Diversity in the Gym

I talk a lot about the importance of our efforts to diversify the communities we serve with our health and fitness work. Today I’m going to read you an op-ed piece from Jason Burns, the owner of Meddle Fitness (a CrossFit affiliate on the south side of Chicago), which seeks to serve a more diverse community than is usually seen in a CrossFit gym.

I thought he made some great points, so away we go. These are the words of Jason Burns. He writes:

“In Chicago, Black families lost between $3 billion and $4 billion in wealth because they were denied mortgages in the 1950s and 1960s. My journey in health and wellness begins here. I operate Mettle Fitness—home of Bronzeville CrossFit, the only 100 percent Black-owned CrossFit gym in the city. I wanted to contribute to the economic development of a community that has been plundered and bring functional fitness to it in my own way. As an entrepreneur, I’m now building a safe community for others, a place where people transcend even their wildest expectations.

In a historic Black neighborhood, I’ve created jobs, enhanced quality of life, and started a fitness revolution. I saw the benefit of CrossFit as a methodology, but I also saw where the movement was lacking. I knew the power of the culture I grew up in could elevate it. For eight years, Mettle has done just that. But none of this would’ve been possible if I had spent my time looking for acceptance where it wasn’t gladly extended.

Today, CrossFit is wrestling with questions of inclusion, but that doesn’t bother me much. It was never about acceptance when I opened a CrossFit facility on the South Side of Chicago. The point wasn’t to assimilate Black people into the traditional, mostly white culture of CrossFit. I grew up with fitness all around me. My father was heavily involved in youth sports, and the camaraderie of being a part of a team has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. Bonds formed in college and NFL locker rooms gave me an appreciation for belonging.

Community-based fitness has the power to create those same feelings. Because of Chicago’s segregation, Black communities have lacked basic options and access. Individuals seeking these services often ended up in spaces where they didn’t feel readily accepted. These individuals simply wanted to get fit in an environment they felt comfortable in. As a proprietor, I felt obligated to provide my community with a space where they were welcome to be themselves while also providing a fitness experience that exceeded any other.

Mettle Fitness cannot restore the billions my neighborhood was robbed of in the years immediately before my birth. Still, Mettle’s existence is a powerful statement of defiance. In a city and nation that devalues Black life, it stands. In a sport that was headed by an individual who is (at best) apathetic to Black concerns, Mettle Fitness is undeterred. (Eric Roza has since purchased Cross-Fit.) The same spirit my parents instilled in me, the drive that carried me to the NFL and to master the sport of CrossFit, I’m bringing to my community. My journey never required acceptance or even fairness, although it would have been far easier with them.”

Thanks for listening this morning. Please be sure like, rate, review, and subscribe. It’s free to you and means the world to me. I’m Ben Garves, and we’ll chat tomorrow.

By Ben Garves

Ben Garves is a digital product expert, author, entertainer, and activist. His portfolio of thought leadership in digital marketing and web experiences has included major clients like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, eBay, and Facebook. He’s also a freelance health and fitness journalist with over 400 stories written since 2018, a podcaster with 200 episodes to his name, and runs a YouTube channel with over 100 fitness and activism-oriented videos and live streams. Ben has founded the Fitness is for Everyone™ initiative to raise awareness about social injustice in both racial inequality and socioeconomic disparity in access to quality fitness and nutrition options around the globe.

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