Tammie Richardson politely but firmly barks orders drill-sergeant-like as she walks around her adult aerobics class at North Commons Community Center in North Minneapolis.
“How low can you go?” stresses Richardson, a local nurses’ aide and certified fitness instructor to the mostly Black female class as they move to music during the hour-long session. “Come on! Last one,” she promises as the class wraps up its one-hour session to James Brown’s “The Big Payback.”
“I’ve come on and off for a year,” says Teria Holmes of the thrice-weekly class. “I’m going to try to come every week.”
Correan Cowen says that she has been a class member for two years. “I heard so much about Tammie and how much a motivation she is. When I came the first time, I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Cowen is one of the dozen or so female “diehards,” including former WNBA player Tamara Moore, who Richardson named as loyal class regulars. “They are the ladies who are showing results, following my meal plans, and they support me.”
Her “Fit 4 Life” class — many of the participants sport T-shirts with it on the front — is held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 6-7 pm at North Commons. Class size depends on the day — Monday averages 70, 50 on Wednesdays, and 30 on Fridays.
“It’s free and open to the community. I’ve been here since 2004,” notes Richardson, whose overall objective for each member is to adopt “a lifestyle of health and wellness. Not to just exercise to get into that wedding dress or pants they have been dying to get in, but to change their minds from ‘I want to lose weight but to become healthy.’ A lot of people are exercising to lose weight but a lot of team aren’t exercising healthy. You can change that mindset.”
Richardson shakes her head sadly as she talks about what she often sees in our community. “We as Black people, African American people, we don’t take care of ourselves.
“We focus on the outer man. We don’t focus on the inner man. Our whole goal is to survive.” Richardson points out that this survival mentality is historical.
It can be more problematic among Black women, notes Richardson. Black women are more conscious of how they look on the outside “because Mama taught us to…look good on the outside.
“Mama didn’t teach us to eat healthy. She didn’t teach us to take our vitamins. She didn’t teach us to drink our water. She didn’t teach us to go for a walk.”
She notes that it seems to be a cultural problem as well: “A lot of time African American women raise their children and they get stressed out,” says Richardson. “What the mama does, she goes to the club to relive her stress. She drinks or she goes order a bunch of food because she’s stressed, versus the White woman [who] when she get stressed, she grabs all the kids, straps them in the stroller and struts around the beach.”
Richardson’s first name to her class participants is “Coach.” “To them for the most part, 90 percent of the time I’m Coach Richardson. It took me a long time to accept [that] until I realized that these women depend on me. These women look to me. They believe in me.
“But when I go home, I’m Anthony Richardson’s wife. I’m not Coach Tammie when I get home. When I go to church, I’m Sister Tammie. When I go to work during the day, I’m Tammie Richardson, the nurses’ aide.”
Earlier this summer, Richardson held a day-long “fitness festival” at North Commons. “I had eight different instructors and my table” along with speakers, sponsored by several local businesses. “I’m going to do it every year,” she declares.
Her dream is to produce a three-volume video series she would call “Ripped” featuring her “diehards” and one day “to purchase my own gym, a total body fitness gym” in the area. “That’s my dream… I am limited in the things I can do [at North Commons].
“My dream also is to have a Fit 4 Life marathon” at Wirth Park “to raise [money] for diabetes,” a 13-mile walk or run along with speakers. “Then at the end celebrate with a band. That is what I want to do next year.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.