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DC man using pop-up fitness classes to change his community

"When COVID-19 struck, it was like, enough is enough, the line was drawn," Houston said.

WASHINGTON — In some DC neighborhoods, there’s a fitness movement underway.

WEFITDC is trying to put an end to glaring health inequities in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Every weekend, there’s a pop-up workout at a different location in the city. Joe Houston founded WEFITDC amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

"When COVID-19 struck, it was like, enough is enough, the line was drawn,” Houston said.

The 26-year-old began hosting free fitness classes with other DC fitness and health professionals after parts of the District’s stay-at-home and reopening order were lifted in May.

"We wanted to take charge and take action in our community. Look, we have to do something about that. We want to activate our community,” Houston continued.

Credit: WUSA
Those working out must have their temperature checked before classes begin.

The workouts are primarily in Wards 7 and 8, except for a class that was offered at Black Lives Matter Plaza earlier this summer.

According to DC’s COVID-19 data, most of the people who have died from the virus lived in Ward 8, which includes Anacostia, Barry Farm and Congress Heights.

There have been 124 deaths in Ward 8. Neighboring Ward 7 is not too far behind, with 94 lives lost. While Ward 8 has the highest number of lives lost in the District, that sector of the city trails Wards 4 and 5 with the total number of positive cases.

There have been 2,764 confirmed positive cases in Ward 4, the northernmost portion of the city, compared to 2,123 in Ward 8.

September 6, 2020: Total Overall Tested: 313,715* Total Number of DC Residents Tested: 189,267* Total Positives: 14,315 Total Lives Lost: 611 Cleared From Isolation: 11,366 *All Data are preliminary and are subject to change based on additional reporting Download copy of DC COVID-19 data Other Data

Houston went before city leaders in February, pushing for access to better health care, fitness centers and food options in parts of the District.

There are only 3 full-service grocery stores shared by more than 160,000 east of the river.

"I was born and raised on this side, always going to the carryout. No health stores,” Houston said. 

He's driven by that childhood experience and his mother's death from underlying health issues years ago.

"As a child, my mother was on dialysis and diabetes, eating a lot of sweets and stuff like that. I just want to change the narrative in our households, in our community.”

To change the narrative. WEFITDC is also focused on mental health. 

"I see a lot of people, like men, who say no, I'm weak, I'm weak. We want to put that out, that's it's OK to vent to another man. It's OK to have a therapist,” Houston said.

Along with the physical and mental health workout, WEFITDC has also partnered with other community groups and leaders, from Cure the Streets to Councilmember Trayon White.

Credit: WUSA
Vendors set up at an August workout class.

These partnerships have focused on voter registration, collecting school supplies for children, providing toiletries for neighbors and lessons on healthy eating.

"If you eat healthy. Your body will feel well. You'll sleep well. You'll do well,” Houston said.

WEFITDC’s next pop-up workout is Saturday, September 12th at the Barry Farm Recreation Center.

Credit: WUSA
Toiletry kits distributed to neighbors.

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