shouts. “You don’t tell us where to go!”

Eventually, McDonald asks, “Do you notice how you’re only targeting one person?” The man becomes incredulous. “Oh my God,” he says as he starts to walk away with the woman. “You know what he’s trying to play right now. What a joke! Trump 2020! Donald Trump! We want Trump 2020!”

“Those are Biden supporters!” he continues as the video cuts off.

Negin says that none of them had said anything political that would set him off like that.

“That was just a ridiculous statement,” she says. “There was absolutely nothing political about this. This was all about a man, a Black man who was doing pushups. And the White man just didn’t like it … It had nothing to do with Trump and Biden. I have plenty of friends who are Trump supporters, and none of them would have done something like this, and I have plenty of friends who are Biden supporters, and none of them would have done this … Adrien was targeted because he’s a Black man. And the fact that the man said, ‘Trump 2020,’ that was just that was just a stupid, ridiculous, inappropriate comment.”

“Adrien was the only Black man on the track,” she adds. “I don’t feel that if it was a White person doing that this man would have done anything.”

McDonald says he didn’t feel scared or threatened by the man, and that he did not report anything to the police. In the aftermath of posting the video, he’s been heartened by the positive support he’s received from friends, family, and the local community. McDonald wrote on Facebook that his original intent was “not based on race or to start anger from anyone.” Instead, as an educator, he says he wanted to post a video to remind people to treat others more kindly and with respect—particularly in today’s political climate. 

“I want people to take away that change definitely needs to happen,” McDonald says. “We have to stop getting so quick to being angry, and wanting those tense situations to rise. And I think we need to talk things out with one another. So rather than getting so heated, we have to find a way to move forward as a society to stop disagreeing so much. I think a simple conversation could have ended this rather than getting so physical and violent in terms of wanting to cause physical harm to somebody else.”

There have been suggestions of hosting a community get together at Churchill, but McDonald thinks it’s too soon to get a large group together during the pandemic. He hasn’t let the incident sour his opinion of Churchill High School or the surrounding community. 

In fact, he went back a few days later. No one told him to get off the track.