Wellness nonprofits come together to promote movement in the Black community and equal usage of Baltimore’s green spaces

By Jonathan Samuel Meltzer,
Special to the AFRO

Charm City’s athletic organizations are on a mission to get Black Baltimoreans moving.

Recently, more than 200 residents gathered in Carroll Park for the first annual Cylovia, which took place at the Move Well Fest in Carroll Park. The two events were held together as a joint venture between Black People Ride Bikes (BPRB), Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) and Pigtown Climbs.

More than 200 free meals were given out, along with information from more than 20 vendors- to include Aetna, Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, Rails to Trails and Unmatched Athlete.

Residents participated in AFRO Soca, yoga classes and sound healing classes free of charge. There were moonbounces and obstacle courses on hand as well- all in efforts to put Black bodies in motion.

Charlene Jones leads Baltimore residents in an Afro Soca dance class, recently offered free of charge at the Move Well Fest in Carroll Park.

Mayor Brandon Scott was also seen taking a go at the Pigtown Climbs climbing wall, which stood tall throughout the Move Well Fest, luring curious passers-by.

“Climbing is traditionally a pretty white and affluent sport,” said Lena Spadacene, director of design and planning at Pigtown Climbs. While other forms of outdoor recreation might be safer and cheaper, she says, climbing provides a unique “opportunity for individual success, as well as community success.”

Pigtown Climbs was started in the summer of 2020 to bring the joy of climbing to the Black and brown communities of Southwest Baltimore.

Community outreach is integral to their mission. Sih Oka-zeh and Amanda Benjamin are co-leaders of Pigtown Climbs for community outreach and engagement. They have been laying the groundwork for cooperation with Pigtown residents. The organization is looking to build small-scale climbing walls in the community, accessed by paying a sliding-scale fee.

“We really wanted to prioritize getting neighbors’ voices heard,” said Oka-zeh, “those thoughts and opinions and needs are being directly reflected [by] the work we do. ”

Kevin Blackledge, of Panther Outdoor Society, recently took the top prize during the Cyclovia wheelie contest in Carroll Park.

BPRB was started by Shaka Pitts and Neiunna Reed-Jones to “introduce Black people to the many benefits of cycling,” according to Pitts.

Like Pigtown Climbs, Pitts emphasizes BPRB’s commitment to community. “There’s no community like the biking community,” he said, “It’s a social equalizer. When you meet people on the bike, you’re just meeting another biker. ”

Cyclists who sign up for a BPRB membership can expect discounts from Baltimore’s bike shops and weekly group rides.

Pitts said that BPRB partners with other organizations to help members overcome the financial hurdles of owning their own bicycle. “BYKE Collective teaches bike repair, character education and incentives in their bike shop to allow people to work towards owning their own bike. It’s almost like buying a car. ”

Black bodies in motion and Black culture are at the heart of what BPRB does. “We have Soul Food Saturdays, where we ride a number of miles through the city and finish at a Black-owned restaurant. We also have exploration rides that take people to the green spaces in Baltimore that they may not have known about. ”

BPRB is just one of many organizations in Baltimore doing the work to create a new generation of advocates for physical health in the Black community.

MissionFit, a gym that offers free classes and training to youth ages 11 to 24, is focused on “building the body and mind of Baltimore’s youth,” according to Executive Director Joshua Day. “This generation has the highest rate of obesity ever. We need to address this. Physical activity programs give kids the biggest voice. ”

Jonah S. tries his hand at rock climbing, a sport not often taken up by Black Americans.

The MissionFit client base is “95 to 99 percent people of color,” and youths receive valuable information they can use in the future. Those who complete the program are set up to pursue careers coaching in a school setting, or working as personal trainers.

“Our Supportive Trainer Education Program, or STEP gives our students a hands-on coaching experience, and we believe there’s nothing that can prepare a potential coach for coaching in Baltimore like that,” said Director of Development Wesley Jamison.

The gym, located in the Remington neighborhood just off of Interstate 83, partners with public schools across the City to instill the importance of physical activity at a young age.

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