I grew up in “America’s safest city” where the worst crime was wearing the same homecoming dress as another girl in school. If I told my friends and family that I was being dropped off at a secret location to be in a room full of ex-cons, they would definitely have disapproved.
Naturally, I went anyways. I was invited by InnerCity Weightlifting to one of their two secret locations in the Boston area for a training session.
InnerCity Weightlifting is a Boston organization that takes high-risk individuals – those who have been shot, done significant jail time, and/or grown up on a family income under $10k per year – and teaches them how to be personal trainers. They develop their students’ physical training skills as well as the social, academic, and networking support needed, which college students like us take for granted. In doing so, InnerCity Weightlifting makes a huge impact in the community they work with by decreasing street violence and creating a social change. In keeping their gym location a secret, they are able to provide a safe space for their students who have certain conflicts with others. Read more about their mission here.
Due to their secret location and my lack of navigation skills, I eventually found the location and entered an ordinary building, only to open the doors to a pretty damn good-looking facility.
I was greeted by Josh, the Director of Development and Communication who originally invited me, and he introduced me to all the trainers. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, so Mom and Dad, no need to worry.
After getting dressed in appropriate attire, I met with my trainer for the day, Carlos. We started up with some dynamic warm-ups and then he took me through a killer workout. It looked easy on paper, but with his encouragement to go for just one more rep, I was sweating for the entire hour.
Being a personal trainer myself, I can appreciate when someone knows what they’re doing. In our time together, it didn’t matter that we live in opposite walks of life, that we call very different parts of town home, or whether or not our free time is spent on probation or in the library. The only thing that mattered was that I, Carlos’s client, got a good workout in. And I liked Carlos… that is, until he said “Give me 10 burpees“.
In the end, I sweated my ass off. Was my safety at risk? No. Did I feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, as I honestly probably would have if I saw a guy like Carlos out on the streets? No.
I did, however, get killed (by rope slams) and was tortured (by wall sits).
It is so easy to judge someone by their looks or background, but until you see what they are capable of doing, you don’t know them. You don’t know that Carlos just wants his kids to have a better life than him. You don’t know that he is a great trainer, regardless of whether or not he has a fancy certification. You won’t know until you’ve had a conversation with him or trained with him.
If I’m being completely honest, I wouldn’t have had this mindset before I met Carlos. I would have said that I don’t treat people differently, but in reality, I would have. It’s in my nature. I was born in a town where if something does not fit a cookie-cutter image, it means danger, and you’d rather be safe than sorry. But life is short, and I recognize that it’s sometimes better to step out of your comfort zone than to stay in this cookie-cutter mindset.
Lesson learned? There are numerous social justice groups who just want to make change. But change doesn’t happen by saying how you feel. Change happens when you physically dive into the community and take action, which is exactly what InnerCity Weightlifting is doing.
Want to get involved with InnerCity Weightlifting? Click here for more information.
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