Businesses based on face-to-face interactions have been hit hardest since the COVID-19 health crisis struck Massachusetts. So have low-income communities and people of color. The pandemic thus deals InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW)
a one-two punch.
ICW Founder and CEO Jon Feinman says, “The death rate we are seeing clearly depicts how this virus doesn't care what race or ethnicity you are, but the health risks that come from inequities is causing a disproportionate impact on people of color, and though we at ICW have long been aware of the existence of health disparities, it’s gut-wrenching to see play out.”
Typical ICW students have been “punished by society for being ‘bad decision makers,’ or written off as people who ‘lack care,’” says Feinman. Understanding that these young adults have been victims
of trauma and racial segregation themselves, he founded ICW to offer them new opportunities, including meaningful career tracks in and beyond personal training. “Our students learn a valuable skillset, meet clients from opposite socioeconomic backgrounds, and build an invaluable network, all while making a stable living,” says Feinman. The gym serves to replace disenfranchisement and isolation with economic mobility and social inclusion, disrupting the system that so often leads to street violence.
But what now, with gyms all closed? The staff at ICW swiftly implemented new strategies to keep operations running remotely. A core purpose of the organization is to be a constant support line and even sanctuary for individuals. In the current global health pandemic, this companionship is needed more than ever, and ICW has been able to virtually continue this work in new and productive ways. In moving workouts for individuals and corporations to an online platform, for example, ICW has seen an uptick in its client numbers, with more families and international corporations signing up for workouts. Staff and board have also worked hard to increase ICW’s hardship fund, which supports students and families with basic needs, and the organization has been committed and successful in keeping all staff on payroll.
Despite its horrors, one of the few potentially useful outcomes of this pandemic is how it has highlighted the severe health inequalities in our country. “The disparity
is so transparent,” says Feinman, “that I hope from this people will stop denying history, so that we can better understand and work to solve these inequities.” ICW is doing its part to amplify this conversation by partnering with PUMA to host a civic discussion series that will be led by ICW students. The next webinar will be on Thursday, April 30 at 5 p.m., where Chief Program Officer Feliciano Tavares and several students from ICW will lead a discussion on COVID-19 and its exposure of longstanding inequities. To RSVP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit tbf.org for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund.