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A strong message

A recent exhibition of physical training at St. Petersburg's African Festival Market reminded spectators that strength of mind and spirit must complement brawn. The demonstration was sponsored by the Uhuru's Black Gym of Our Own, which advocates healthy bodies and a cohesive community.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 1999


The messengers strode on bulging calves and thighs, flexing mighty arms powerful enough to lift the vision of all who gazed upon them. Each of you, the bodies preached in their sinewy grace, can be strong and healthy and physically fit.

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon at Campbell Park's African Festival Market, a half-dozen body builders and weight lifters presented their well-defined abs and pecs and triceps to the people.

As proof of their labor.

As achievement chiseled by grueling effort.

As an exhortation to the African-American community to nurture its physical as well as its mental dedication to excellence.

The exhibition was sponsored by the Uhuru's Black Gym of Our Own, a few blocks from the park. The gym is one of the programs of the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, a group most known in St. Petersburg for its politicking on racial issues.

"The gym is a grass-roots kind of a place, without hierarchy, for everyone," says fitness trainer Adolph Jones. "It is the only fitness center in the neighborhood. It's very important it survive."

Jones moved here in late 1998 to help get the Uhuru gym on its feet. He is a longtime friend of Uhuru chairman Omali Yeshitela. They met when both men lived in Oakland, Calif. "We met in a gym," Jones says. He says he knew nothing of Yeshitela's politics.

He does know there is synergy in sociological and physical striving.

Fitness is more than muscle mass. "It's the psychological thing, the self-esteem, the way you feel about yourself," Jones says. "It makes you a complete person."

The sweat rolls off the emissaries on the Campbell Park stage. Most of them are men in their 30s and 40s. They have lifted weights for decades. They are laborers and college students, fathers and husbands.

Jones is 48 and a champion power lifter in the 45- to 50-year-old division nationally.

A successful lift, he says, is "almost orgasmic. It's orgasmic in your head."

"One-two-three, and the weight goes up. Seems simple. But that's a very complicated procedure," he says. "Your muscles, your skeleton, your brain: All those thousands and thousands and thousands of impulses come together. All the practice, all the moments come together.

"You've conditioned yourself to do it. It took a whole lot of stuff to get there," he says. But when the time comes, "everything in your mind clears out. You don't even think about the weight."

Achieved through hours and days and years of calculated effort, the moment when the weight is lifted shatters all shackles on what is possible.

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