When my husband and I took a lease on a 4,100 sq foot building in what used to be Algonquin Manor Shopping center last March our lives changed in ways I never thought possible. I grew up in a very homogenous society in Michigan where the only two black kids in my high school were foster children. My husband on the other hand, grew up in Fort Worth, TX, the only white kid on the basketball team. I was taught to say “African American” and was shocked when my husband said “black” so casually. Eventually, I got used to being around more black people than white when I was stationed at places like Fort Jackson, SC and when one of my first subordinates in the army jokingly told me her first name was “Shaniqua” of which I responded, deadpan, how do you spell that?
Fast forward a few years, and my husband and I are transitioning out of the military from Fort Campbell, KY. My winding transition path led us to opening the gym rather than me attending PT school that has a lot less to do with race and a lot more to do with me choosing Russian as my major in college. Through my job interview process as I transitioned from the military, I applied for Teach for America, Teach Kentucky, and Knowledge is Power Charter Schools. I was accepted to all of them, but ultimately decided that I thought I could have the biggest impact on the social inequity in our country through one hour of physical fitness a day, through Steve’s Club.
Steve’s Club is a National Nonprofit that began in 2007 in Camden, NJ and provides free CrossFit to at risk and high risk youth. My husband and I learned about this program through the dried paleo food company, Steve’s PaleoGoods while we were deployed to Egypt and ran a non-profit military affiliate there in 2014. We decided then that our future included a CrossFit gym that changed the lives of youth.
Louisville was the perfect location for our social entrepreneurial minded gym. We wanted to be in an area of the city that is accessible to the population that needs a different solution than what is currently present through other non-profits. We believe that the confidence, perseverance, and ability to overcome adversity is directly related to the demanding mental tasks of hard workouts. What better population than the students of the West End to benefit from this? We entered partnerships with other social enterprise companies such as New Roots, The Table, and various churches such as St. Stephen’s and Bates Memorial. The connections we made on the personal, empathetic level led us to have many conversations about race, what the West End used to be, and how it can and is changing. We wanted to be part of that change.
Before we even opened our doors, we had students arrive on our door step and cut the ribbon on our building during our grand opening. To be perfectly frank, the cards are stacked against most of the youth in our program. Luckily, many of these students are part of the large majority that are bussed one hour each way to school, 4 students to a seat so that they can go to a better high school. But our students will get out of the area of town that they grew up in, they will go to college, and I’ve already told them that part of their duty is to come back and carve out their area of influence to make a difference in West Louisville. Just as we couldn’t have opened Steve’s Club in the East End, you can’t grow up in the midst of the problem and then “escape” and throw money at a “solution”. True change, true social justice impact only occurs when we open our eyes to the way things are for others and bring them into our fold as well.
If you’re a white parent, you will never have to explain to your children that they are white. If you’re a black parent you absolutely will and you’ll have to answer tough questions your children will ask just as some of the Steve’s Club students have asked me. “How long will it take to change?” Why are people like that?” “What can I do?” Black or white, that is the real question, we need to be asking ourselves, “What can I do?”
For us, that was opening Break the Mold CrossFit and building a business model around a hybrid, social enterprise that is in an area of town that most East Enders have never seen. The sad thing is, many of the West End students have never seen Eastern Parkway or St. Matthews Mall. The answer is an understanding of what each of us experiences, white or black. And then we need to collaborate through organizations like New Roots, The Table, and Break the Mold CrossFit. Because change is possible, but only if you are willing to open your eyes to what surrounds you.