In 2014, Briant K. Mitchell’s BKM Fitness Bootcamp had outgrown what would soon become the abandoned and overgrown Florissant’s Jamestown Mall site. He and his wife Felicia moved BKM’s bustling business to Ferguson in May 2014, just three months before unarmed teenager Mike Brown was shot and killed by then Ferguson police offer Darren Wilson, giving rise to all that took place in the aftermath.
While BKM’s fitness program helped create physically healthier bodies – the old building on S. Florissant Road became a place of respite from the righteous indignation against brutality and chaos in the streets during protests and violent actions of others.
“What BKM brought to the community during that time is healing and peace,” Mitchell said. “People needed to health – they wanted something they could feel good about in our community.”
On the back of BKM members t-shirts, the slogan “You will survive,” took on a whole new, more universal meaning.
“We would run up and down Florissant Road and people would come by and blow their horns and let their windows down – ‘Thank you’’ Mitchell said they would say. “Thank you for helping our community and giving us a reason to laugh, to smile, a reason to feel good about our community.”
“I am just amazed that God used me to help my community. It’s pretty remarkable.
“Even Michael Brown’s mom (Lezley McSpadden-Head) came to my gym to work out. She truly enjoyed herself. We have some of everybody walk through these doors –but to see his mom walk in our gym in Ferguson – it was truly something special.”
Mitchell said McSpadden-Head got the normal treatment like everyone else – who also are looking for that “normal.”
Like several businesses in Ferguson, BKM would not go unscathed during the unrest, even though it is located down the street from the police department on Ferguson’s downtown “pride and joy” area of the city.
“The night of the verdict, our building was vandalized twice,” Mitchell said. “This whole corridor, was closed – lights off, empty. We had our doors open.” Mitchell taught three classes that night.
“My wife and I were watching CNN – we saw the guys busting our windows inside our gym; my alarm was going off – there was nothing we could do but pray.”
His devoted clientele became noticeably void of non-African American members, but only for a while. He attributes that to faith and prayer.
“Police officers always come by, wave and make sure we’re okay.” During a blackout on Halloween night 2014, Mitchell said a police officer used his spotlight to assist everyone getting to their cars safely.
Mitchell said less than 10% of BKM clients are from Ferguson. His clients come from as far away as Herculaneum and Lake St. Louis in Missouri and Godfrey and Collinsville in Illinois. But all who come there gather to work out shedding pounds and increasing personal healing – with those who become like family.
“And they come three to four times a week,” he said. “If we open our doors, people will come.”
Five years later, Mitchell said the doors at Ferguson’s City Hall are open much wider and are now very welcoming. But the epicenter of the uprising still needs new life.
“The forgotten Ferguson is on West Florissant and that’s unfortunate,” Mitchell said. Money goes here – but not in my spot.” Mitchell said he pays a special to be at his location.
“It’s unfortunate it took losing a life. It’s unfortunate that it took a mother losing her son, a father losing his son, a brother losing his brother, an aunt losing her nephew,” he said. “But it was bound to happen in Ferguson.”