The energy from trainers and clients at one Boston neighborhood gym makes you want to jump right into push-ups.
The gym is doing meaningful work to reduce youth violence by connecting at-risk young people with new opportunities, including meaningful career tracks and personal training.
When NBC10 Boston reporter Cassy Arsenault visited InnerCity Weightlifting (ICWL) in Dorchester, she spotted one trainer running a tight ship with his client, counting every repetition out loud so that cutting corners wasn't an option.
With every direction the man gave his client, he did so with a quiet, calm voice, but the kind, no nonsense trainer has a story that extends way beyond the gym.
Reggie Talbert was shot when he was 18 years old. Doctors told him he was paralyzed from the neck down and that he would never walk again, but he beat the odds.
“As you can see I’m steppin’ a little bit. I got a nice little one-two step,” he said.
After Talbert got shot, he spent 15 years in jail, and that’s when he realized something had to change.
“I’m black, I’m handicap, and I have a record. Those are the three worst things you can have,” the 51-year-old said.
Fitness is how Talbert changed his life. He would work-out and train with people in jail, not realizing he was building the framework and the resume for what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
“We just try to give these young men an opportunity to do better than what they are doing,” said Talbert, who is not the site manager for ICWL.
Jon Feinman founded ICWL in 2010. Feinman has worked with young men in gangs like MS13, and that work inspired him to open a gym where people who didn’t get the same opportunities as him could turn to for help.
“I started to see the system I was born into versus the system our students were born into. Where I am from, Amherst, everyone has a master’s degree and everyone calls me this good decision maker when in reality I just have good options to choose from," Feinman said. "Then there’s our students who are born into families that are segregated and isolated. They have to worry about rent—worry about food and utilities and school can’t be their only focus.They take to the streets to solve the very real challenges they face today because if they don’t tomorrow doesn’t necessarily exist. They go to jail and come out more isolated and they are called bad decision makers when they really don’t have another option to choose from."
Feinman and Talbert met in 2010, and their clientele has grown ever since. They work with 177 at-risk young adults who train a variety of clients from professors at colleges to CEOs at places like Bank of America.
“Most of the students we work with today have been shot, they have done significant time in jail, their families make less than 10,000 dollars a year,” said Feinman.
One of Talbert’s longtime clients, Emily Weiner, who is the Director of the Lewis Institute for Social Innovation at Babson, said she doesn’t only get a great workout but she believes in breaking down the stigma of those that once served time behind bars.
“We have all done something wrong in our lives—we all come with our own problems and baggage and issues...it doesn’’t matter. Whoever you are today be the best you can be,” said Weiner.
NBC10's Arsenault was able to talk to a former MS13 member who is 25 years old, just getting out of jail, hoping to change his life around and take care of his newborn.
He wanted another option than gun violence on the streets.
“I got arrested and I was away for nine months and I came right back in here. I feel like I can succeed in here,” the man said of ICWL.
Feinman thinks they are so successful at ICWL because they do what no one else is doing: they listen, and they don’t turn anybody away.
“I started working with a young gang group called MS13 and everyone told me 'don’t go near them. They are too dangerous,'" Feinman said. "It was that year that I saw the overwhelming amount of segregation, isolation, and racism they are facing. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to die or go to jail. But yet they are willing to take a bullet or die to care for each other for their loyalty to one another. What was lacking is any hope for an alternative path, not because they aren’t capable of choosing something different."
It’s not just a gym to those that come to ICWL. For many, ICWL is the only opportunity some of these young men have to choose a different life than the one they grew up in.
“I’m everything. I try to be brothers, uncles, fathers, whatever they need me to be that’s what I try to be,’ Talbert said.
ICWL is funded primarily by private donations. If you want to help, visit their website. Or if you want to train with them, you can see their services on their website, as well.