By: Alyssa Wilson
A wellness collective built by Black creatives is utilizing strategy and innovation to help bring health to Black communities.
Percell Dugger is the CEO of Fit For Us, and the company grew out of a group message where passionate Black fitness experts communicated and vented. “We started off as a group chat,” Dugger said. “It was a space for Black fitness and wellness operators in and within the industry to communicate. To really just have a space for ourselves to kind of just talk through all the feelings and the myriad of experiences that were taking place within our community.”
After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the group realized the need for a tangible resource. They were faced with the racial trauma that came with Black death coupled with the desire to do more than revel in pain.
“There were huge fitness and wellness-based brands that had very strong opinions about wanting to support Black lives at that time, but you know, very much fell short on supporting their Black employees, supporting the Black community through the lens of fitness and wellness. We felt like it was an opportunity really for us to be very vocal about the industry,” Dugger said.
Although Fit For Us focuses on community, they are just as much a creative agency. “A big part of what we do is creating opportunities using our partners and our community to really create a marketplace for opportunities to help members of Black operations within fitness and wellness industry while simultaneously partnering with fitness and wellness operators and businesses and brands to ensure that they are engaging with our community in an equitable way,” he said.
The fitness industry is overwhelmingly white due to a history of systemic racism. According to Dr. Antonio Williams, Associate Professor and Associate Department Chair at the Indiana University School of Public Health, Black Americans were not allowed access to health clubs during the Jim Crow era. The historical impact of this is the reason why many Black communities are considered fitness deserts.
Dugger also noted the disparities in diseases that impact the Black community. “We are disproportionately impacted by heart disease, diabetes, you know, food insecurity simultaneously— a lack of fitness centers and exercise spaces in our predominately Black communities. So with that, we recognize that the industry as a whole hasn’t really been living up to any sort of investment or idea of supporting us in a meaningful way.”
To combat this, Fit For Us is focusing on Black gym owners who Dugger said: “exist at this unique intersection of health and wealth outcomes within the Black community.” Black gym owners are more likely to open up a gym in predominately Black and Brown communities. This creates a network for these owners to make an impact in an industry that typically does not highlight Blackness in meaningful ways.
“We wanted to ensure that our community is being advocated for and strategically, it made a lot of sense to support Black gym owners because again, they exist at that intersection of health and wealth outcomes in our community,” he said.
Innovation in fitness is helping Fit For Us help the Black community. Digital fitness saw a boom during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and it limited the success of brick-and-mortar fitness locations. Leaning into innovative ideas, Fit For Us and Dugger are helping Black fitness professionals leverage sustainable concepts and content ideas to help them scale their businesses.
“We want to be able to provide fitness professionals in our community with a very easy and accessible way to generate a sustainable source of income for their families, for their legacy and eventually grow in scale in a meaningful and intentional way while maintaining intellectual property of the assets that they create,” Dugger said.
The mission to help end health disparities is not just about the physical body for Fit For Us. The organization is also focused on addressing mental health issues plaguing the Black community. Their “Mindful Movements” series is the product of teamwork with one of their strategic partners, and it allows them to offer mindfulness and meditation classes in the community. They’ve also launched a series on social media titled “Beyond the Margins,” where they have candid conversations highlighting the experiences of Black fitness and wellness professionals.
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When asked the most challenging part about being a Black fitness professional, Dugger mentioned the “glaring” and detrimental history of heart disease in the Black community. According to Go Red for Women, cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 50,000 African American women annually, while only 36% of African American women even know that heart disease is their greatest health risk. “You know that is something that stands out to me. There’s something that’s glaring and it’s been that way for decades and ultimately, it is part of the reason why we exist,” he said.
To get involved with Fit For Us, visit FitForUs.org and join their network to learn more about their events or become a partner helping the brand reach its overall goals and mission.
If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.