I first heard about the private group chat in June from my friend Percell Dugger, a certified strength coach and founder of GOODWRK. Together with Mary Pryor, a former indoor cycling instructor, he had compiled a list of around 50 trainers and influencers across the country in order to start word of mouth on WhatsApp. The concept was simple: create a safe space for black fitness professionals – some well-known current or former instructors in popular studios, others who have worked for themselves, all know what it’s like to be the only black person in the room, when You teach or take classes – to connect with the entire fitness industry through shared experiences and frustrations.
“The group chat was made for people to share their complaints and experiences, to shed light on the situations they were in, and maybe normalized to some extent,”
The members were engaged immediately. Outside of the chat, the fitness world grappled with the question of how to address the deeply ingrained culture of exclusion following the death of George Floyd in May. At the time, many fitness companies spoke out against racism to show their solidarity with the equality movement. Y7, the popular boutique yoga studio, had just apologized for “appropriating hip-hop culture and black culture for our branding, insufficient leadership and clientele representation, and for-profit use of hip-hop music in the Lessons when they are played inappropriately by instructors. “There were black squares in the feed and manifests on how brands would do better. There were many declarations of allies. (Just a few of many: “There is no time and no place for racism. We will not be silent about it.” “Our voices are our power – and now we take the time to listen and learn.” “Silence is complicity. We stand with the black community. ”“ It was white people who created and continue to perpetuate racial inequalities, and now white people need to help correct them. ”) There was educational resource sharing, pledges to black organizations for social Justice and the deliberate spotlight on color trainers. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, there was a feeling of catharsis in the chat – and a healthy dose of skepticism. While the trainers appreciated the new focus on breaking down the systemic racism they encountered on a daily basis, it was difficult for some to reconcile what some companies had publicly stated with their own experiences of working or working in the same rooms. For these members, the social media statements felt performative. “When you see the rooms you are in and then start making statements, you have a chance to unpack and think about how this applies to you,” says Dugger. “As a group, we have the feeling that this is not necessarily authentic and a bit problematic.”
Since then, the year we received hashtags for Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery hasn’t let up. In August while we were preparing this article, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father recently announced that Blake was paralyzed from the waist down. In this climate the rumblings within the group merged into something more. Some WhatsApp chat members have formed an advocacy group called Fit For Us, co-founded by Dugger with Pryor as an advisor and determined to tackle the wellness racing problem head on. Fit For Us’s mission now is to transform the industry from the inside out, knowing that their numbers are strong. They recently published an open letter to the fitness industry with a list of requirements based on the group’s collective experience in an industry that its members claim have exploited black bodies for too long. SELF has an exclusive first look at the letter that you can read here.