BIPOC In Fitness
Meet Paul Gabay
Please share some details about your cultural background.
I was born in Canada and I am of West Indian descent. My mother was born in Grenada and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. My father was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. The two met and were married in Toronto
How would you describe your childhood
I grew up fortunate as a middle-class child in Mississauga. I consider myself being an average kid who grew up around friends with similar experiences. I was one of a few black children in my community and my schools. Although still in the minority, I had childhood friends from a mixture of cultural backgrounds, both black and white. My closest friends today go as far back as grades school and are Chinese, Columbian, Pilipino, Italian, including friends from high school who are Nigerian, Brazilian, and East Indian. Many of my neighbors were of immigrant descent from places like Portugal and Guyana, among other places. Kids in my area spent free time building tree houses in nearby fields, playing sports in the street, and playing outside until our parents called us in. It was all so simple back then!
How would you best describe your role in fitness?
A health and fitness advocate. Like any other cause or movement, I believe fitness is a lifestyle that everyone should include in their lives. At its root, activity contributes to healthier living, which positively impacts and encourages the people around us. I try to inspire everyone I engage with to move and be healthy.
How did you find your interest in fitness?
I consider myself a gifted athlete when I was young. I didn’t have any interest or know how to play most sports as a kid, but I loved to participate. It was always for fun. I entered some long-distance races in elementary school and was identified as a strong distance runner. Around that time, I learned about the Olympics and thought it would be great to reach that level one day. I never committed myself to train for the Olympics, but I always gravitated towards fitness. My first real job was at a sporting goods store in high school. After my first summer at university, I found a summer job selling fitness equipment. Since then, I haven’t been able to shake the connection. Over time, my participation in fitness changed from fun to purposeful. I realized how fitness impacted my body and began to appreciate the health benefits activity gave me.
How does exercising make you feel?
I look forward to exercising the same way I look forward to eating. Before I exercise, I feel proud for investing this time into myself. During exercise, I feel confident in my abilities and fortunate to be able to do the things I can do. After exercise, I feel a sense of accomplishment. No matter how many 10k’s or reps I complete I know my body is better off than if I had never worked out.
Have you experienced racism in fitness or as a fitness professional/owner?
Yes. Not blatant but there have been many instances of covert racism. The term microaggression is relatively new to me, but from the first time I heard the definition I understood why so many experiences growing up made me feel so uncomfortable, particularly as a young black athlete. Looking back at situations when I was a kid through my adult life, I realize how differently I have been treated because of my skin colour.
Do you feel that you are treated differently than some of your co-workers, fellow owner/operators?
100%. I find it hard to answer the “in what way” because in all the situations I feel that I was treated differently. The people involved would find some arbitrary ways to justify the decision made to treat me differently, just enough to make it awkward or uncomfortable to speak up about it. The term “race card” has been used so often as a defense when minorities speak up for themselves and it makes it harder to address instances of racism. I compare it to victim shaming and this discourages people hurt by racism from saying how they really feel.
Do you think you were passed over on a promotion because of your skin colour; or was it a contributing factor?
I believe my skin colour was a contributing factor in advancement. That’s one of the reasons I have always wanted to start my own business. Too often, I felt I had more to contribute and gave more to companies that I worked for than people who were handed better opportunities.
In your role/business how are you helping BIPOC individuals get hired, promoted, or recognized?
Currently, I run a solo operation, but when my business gets to the level where I need to hire staff, my decision making will be based on what is best for my company, not someone who looks a certain way. Inclusion and diversity are important to me, and I consider that even when considering partners and suppliers to work with. As a result of my experience, I have worked for, or with, companies that have very few minorities, in an industry where there are many to choose from. Going forward, I choose to partner with companies who demonstrate diversity whenever possible. As it relates to equity, one of the primary concentrations of my business is promoting adaptive and accessible products and making fitness facilities more inclusive. If we don’t work to represent everyone, one to many people fall through the cracks. Discrimination is a result of continuing to exclude people from showing what they have to offer.
Are you actively doing something to promote fitness to your [BIPOC/Religious] community? Tell us about it.
Yes and No. It is important for me to work with and attract people in the BIPOC community but I feel discrimination, as it relates to fitness, is a bigger issue for people with disabilities. While I work to improve inclusion and accessibility for people living with a disability, I expect to see a positive biproduct of less racism and discrimination from the intersectional connections of BIPOC people who also live with a disability. Disabilities and catastrophic accidents don’t necessarily discriminate, but BIPOC people in these groups likely have even greater challenges.
What advice would you share to fitness businesses ready to make systemic changes in their organizations?
Hire every minority that meets the requirement of the job description and use their probationary period to determine if they are right for the job. It is obvious that most companies hire with a bias, that’s why canfitpro is behind this BIPOC spotlight. Given the opportunity, most people excel at any job they are given. For every qualified minority that was passed over, there is a person less qualified doing the job. Society would be further ahead if the best people for the job were truly the best people in the job.
There is a lack of BIPOC in leadership in the fitness industry, how do you see this changing in the next three to five years, and what needs to happen for this imminent change?
Personally, I see a lot of BIPOC leaders emerging in the industry over the next few years, but not because of specific changes to improve the situation. As the old guard retires, and new BIPOC blood continue to join the industry, the diversity in leadership will trend in the right direction. While we move to this point, more BIPOC people need to be empowered and elevated to management levels. Not only will this give a louder voice to people in the industry, but BIPOC youth who follow will see representation in roles they have not seen before.
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