Several stereotypes exist about Black people and their relationship to health and wellness. Many people have heard improper generalizations that Black people don’t swim or don’t experience the outdoors.
And some local organizations are working to dismantle these stereotypes by helping Charlotte residents experience fitness alternatives to up their health game and increase their physical activity.
These non-traditional forms of exercise can have major benefits for both the body and mind.
Getting outdoors can improve overall mood and relieve stress, according to an outpatient therapist for Novant Health, Jaren Doby.
“The exposure to the sun, the sounds of like more calm areas and more calming sounds, birds, water,” Dobby said. “[It] can definitely help with stress reduction and improvement of your mood.”
Dobby told QCity Metro being outdoors can also decrease mental illnesses in children by as much as 55%.
He recommends people get outside for at least 120 minutes every week.
For those unsure about being in nature, Dobby encourages people to try new things outdoors.
“The only way to find out for sure is to take an opportunity to do your own research,” Dobby said.
“I encourage folks not just get outdoors, but make sure that you get on the move, get on the move, move your body,” Dobby told QCity Metro. “Hopefully you’ll be able to see those benefits with time.”
Dobby said exercising can also improve mental health.
“Exercising and physical activity is one of the most impactful organic coping skills that exists,” Dobby said.
He encourages people to try non-traditional forms of exercising such as stretching, yoga, and even meditation.
Hiking for health
One local nonprofit, Black Girls Do Hike, takes groups of Black women on nature hikes around the Charlotte area.
Founder Malika White had the idea for the group after said a coworker invited her on a nature walk, she said. White said she “fell in love” with nature and wanted other Black women to experience it too.
White said she began taking daily walks with family and friends in an effort to lose weight but saw exercising in nature had unexpected benefits.
“The more walks and the more I started to realize the peace it brought me,” White said.
White, who has experienced anxiety and depression, told QCity Metro exercising in nature improved her mental health.
“Between walking and [how] you feel when you’re out in nature,” White said. “It really helped to calm down the anxiety.”
White officially started Black Girls Do Hike as a nonprofit in January 2023.
White believes many Black people are deterred from hiking because they don’t know where to start or anyone to start with. She hopes her nonprofit will remove some of the apprehension around hiking.
“Some people that are like, ‘you know, I do it, but I don’t have anybody to do it with me because my family and friends don’t want to,’” White said. “Or you get women that want to do it but don’t have anybody to do it [with].”
So far, on average, the nonprofit takes around five women hiking at trails like Crowder’s Mountain. White said she plans on hiking at the Frank Liske Park Loop.
During these hikes, the group also takes time to journal and reflect to enhance the benefits of the experience on participants’ mental health.
White says the goal of the group is to have as many Black women join as possible and eventually expand into outdoor adventures around the world.
Changing the narrative
Evolutionary Aquatics is a Charlotte-based nonprofit challenging the narrative that Black people can’t – or lack the desire to – swim.
Evolutionary Aquatics offers adult swim lessons based on skill. Classes teach people how to kick, glide, float, regulate their breathing, and, most importantly, be comfortable in the water.
In 2014, the nonprofit began as an unofficial swim group called Mahogany Mermaids.
“We used to swim at the aquatic center downtown,” Co-founder Nadine Ford said. “Just a bunch of us got together [and] started swimming.”
Ford says the group came together naturally, without any specific intentions.
“I would swim, and people would just start coming in…they would pop in the water,” Ford explained. “If they could swim, they could; if they couldn’t, we – whoever’s in the water – tried to teach them what we knew.”
The swim group evolved to become the nonprofit Evolutionary Aquatics in March 2020 after receiving a grant from U.S. Masters Swimming, a governing body for organized adult swimming programs.
Around 15 people make up each class, and enrollment opens monthly.
Ford, in addition to providing basic water safety skills and an alternative way to exercise, Evolutionary Aquatics educates participants on the history of the African diaspora and its relationship to swimming.
“If you look at the history, [Black people not wanting or being able to swim]is a blatant lie,” Ford said. “It’s sad that [the stereotype] has become a truth in the Black community.”
The nonprofit gives participants a book to read on the history called “The Undercurrents of Power,” by Dr. Kevin Dawson, to dispel racist myths.
“If you tell a lie long enough, people will forget the history, and they’ll start to believe it,” Ford said. “We actually teach to that, we let them know this is a blatant lie.”
Exercise for mental health
Keeping It TITE is a fitness group that offers outdoor workouts for Black women in the Charlotte area.
The goal of the group is to keep Black women healthy, according to founder and trainer Otissa Marble.
“[Black women] are probably the most overlooked demographic. We face a lot of challenges with our wellness. My goal is to do what I can to keep my sisters healthy,” Marble said.
The group all started from Marble’s love of fitness and trying to stay healthy during the pandemic. She began doing Zoom fitness training sessions with her “goal friends,” Marble’s term for an accountability partner.
The unofficial workout group allowed Marble to socialize during the pandemic, which she says was an important part of maintaining her mental health.
In July 2021, Marble expanded her virtual workouts into a business, Keeping IT TITE.
The fitness group meets from March until October, weather permitting, every other week at Freedom Park for $15 workout sessions.
The classes are boot camps-style and offer strength training as well as high-intensity interval training. Marble also incorporates workout games.
“We try to keep it fun,” Marble said.
Marble says working out has become her self-care time.
“I definitely attribute my fitness or working out to remaining mentally healthy,” Marble said. “That’s my me time that’s the time that I don’t owe to anybody else. I can just focus on myself, and I think I gain clarity a lot while I’m working out”
Marble says being outside is a more relaxed and versatile environment for participants compared to the indoors. She also says exercising outdoors can has had positive effects on her mental and physical health.
“It just boosts my mood to be outdoors in fresh air,” Marble said about working out in nature.
The group has also allowed people to socialize and make new friends, Marble told QCity Metro, which can be an important part of maintaining mental health.
For those intimidated by working out, Marble encourages people to start slow with activities such as daily walks.
“You can start with a simple walk around the neighborhood,” Marble said.
Marble also recommends finding a partner or friend to work out with and to prioritize working out in their daily schedule.
“Make yourself a priority,” Marble told QCity Metro. “Focus inward, and just get outdoors.”
As far as the stereotypes that Black people don’t enjoy being in nature, Marble says it’s untrue.
“We have a right to be in any space,” Marble said. “I definitely encourage us to take up spaces in fitness arenas where we [typically] feel uncomfortable.”