Black History Month: Past, present and future

by USA Weightlifting

As Black History Month continues, USA Weightlifting is celebrating programs that serve predominately Black communities that have consistently not only developed athletes but also changed the lives of those that came through those programs.

Finding the next Generation

Lift for Life Gym serves the inner-city St Louis, Missouri community since being founded in 1988 by Marshall Cohen to provide constructive, recreational opportunities to oppose the crime, drugs and violence that plagues inner-city St Louis. The wider Lift for Life Gym program now is a full-service after-school youth activity program serving around 500 youth in the area each year.

On the platform, Lift for Life Gym has started the careers of, among others, Derrick Johnson, Darren & Darrel Barnes, Jerome Smith, Antwan Kilbert, Destiny Snider and many more. Some have gone on to sporting success or used the sport to advance to college. Meanwhile, Jerome Smith became a Youth Olympian in 2018, our highest ever placing male. Johnson went on to become the youngest ever Senior International Coach and founded the Lindenwood University program in nearby St Charles, MO. He now runs the Kings of Weightlifting program with similar goals in Los Angeles, CA.

Today, Lift for Life carries on that legacy primarily operating in partnership with The LAB Gym under the coaching of Jimmy Duke III who gives his all to ensure that the inner city youth of St Louis have weightlifting as an opportunity to further their life experience both on and off of the platform.

Meanwhile in Savannah, Georgia, Performance Initiatives, competing under the historic club name Coastal Empire Weightlifting operate with similar goals to serve under privileged youth for education and fitness in Savannah, GA.

Performance Initiatives was founded in 2005, using weightlifting to foster an environment where individuals can be mentored and educated both physically and mentally to have “the power to rise.” The program has been extraordinarily successful in developing athletes on and off the platform, sending many onto university education. Performance Initiatives has developed a long list of athletes that have landed on national teams, most recently IWF Youth World medalists Nia Walker and Kaiya Bryant who both stood on the podium in Las Vegas in early 2019.

Similar programs have started around the country, and other clubs have set up several successful non-profit programs designed to assist underprivileged communities.

Over history other programs such as Wesley Weightlifters, Team Savannah, Hassle Free Barbell and LSU Shreveport have also made outstanding contributions to less privileged communities in their local areas each developing outstanding athletic and academic achievements on the way.

The Team That Crushed Barriers

Before today’s amazing work of opening doors for young African American athletes from the likes of Coastal Empire Weightlifting, Lift for Life Gym, Inner City Weightlifting and Kings of Weightlifting, there was the Crushers Unlimited team in Washington, DC.

The team, which is still active on the Masters level, had athletes that were targeting participation at the 1980 Olympic Games. Crushers Unlimited emerged in the 1970’s, at a time when weightlifting was generally dominated by less metropolitan based, generally white communities.

In the late seventies, the team surprised the nation taking home award after award, medal after medal including over 300 trophies, led by Tony Sims, Ron Crawley and Andre and Adrian Johnson. Andre still competes in weightlifting and still lives in the Washington DC metro area.

The team came about via the monumental efforts of Bob Thompson, a military veteran who secured the Crushers’ training facility at Rabaut Junior High School in the north west part of the City.

The team provided a sense of purpose to inner city Washington kids, the spirit of which has been picked up in modern-day programs that we mentioned above.

Can Washington DC see a revival of this amazing program? Click here to read more.

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