Two Recess Fitness Professionals Share Insights on What it Means to Be Black in Fitness

Blog Feb 7 Asset - Instructors

In honor of black history month, Recess is highlighting the black voices of fitness professionals on our platform. Inspired by a Self article, which you can see here, we spoke with our own De Bolton and Jamaal Sanderson who were eager to share their own experiences and insights on what it means to be black in fitness.

Meet De

recess.tv/@faithfueledmom

De Bolton is a mother of 3 girls and a wife to her best friend. Seven years ago, De went on a 100-pound+ weight loss journey that led her to become the fitness professional she is today. As De began her teaching journey, she fell in love with group fitness classes. She enjoys creating the atmosphere of the class and motivating her clients, who she considers her team, to “push harder and strive better.” Currently, De loves teaching HIIT, Met-Con Circuits, and Barre. She’s eagerly awaiting her certification for HIIT & Flow too! De considers her instruction of group classes to be her creative outlet and highlights, “I am blessed that every day I get to help the strong women get stronger and people reclaim their bodies to live healthier lives.”

How has your identity influenced your feelings of inclusiveness in the fitness world?
As a black fitness professional, I know what it's like to be the only one in the class. Whether I am teaching the class or attending, it is an occurrence that happens often. I have also been the person who is not the most fit in the room, and times where I am the more fit person in the room. Both have created some uncomfortable situations. It is isolating. Group fitness is a place where people go to be accountable and find a community. I believe it is so important to see someone who looks like you. And, it is so important to reach out and build a connection with someone who may not look like you.

In regard to the fitness world you are involved in personally, and the wider fitness world, what issues have you seen come up in regard to race?

As an instructor, I have had my most popular class taken from me and given to the new white instructor. In the end, attendees dropped that class and started to attend on days I was teaching. I will never forget the anger of having something you have built up through skill and talent taken away from you and given to someone who didn't earn it, nor deserve it.

What makes you feel empowered in the fitness world?

I love living a healthier lifestyle, having energy, feeling strong, and being confident in my skin. I thrive off seeing others succeed. The greatest thing about a group class is that everyone is trying to make themselves better. The environment alone is empowering.

What would you say to other black instructors who are feeling the effects of microaggressions and systemic racism in their fitness careers?

We rise!  We will continually be affected by microaggressions. We can't let that affect how we serve others. Group fitness instructors ultimately thrive when helping others succeed and we can't let those who don't realize or value our worth ever change that.

 

Meet Jamaal

recess.tv/@HaveoptionsnotExcuses

Jamaal Sanderson is a former semi-professional football player, part-time group fitness performer, and full-time father to two beautiful children. Jamaal has been a fitness performer for just about 10 years. After an injury in a game, Jamaal had to finish up his football career and start something new. After trying out personal training, he realized it wasn’t for him. With the help of his now wife, Jamaal took a spin class. “I told her ‘I do not want to sit on a bike for an hour, and not go anywhere.’” But, “I summoned up the strength to go to the class. As soon as the instructor started speaking, I was hooked! After class, my wife and I got in the car. Before she started the car, I stopped her and said, "that's what I want to do for the rest of my life." Jamaal currently teaches Rhythm Riding and total body workouts on Recess and also works for Life Time Athletic Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.

How has your identity influenced your feelings of inclusiveness in the fitness world?

My identity and personality have always been compared to the underdog. I was always the scrawny, skinny kid. For contact sports, I always had to go harder than everyone else to prove that I belonged. With fitness, it's the same thing. In order for all of us to get where we want to be, we have to prove to ourselves that we deserve it.

In regard to the fitness world you are involved in personally, and the wider fitness world, what issues have you seen come up in regard to race?

As a man of color, I’ve had people look at me and say, "I can never do what you do." People, unfortunately, believe in the stereotypes that I’m supposed to run fast and jump high. Although they may intend it as flattery, it is hurtful. When this happens, it highlights their ignorance and racism. It hurts.

What makes you feel empowered in the fitness world?

I love doing what I do. I have this platform where people look to me for motivation. I'm not here for fame or a popularity contest. I see everyone that comes to my class. They’re saying to me "Jamaal, I'm here for more than just a good sweat. I need your help today." I pray and hope that what I say and do in that class will help them when they leave.

What would you say to other black instructors who are feeling the effects of microaggressions and systemic racism in their fitness careers?

My message to other black instructors is to take advantage of your platform. Never be afraid to voice your opinion. Your voice is being heard and not many have that luxury. Make sure while you have people’s attention, you make it memorable. Not everyone is going to agree with what you have to say, but someone out there is listening and saying "thank you."

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Learn more about black history month here, how you can be an ally here, and other ways to celebrate black history and culture beyond this month here.

De leaves us with great advice and things to keep in mind as we enter into this month of celebration for black history, culture, and fellow humans. “Do what you love, share the love and show love to everyone and you will get it back in return. If you see wrong, speak up and be an ally. Don't let things happen to people that you know are wrong, no matter what color they are.”  

You can follow De on Recess @faithfueledmom

You can follow Jamaal on Recess @HaveoptionsnotExcuses

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