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Socially Minded Low-Cost Gym 'Revolutionary Fitness' Opens in East Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | August 5, 2015 5:40pm
 A new low-cost gym in East Harlem also offers education workshops on anything from police brutality to environmental justice, to eating healthy on a budget.
Revolutionary Fitness
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EAST HARLEM — They offer workouts for the working class.

At Revolutionary Fitness, 1637 Park Ave., the floors are littered with kettle bells, the walls are covered with pictures of Malcolm X and Che Guevara and treadmill reading material includes socialist newspapers.

Its a gym that give its members a chance to get fit and get justice, with workshops on issues like police brutality, environmental justice, and health and nutrition.

“We build the community up through fitness,” said Executive Director Shawn Garcia. “We think of ourselves as more of an education organization. We try to empower our members to go back to their family and friends and talk about health and fitness.”

After an hour workout class that included yoga and kettle bell exercises, some of the members stuck around the gym to talk about the Black Lives Matters movement and violence against trans women of color.

Before opening up their first brick and mortar location last week, Revolutionary Fitness held free workouts in parks around the city. Without a place to call home, the nomads exercised in the South Bronx, Inwood, Harlem, and the Bowery, said Garcia.

Garcia had been looking for a space for two years. He looked at several in the South Bronx but couldn’t find anything at the right price. Many of the volunteers in the organizations involved tapped into their savings account to secure the East Harlem location, he said.

They are currently trying to raise money to add another office in the basement and supplement their free education and fitness programs. 

Revolutionary Fitness is just one of four organizations at 1637 Park Ave., officially known as the “Justice Center en El Barrio.” The tenants have turned the former furniture store into a community space where people can get a wide range of services.

“One of the issues all social justice organizations have in New York is a lack of space. To rent a venue it costs $500 or $600,” said Ben Becker an organizer for the ANSWER Coalition.

The other organizations that share the space include ANSWER Coalition, an anti-war group founded after 9/11 that organizes protests against violence and racism around the country, Justice First which gives supports worker's rights, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

The arrangement works because the organizations know each other — Garcia previously worked with the ANSWER Coalition — they share similar goals, and they respect each other’s schedule, Becker added.

On Friday, for instance, Revolutionary Fitness offers free open gym sessions. After the sessions the ANSWERS Coalition hosts workshops, poetry slam sessions and film screenings.

The gym offers month memberships for $29 and lets people volunteer at the gym for a reduced rate. They also host free kettle bell classes Sunday at noon, Garcia said. 

Many of the members of the gym work in some of the Justice Center's other organizations. Karla Reyes, who works at ANSWER Coalition, attended her first yoga class Wednesday. 

"Now I have less excuses to avoid the gym," she said. "I also work in the neighborhood. Most of what I do is within a 30 block radius of here."