I’m a lover of the world and far off places who is so excited that you’re here. Looking forward to sharing more of my world with you and all the things I love. I hope this site really does feel like a wellness oasis right here on the internet.
One of the most beautiful results of my Black Girl Magic in Fitness blog post has been connecting with incredible black women. One of those women is T’Nisha Glenn, founder of BLAQUE, a luxury fitness experience specifically designed to cater to the black community. In current COVID times, BLAQUE has pivoted to launching digitally, but will launch a space in NYC within the months to come. We used this time to e-meet (shoutout to google hangouts) and there was so much to talk about and so much happening behind the scenes, as BLAQUE is years in the making. We wanted to dive deeper and I wanted to share this incredible story with you all.
Below you’ll find my interview with T’Nisha Glenn which gets into her history with fitness, her story and how it all lead to the creation of BLAQUE.
Tell me more about your journey in fitness as a woman of color…
My fitness journey began very early. My older sister jokes about the time when I pointed to a female bodybuilder on television and declared to my family at 3 years old “I wanna be like that!” I never actually went on to be a bodybuilder, but I was always inclined toward movement, strength and optimal fitness. I grew up training in classical ballet and modern dance techniques like Horton and Graham, but I never had the “ideal” dancer body- thick thighs and a big butt – not the way the industry said a ballet dancer ought to look. This was very clearly the case once I was past the age of 15. Ironically, at this stage of life, fitting into these Eurocentric standards of beauty was what informed my fitness routine. Outside of roughly 2-3 hours of training, I would go running, do pilates and meticulously count calories. My vigorous efforts weren’t science backed or successful. My weight constantly fluctuated throughout those years.
When I went to college, I stopped training in dance as seriously as I had been. I was still enthralled by fitness and began to study Exercise Science. I learned the actual science behind changing my body composition and became strong and fit in a way that was different from when I was training in dance. At this point I took my first job in the Fitness Industry as a Group Fitness Instructor on my college campus. I taught Kickboxing (not the real kind lol), Barre and a Strength Class. I was one of maybe 3 black instructors at the time. Being one of few black women made me very aware of myself- the music I chose in my classes, how I spoke and how my body looked (can I be thick and seen as fit?).
After college, I became a Personal Trainer at a branch of the top luxury fitness chain in NYC. When I first arrived I was the only black woman on a team of about 25 trainers. I was constantly being met with potential clients who were 30-45 year old white men. Despite my degree in exercise science, and my experience in the Fitness Industry beforehand, I constantly felt out of place and questioned how these prospective clients felt about working with me- a 5’3, thick, black woman- Literally the opposite appearance and cultural experience of most of the people I was working with. I knew I was nowhere near being ‘one of the bros’, or the physical ideal of white female beauty, but I had spent all of my life listening to white people tell me how eloquent I am. I even had a colleague call me “the whitest black girl he’d ever met”- but I think we all have a case file of these ridiculous experiences now. I hated feeling boxed in in that way, but I leaned on it as the qualifier that would get me clients and help to solidify my position as one of the top 3 trainers at the club for the years that I worked there.
Over the years, our black manager began bringing more black and brown people onto our team. This change created a work environment where I felt understood and seen by my team. I didn’t realize how isolated I had previously felt until I had something to compare it to. Suddenly work was more than work, it had become home.
Having more black people on the team allowed me to witness their experiences at the club. Some of them, despite their intellect and clear qualifications, were immediately dismissed by members who deemed them unqualified. In order to get clients, some had to work on how to communicate with members in a way that resonated with them culturally. It’s code-switching and pretty much a staple of the black experience- but why does this have to continue? To me, this is why safe spaces are necessary. Black people should be able to work, breath, speak and interact with people in ways that allow us to feel safe and unbridled.
How did your journey lead you to BLAQUE?
I started working in the Fitness Industry with every intention of building something that would benefit my community one day. I had no clarity on what it would be and at the time I defined community geographically; the community I grew up in- Jamaica, Queens. When the concept of BLAQUE occurred to me, it checked every box of the things that I wanted to contribute to the world. I wanted to offer something meaningful to the black community as a whole.
BLAQUE was a concept that emerged out of a necessity- I had clients in Jamaica, Queens and no facility with a place to shower or locker room to get dressed in. In jest, I said to a friend of mine one day “Wouldn’t it be fire if we had a luxury fitness space for black people? With good music, culture and shea butter/coconut oil in the locker rooms?” This was how it began. It occurred to me that the concept was in fact dope and that the need for it was more nuanced than a place with appropriate creams and moisturizers. I spent the next few weeks reflecting on my own experiences in the Fitness Industry and looking into the experiences of others. I found stories of black people describing their experiences in luxury fitness spaces- One man saying that he felt “like an imposter for being there” and a woman referring to these spaces as “white people gyms”.
As I reflected on my experience, it was really something about the locker room that deeply resonated with me. I’d worked at this luxury gym for almost 5 years and always brought my own shampoo, conditioner and skincare products. I knew I wasn’t alone. Every winter a colleague of mine would jokingly tease the other black trainers who insisted on using the lotion provided in the locker room. He’d gently scrape the skin on their leg, creating a gray, chalky line that contrasted against their dark skin-revealing an abominable degree of ashiness. Then he’d go into his cupboard and bring out a jar of shea butter, saying “This is what you need” and he’d use the shea butter and we’d all laugh. Again, it’s not about the shea butter. Really, it’s about the fact that at the inception of these clubs, they spend time thinking about who their members are and how to serve them. The offerings in the locker room struck me so deeply, because they clearly communicated that the members they were looking to serve couldn’t have been black. The awareness that black people are rarely at the foundation when it comes to creating good service experiences, and that we are typically catered to as an afterthought or response to backlash, is unacceptable. We deserve better. We deserve so much more than that.
What is BLAQUE?
BLAQUE is a Fitness Club designed to cater to the fitness, wellness and lifestyle needs of the black community. This is who we are at the foundation. Our mission is to be of service to the black community through the lens of fitness and wellness. Living out this mission now is all the more poignant.
COVID 19 has presented new challenges for everyone. But the disproportionate impact of COVID 19 on black and brown communities is a consequence of the health disparities that already existed and are a result of systemic racism and injustice. When we hear that COVID 19 poses the highest threat to “at risk” populations, we then have to grapple with the fact that, because of these injustices, “at risk” populations ARE black populations. From limited health care access to food deserts and redlining, we live in a system that sets black communities up to be disadvantaged in every way.
BLAQUE was always a response to this truth. Right now, all companies are pivoting in response to COVID 19. But pivoting for BLAQUE has meant pausing and understanding how facing the brunt of such extreme disparities in justice is affecting us as human beings and our community. The natural response to how we are currently being impacted is anger, frustration, a sense of helplessness, isolation, increased grief from greater loss, anxiety, fear and more. As a Fitness/Wellness company, we are acutely aware of the fact that these things lower the body’s immune response and consequently can compound the negative effects of COVID 19. We aim to directly combat that.
Creating meaningful change requires addressing a multitude of root issues along with their damaging consequences. As a Fitness/Wellness company, we are putting our focus on the overall (mind, body and soul) wellbeing of our communities. We are launching our Digital Platform that houses Guided Meditations, Fitness Coaching, Nutrition Coaching and more along with real community and connections. We are beginning our launch with a series of Guided Meditations that speak directly to what we are experiencing right now, They create space for us to process how we feel, gain hope through remembering what the generations before us have overcome, and to begin healing.
Who are some of the other amazing people involved in getting this all started?
That’s a really really long list. I refer to the people who have and continue to contribute to building BLAQUE as “The Village”. That common saying that “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind. It takes a village to build something that can change the world and our village makes every step forward that BLAQUE makes possible. From my family, my colleagues, friends and people I met because of BLAQUE- so many people are involved. The models and fitness pro’s featured on our page are all individuals who volunteered their time and talent out of love for the mission.
2 key people working on our team right now are our Creative Director, Joshua Kissi, our Graphic Designer and Interior Designer, Nia Hockaday. We’ve had an amazing network of consultants offer their expertise. Volunteers for our first shoot and an incredible network of Fitness Professionals have contributed to the mission plus so many more, it’s really an ever growing community.
Favorite workout song: The entire Homecoming Album. It’s always gonna be Bey!
Favorite type of workout and why? I LOVE a combination of heavy barbell work, kettlebell work and HIIT. It’s really efficient, effective and you get the BEST post-workout high afterward.
Must have piece of fitness equipment (think, stranded on a desert island): If I say Barbell, does that mean weights come with it?
So what’s next for BLAQUE? T’Nisha is raising money for impacted fitpros via GoFundMe. Digital Offerings are beginning now with the roll out of Guided Meditations IGTV videos which will posted on the @blaque.inc page. You can sign up for the Member Waitlist on the BLAQUE website so you’re the first to know about future updates, class offerings and programming.