Name: Funk Roberts
Country of Birth: Canada
Share details about your cultural background
I am Guyanese. My parents and family are from Guyana in South America.
How would you describe your childhood/how you grew up?
I grew up in Scarborough as a pre-teen in the McCowan and Eglington area and went to a school that was mostly black and rough. But as an athlete and on most teams, it was great! My parents worked hard and were also athletes, so as a latch key kid, I was able to watch my parents work super hard, come home, cook, clean, go out to practice or play their sport…and they were generally bringing home championships and trophies every week. I was exposed to what hard work and greatness could look like.
But when it was time for me to go to high school, we moved to Thornhill for a year while our house was being built (1984). Thornlea was my first high school, which is majority Jewish and was a massive culture shock coming from 410 McCowan (the hood) to a completely different way of life…kids at 16 with BMW’s, celebrating Jewish holidays…it was a shock. However, because I was an athlete, it was easy for me to integrate and by the end of the year I had settled. In grade 10 I was uplifted, and we moved to Pickering (1985) and went to Dunbarton which were mostly farmers and predominantly white…in fact there was only a handful of black people in the school which had over 1500 students…once again it was a culture shock, but I did stand out as an athlete so was able to slowly integrate.
One thing that I struggled with was my own identity as a black man and where I fit, as there was constant racism (not in my high school) but everywhere else. So, my focus was to STAND OUT as an athlete and scholar to prove that black men can accel outside of regular “black” sports like basketball…and I made it my mission to dominant in other sports as well like hockey, tennis, rugby, football, baseball, and volleyball in which I became a professional athlete.
In the end I LOVED being able to integrate with so many different people of different races and backgrounds which has been paramount in my growth as accepting people for who they are even at the age of 52.
How would you best describe your role in fitness?
My feel I have an extremely important role in fitness especially now for men over the age of 40, but most importantly, for Black Men over the age of 35, 40, 50 and beyond…we are MASSIVELY under served and really there is no fitness personality that can really speak to older back men battling with health and fitness.
That is my mission to ensure there is inclusion and a fitness guru/expert of the same colour to inspire black men over the age of 35 to get into the best shape of their lives around the world. I am blessed to have many black men in my Over 40 Alpha Workout, Nutrition and Brotherhood membership growing each day.
How did you find your interest in fitness?
I was always interested in fitness since the age of 11 when my parents bought me a Weider Fitness Set and Bench. From there, there was no turning back…and in high school I really got obsessed with bodybuilding and bodybuilders. Lee Haney, Flex Wheeler, Chris Dickerson, Sergio Olivia, Robby Robinson, Tony Pearson and so many more. I made it a mission to put fitness first…but it was easy for me as I was a hi-level indoor volleyball player and then played as a professional beach volleyball player all over the world, representing Canada and playing on the top Pro tours in the 90s.
How does exercising make you feel (before/during/after)?
Generally, when programming my workouts, I am not too keen before I do them, because I know how tough and challenging they will be LOL, but as I am training, I like being pushed outside my comfort zone and pushing myself through the struggle knowing that after the workout is done…I will feel amazing.
How have you experienced racism in fitness or as a fitness professional/owner?
I have experienced systematic racism as a fitness professional when I was part of a Fitness DVD and had created workouts for one of the DVD’s. The company and person in charge decided not to put me on the cover of my DVD because I was black and didn’t think it would sell…so they put a white guy instead. It bothered me, but I realized that was the game they were playing which was the spark to me creating my own brand with my own programs, my own control with ME on the cover of my products. So that was a negative that I learned from and turned into a positive. Glad it happened.
Do you feel that you are treated differently than some of your co-workers, fellow owner/operators? If yes, in what way?
Currently I don’t think I have been treated differently because I ensure that my content is HIGH QUALITY and the best programming in the industry. I am always striving to be the best and create the best results, driven with high quality fitness content, information, etc. so there is no debate…there is no opportunity to be treated differently. It’s the benefits of running your own companies.
Do you think you were passed over on a promotion because of your skin colour; or was it a contributing factor?
Not really…I am not sure if I have ever been passed on promotion because of my colour…I’ve never been one to cry racism especially when I ensure my programming and content or anything that I am going for is the best it can be.
In your role/business how are you helping BIPOC individuals get hired, promoted, or recognized?
I think I can do more to help BIPOC individuals to get hired especially in fitness. I think there is a MASSIVE and DEFINITE lack of black fitness professionals that can mentor those that want to get into the fitness profession. I think canfitpro needs to also help step up and give opportunities for leading BIPOC fitness professionals, and help to provide coaching and information, in order to WALK THE WALK and TALK the TALK. For me at this point, being part of the canfitpro community, by showing up and presenting shows that BIPOC individuals can succeed in the fitness community. There is definitely WAAAAAAY MORE OPPORTUNITY than just awareness…there needs to be action. For me, all I can do is continue presenting, representing, and helping my ‘Over 40 Niche’ change their lives and those around them.
Are you actively doing something to promote fitness to your [BIPOC/Religious] community? If so, tell us about it.
I am promoting and targeting my program to black men over 40 around the world through strategic marketing and ads. I promote to all men over 40 but really kick up the marketing to ensure we target black men.
What advice would you share to fitness businesses ready to make systemic changes in their organizations?
Stop talking about it, stop having discussions about, take action! Do something!
There is a lack of BIPOC in leadership in the fitness industry, how do you see this changing in the next 3 to 5 years, and what needs to happen for this imminent change?
I hope this changes in the fitness community…there needs to be a platform and specific programming for the BIPOC community, but it also means the fitness leaders in these communities need to create ways to help, mentor, and coach those who want to pursue fitness and show that there are NO BARRIERS!