The Bronx has been my home for the past two and half years. Since coming here, it hasn’t taken me too long to notice how neglected the Bronx is compared to the other boroughs. There is significantly limited access to healthy foods, bookstores and fitness facilities. However, there is an overwhelming amount of liquor stores, fast food restaurants and underserved neighborhoods.
Since 2017, the Bronx has been ranked the least healthy community in New York—which is infuriating since it cost more than $2.3 billion to build Yankee Stadium, and $1.186 billion came from New York Taxpayers. These statistics clearly show us that the priority of Bronx residents’ health and safety is being overlooked. It seems like the only way to truly support the Bronx is by supporting local businesses looking to bring positive change to the community.
Bronx native Darell Barton and his wife Mariel Barton own the Ultimate 4th Boxing Gym. They originally started their journey in 2015 by teaching fitness classes in the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park. Eventually, the couple turned their living room into a fitness studio in 2017. Finally, they opened up the luxury boxing studio in 2019, right before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the Ultimate 4th Boxing Gym was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic, causing them to lose all of their hard work and investments.
However, to Darell, keeping the gym open is more than about funds; it’s about providing the Bronx with the quality it deserves. Darell says, “We wanted to bring quality to the Bronx. When you go to Manhattan, there are cycling classes, boxing studios and all kinds of options for fitness. However, when you come to the Bronx, I don’t see enough access to fitness studios.”
As a current Bronx resident, this resonates with me. I use Class Pass, a service that provides you access to fitness studios around New York City. The Ultimate 4th Boxing studio is one of just two fitness studios available in the South Bronx.
Before I discovered the Ultimate 4th, I found myself constantly taking trips to Manhattan to attend quality fitness classes. At times, the commute has made it hard to be consistent with my health. Darell says, “I wanted to give the Bronx a quality studio for us in our borough, and we don’t have to travel to Manhattan to get to it. It’s essential to keep the community of the Bronx healthy.”
The people of the Bronx can benefit from healthy outlets. According to the Institute For Family Health, the South Bronx suffers from high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma. However, Darell is confident he impacts his community by providing an environment where fitness is the focus. He shares, “through my clients, I can tell the boxing class is positively impacting their lives. We are all there to help each other in distress, become healthier and stronger. These things can help my clients rest better, become more confident and have a better mindset.”
As a fellow attendee of the Ultimate 4th Boxing Studio, Darell is right. In my experience, the Ultimate 4th Boxing Studio is always a vibrant environment. Upon entering, I am immediately greeted with a positive support system and a fun atmosphere. These qualities alone have helped me have a better mindset about working out and keeps me enthusiastic about attending each week. The studio has also given me a place of community and peace—and for a good reason.
After over a year of lockdown due to the pandemic, it seems building a community has become essential. Social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic reportedly led to higher depression, anxiety and suicide rates. Darell has noticed how the importance of social distancing impacted his community. “The unfortunate thing about the pandemic is that it kept people away from each other. How can you build a strong community when people aren’t coming together?” He adds, “Now that things are getting better, people can find a sense of community again, and Black-owned businesses are the heart of the community.”
In spite of getting back to the new “normal,” The Ultimate 4th clientele isn’t where it used to be pre-pandemic. “The pandemic impacted the gym because we weren’t able to open our doors. Although our doors are open now, I don’t see as many people coming to the gym,” Darell shares. A report by Forbes shows Black-owned businesses have declined by 41 percent. As people continue to get back on their feet, Black-owned businesses are still likely to struggle. To Darell, if there’s any time to support a local business, it’s now. He shares, “As a Black-owned business, we can only do so much. We don’t have any grants or outsourced funding. I think two of the best ways to help Black-owned businesses are knowledge and support.”
He continues, “Give us knowledge on finding and getting those grants to help us stay in the community and support us by spreading the word about the business. These two keys can help keep us in the community and provide opportunities to people within that community.”
As companies go back to the office and begin hiring again, minorities are still struggling to land full-time opportunities. Darell is looking to change that by fundraising to keep his gym open and expanding opportunities. He adds, “The whole idea of Ultimate 4th Boxing gym is to help my community. We started a GoFundMe, and our goal is $25,000. Through the help of others, we’d like to keep the boxing gym open and provide more job opportunities to coaches within the community.” He shares, “When we keep Black-owned businesses alive, we’re able to provide jobs and give people of color a seat at the table. Having a Black boss then gives them confidence that they can do the same, which is how we create change.”
“When you support a Black-owned business, you are supporting yourself as a minority. As a culture, we need to support each other more. Imagine if there were no Black-owned businesses? We wouldn’t be able to look out for each other. All of our power would be given to the media, news and corporate America. They would continue to portray us as murderers and drug dealers, and that’s what the Bronx is seen as. We would be under their agenda. We’re taking back our power by supporting Black-owned businesses.”