The grassroots movement of health consciousness buzzing in the south is helping communities find balance.
By Gerrard Roberts
Do you remember the movie Soul Food? The film depicts a tight-knit family that falls into ruin, when the matriarch of the family falls ill. Viewers also get a glimpse at some of the manipulation, gaslighting, and verbal abuse that can happen among spouses, partners, and relatives. The Joseph family could benefit from an intervention to address some toxic family dynamics, but it never happens in the film. Sweeping issues under the rug, and respecting your elders even when enabling bad habits, continues to be the lens that Black families are shown in mainstream media. This stigma particularly permeates the Black southern community due to the lack of accessibility, and meaningful outreach. However, there is a growing movement happening in Augusta, GA that is filling the wellness gap. There is a grassroots movement of health consciousness buzzing in the south that is helping communities find balance and recover from undiagnosed generational trauma.
Gracy Elite Fitness
Have you ever met a sixty-plus-year-old female bodybuilder? Well, get ready, as soon as you open the door at Gracy Elite Fitness, fitness trainer Jovonna McNeal, affectionately known as “Coach Jo,” will warmly greet you with a big smile and contagious positive energy. As an elite fitness studio in Augusta, GA, Gracy Elite Fitness is open daily with two admirable goals.
The first goal is to ensure their clients reach their fullest potential and become the greatest version of themselves. The second goal is to achieve change through fun and behavioral modifications through exhilarating exercise, nutrition, support, and education goals. Inspired by his own health and wellness journey, owner Bernard Gracy II has developed a fitness oasis of joy in the heart of the community, which is widely known as the “happiest, hardest, working hour of your life.” He takes a relational approach to promoting wellness in his community stating “success to me is when I have a member whose doctor writes a note stating they can come off their blood pressure medication or they can use that bad leg again.”
Bernard strives to reach all generations by hosting unconventional community events like midnight boxing and belly dancing. These community events are just as much a social opportunity as they are a fitness opportunity; allowing participants to break away from the stressful day they’ve had and laugh and bond with people that look like them.
Bernard wants to empower and equip his community with the tools and resources to do for themselves and to think critically and consciously about protecting the different hues of their being. Bernard is a huge advocate for education and incorporates not only nutritional education into the programs he offers but also partners with local schools and businesses to highlight Black culture. Every year he opens up the front lot of his studio to Black entrepreneurs and hosts an open market to promote Black-owned businesses. He also hosts youth basketball tournaments where the teams are named after prominent Black figures like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X; he encourages the players to conduct research before the game to understand the cultural significance of these heroes.
Wholistic Counseling Services LLC
Frequent releases of unfiltered thoughts and feelings might make grandma clutch her pearls. But don’t count her out, she might be onto something. Think about what could be causing these reactions, are you having productivity issues at work, fighting mental exhaustion, or feeling overlooked in your relationship? No matter the cause, working through these symptoms with a licensed therapist can spark the beginning of an enriched healing journey. Born in Waynesboro, GA, Mrs. Shuntoya Chatman, MSW, LCSW, LISWP-CP keeps Georgia on her mind while assisting families and individuals in their pursuit of happiness.
Founded in 2015, Wholistic Counseling Services offers the local community the opportunity to bet on Black at the therapeutic services roulette table. Mrs. Chatman has a calm and accepting demeanor that allows her to help individuals tap into their self-awareness. When individual struggles to identify what is wreaking havoc in their life, she encourages them to check in with their village. “Habitual behavior is hard to notice, leaning on trusted family and friends can help you uncover your blind spots,” says Mrs. Chatman. She believes it’s time to challenge the philosophy of not talking about personal or family business outside of the home, stating, “if what’s going on in the home is hurting someone, they should be encouraged to lift those concerns and should be met with compassion”.
This old-school mantra of dismissing problems has put a stigma on therapeutic services and has disadvantaged communities from the benefits of early detection of mental health diagnoses.
“I have had so many adults come to my practice, that believed over the years that they could ignore the behavior plaguing them or stay busy and it would just go away…but you can’t stay busy twenty-four hours a day, at some point, you will have to be alone with your thoughts,” says Mrs. Chatman
We have a responsibility as people to educate ourselves and others on the awareness of mental health symptoms and services. Obtaining more knowledge will better equip us all to encourage and facilitate open dialogue in this space.
Health is Wealth in Augusta, Georgia
The southern community is collaborating in lockstep to build a legacy of empowerment that transcends generations. When interacting with family and friends, think consciously about behaviors that may influence their wellness journey. Traditions can be modified to match the comfort level of all participants, and facilitating healthy dialogue can make everything peachy keen.