Three African American Ambassadors Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are, Actively Promote Diversity in CrossFit

February 17, 2021 by
Courtesy of Elijah Muhammad:
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When Eric Roza took the helm at CrossFit LLC last summer, one of the first priorities he voiced was to make CrossFit more inclusive. This included creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council (DEI). 

Though this is a good start, African American CrossFit athletes and business owners Lesley Henderson-Sanders, Elijah Muhammad and Syn Martinez agree that more needs to be done, which is why each of them has been taking matters into their own hands by actively working to educate underserved communities about health and fitness. 

The details:

Elijah Muhammad: The two-time CrossFit Games athlete is making a difference through his non-profit organization Project Onyx, whose mission is to eliminate the barriers that underrepresented and underserved people of color face by providing affordable and accessible heath and fitness services, as well as mentorship to today’s youth.

  • Fitness and mentorship programs fully-funded by Project Onyx are geared towards teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18. Donations can be made here.
Courtesy of Elijah Muhammad:

Lesley Henderson-Sanders: She is the founder of Melanin CrossFitters, a platform dedicated to serving diverse communities and providing access to nutrition information, physical fitness education and wellness resources. 

  • She started Melanin Crosfitters because she didn’t see “black CrossFit athletes in large quantities,” said Henderson-Sanders, who has lost 60 pounds in the last six years since starting CrossFit. “There’s no quick fix for health, but my longer term vision is for us to be a catalyst to provide nutrition information and free nutrition classes,” Henderson-Sanders said. 
  • Currently, Melanin CrossFitters is offering a free endurance program online, and is gearing up to host an online qualifier competition this spring and an in-person competition in June for black and brown athletes, as well as any allies of Melanin Crossfitters. 

Syn Martinez: The founder of Afrobrutality, Martinez has been working in the CrossFit space for the past 14 years. He currently has ongoing partnerships with the NYPD and the New York City Fire Department, and he’s currently working with the New York Housing Authority to donate 100 pairs of shoes to kids who need them. 

  • Most recently, Martinez partnered with PUMA in a campaign that launched on February 1 called Powerlifting to the People. “The idea is to take the mystery, the expensive supplements out of fitness and give fitness to people the way it should be given…Staying fit has become this convoluted thing, and people think they have to pay hundreds of dollars each month to be fit. So let’s take all that shit out — the spandex and the singlets — and just give fitness to the people to level the playing field,” Martinez said. 
Credit Afro Brutality:

One big thing: Though they’re actively making a difference on their own, Martinez, Henderson-Sanders and Muhammad all say they would love to become more involved with CrossFit LLC. 

  • Henderson-Sanders admits she was disappointed she wasn’t selected as a representative for the inaugural DEI council, but would still love the opportunity to “partner with CrossFit” in some capacity, she said. 
  • “I spoke with Eric Roza and he was definitely in support of my non-profit Project Onyx…so we will be in further talks about what they are willing to do in the future,” Muhammad said.
  • “Eric (Roza) and I went back and forth a bit and we were sort of working on something…He knows what I’m doing, but he hasn’t reached back out in a way that things can be accomplished. I have always worked in the streets, in Harlem and the South Bronx. If (CrossFit) wants to be part of some kind of change, there’s no other guy that’s doing this…If they’re not reaching out to me they’re not doing half as much as they could,” Martinez said. 

The bottom line: Promoting diversity in CrossFit — and specifically getting more black people involved in the sport — is a tall order and won’t happen overnight, but every little step counts. And Henderson-Sanders, Muhammad and Martinez are hopeful that the small steps that they’re taking right now will add up into a brighter, more inclusive future. 

  • “I really believe the more black kids, who are 12, 13, 14, 15 years old, that we give CrossFit to now — if we train them properly — in five years, I think you’re going to see an even balance in the CrossFit Games,” Martinez said.
  •  Muhammad added: “We do have a lot of growing to bridge these gaps, but we are doing the work and I see it, hear about it and it makes me so optimistic and happy to see.” 

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