Teacher’s Village makes way for Mad Cool Fitness

The first-ever Mad Cool Fitness exercise studio will be opening in Teacher's Village on Halsey Street this spring. I spoke with entrepreneur Jennifer Turner — athlete, fitness expert, former television executive, and founder of Mad Cool Fitness — about how her venture came to be, and why she's launching it here in Newark.

What's the origin story of Mad Cool Fitness?

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and I was actually an overweight kid growing up. When I was 14, I lost 40 pounds by becoming bulimic, and I struggled with that eating disorder for about 11 years.

At age 24 I went to business school at Stanford, and I decided then that enough was enough — I had to change. I decided not to focus on counting calories and instead go to the gym, so I and two women in my support network went together. I lost body fat and felt great — I felt in control.

One thing lead to another from there: I trained for my first marathon, and I've since run seven of them, including Boston and New York City. I've done over a dozen triathlons. Through all these things, I discovered the real me, and I discovered how to have happiness and great health.

Cut to the fall of 2010, and I was living in East Harlem. I'd just gotten done speaking with my coach about training for my second New York City marathon, and I was at the subway stop at 125th and [Lexington]. Something really hit me in that moment: people couldn't get up and down the subway stairs. Many people were obese. Some were using walkers. And I thought to myself, "Who is better equipped to get into this conversation around obesity than me?" I felt really compelled, given my health history, to start a company and a brand that was multicultural and inclusive, and that helped everyday people transition from fat to fit the way I had. From there, I got certified as a fitness instructor and health coach, and I started teaching classes at the Harlem Children's Zone. My cardio dance class grew from 20 women to 200.

Because of my health history, I thought it was very important to focus on the basics of helping people build what I call a "fitness foundation". [That meant] telling them what good and effective excercise is, teaching them good nutrition, and helping with behavior modification, which means understanding stress triggers and what motivates people, and helping people organize their lives so they can engage in healthy activity every day.

I created the name "Mad Cool Fitness" because when you're healthy and you feel good, that is mad cool. And I wanted a big brand that was this platform for all things that are really cool and empowering in fitness.

What types of exercises do you incorporate into your program?

On the exercise front we have cardio dance – that's Mad Cool Cardio. When the studio opens, we'll be offering other group based fitness classes like strength training, spinning, and kickboxing. All the classes are designed to be group based, supportive, and fairly low-equipment, so that people can do these exercises at home even if they're not able to physically join in the studio.

On the lifestyle and wellness front, I've also developed my own curriculum called Mad Cool Healthy Support, which is a 12-week course that goes over the basics of nutrition, exercise, stress management, and behavior modification.

Will you also incorporate online tools?

Yes, absolutely. First of all, there's the Mad Cool Fitness online community. When people join the gym, they won't just be joining the physical gym, they'll also join a supportive online community. We also have an online platform that will launch with the studio, and will help people do the same classes online that we'll be teaching in person.

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Can you also talk about your development as an entrepreneur?

I feel that Mad Cool Fitnes is a culmination of my skillsets and all of my life experiences to date. For undergrad, I studied finance at the Wharton School of Business [at the University of Pennsylvania], and also majored in Japanese language. After I graduated from Penn I worked at Goldman Sachs, because I thought I wanted to be an investment banker. Even though I worked on some great transatctions and got excellent training at Goldman, I really wanted to understand what companies actually did with financing. Even then, I could tell that I was a creator. That's when I decided I wanted to work in an industry and build a business.

I always considered myself a creative person, so I thought I'd like to work in the entertainment field. I went to Stanford to get my MBA, and focused on getting a job in entertainment. But along the way, I briefly took a detour where I started a company with my classmates that was very similar to Groupon, but about 10 years too early. We had angel funding, and were in the process of looking for VC funding, when the first dot-com bubble burst around March of 2000. Even though it didn't work out, it was my first taste of true entrepreneurialism: of starting something from scratch, going through the highs and lows of that process, and feeling the satisfaction of creating something. It also got me comfortable with risk and failure, which are both important parts of starting a business.

From there, I started refocusing my energy on my original goal: to work in TV. I started out doing business strategy for ABC cable network. At the time, I wanted to eventually run a cable network, and I noticed that all the current presidents and general managers of networks came from programming. I decided because of personal interest and career management to move into the programming, content production, and development side of the business. I transitioned to ABC Daytime, and was a creative executive on Port Charles and General Hospital. Then I got promoted to director of current programing at ABC, and worked on Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey's Anatomy as a creative executive. [I ultimately] moved to New York to do business development for Bravo, where I focused on building revenue-generating partnerships for the network.

All of these things very much informed my perspective and my approach to Mad Cool Fitness from a brand building perspective, from an etnertainment perspective, and in terms of the content that we produce. And my personal story on the fitness side very much infuses how we approach attracting and relating to everyday people.

Why did you decide to open your first Mad Cool Fitness studio in Newark?

It was always in the back of my mind to open up a studio, but I thought that it would be incredibly difficult to do it, so I intially focused on scaling Mad Cool Fitness online.

But then the opportunity to open a studio presented itself. I got connected to Ron Beit, the developer of Teacher's Village, and his vision was that it would become this vibrant, thriving community that is part of the fabric of downtown Newark. He was looking for buisnesses that he thought would have a positive impact on the community.

And then for me, Newark speaks to everything that Mad Cool Fitness stands for. It has a rich history, it is diverse, it is swelling, and a there's real vision around not only maintaining and respecting the history of Newark, but also growing it into a real powerhouse. And specifically with Teacher's Village, I can't think of a better place to launch my first Mad Cool Fitness studio than in an environment that's about positivy, education, and creativity. So it all kind of worked, and I feel like it's very much a partnership where Mad Cool Fitness is servicing a community. It's my vision that as Mad Cool Fitness continues to grow, it will have an ever greater presence in the community. And as Teacher's Village and downtown Newark continue to grow, I hope that there will be a symbiotic relationship.

Image credit: MadCoolFitness.com, TeachersVillage.com

Q&A with Irvington city council candidate Al-Tariq Shabazz

What inspired you to run for the Irvington city council?

The main reason we’re running is we believe that our town can do better. We believe that the course we are on [now], and have been on for sometime now, is a path that leads to nowhere. We see a lack of progressive ideas and policies, and it’s something we believe that the town desperately needs and that we feel we can bring to the table.

Also, there is a major anti-democratic political culture here in Irvington that we want to challenge. With our very diverse population, we believe that inclusion can energize our town, and that giving all people a voice no matter where they come from will help us usher in a new phase in this town.  

How will you address the epidemics of homelessness and abandoned housing in Irvington?

We intend to address the abandoned homes problems though small business development, and we have also looked at various cities that have similar problems, such as Baltimore, Gary [Indiana] and Detroit. Some of the things they have implemented in those cities we feel are compatible with our current situation here in Irvington. 

What creative decision-making techniques will you bring to the council board?

The most creative thing that we can do is involve the people, because for so long they have been locked out of the process. By doing this we will see, I believe, a flowering of creative ideas and possibilities.

At the present time, you only see our elected officials if you’re fortunate enough to make it to the council meetings or the cookouts they have once a year.  But we intend on engaging folks in a more useful and consistent way, because by doing this we can gain access to Irvington’s massive brain trust. We know and understand very well that we don’t know everything, nor do we have all the answers. But collectively, the people do. With the different professions and life experience of our residents, there is a wealth of untapped knowledge here that we must utilize if we are going to grow. 

Irvington has a diverse community. How would you suggest to the council to address that feature of the town?

We can address this by establishing an office of culture. The purpose of this office would be to host different cultural events, educational [events], and informational sessions that introduce our town to the various nationalities and cultures that exist here in Irvington. 

What education reform plans would you suggest to the council if elected?

Here in Irvington we have an elected school board, so anything we would do should be done in conjunction with the board. When we take office, we will focus on developing cultural and educational programs throughout the wards that will act as a supplementary force to our school system. We need all the help we can get.   

What ideas for job creation in Irvington would you implement if elected to the council?

Sometimes our solutions can be found in the midst of what we see as our problems. There is a great opportunity for development in the areas of housing and real estate here in the town. We also have to focus on what our strengths are regionally. Newark Airport and Port Newark are less than 15 minutes away. These are assets and tools that can help in our development. 

How will you encourage the citizens of Irvington to vote for you?

Hopefully we can help people see that we are genuinely concerned with the well-being of the community. That our history did not start with our desire to run for office. That we have been on the scene for some time now in various capacities. I’ve convened conferences that have focused on progressive politics, economic development, and education. I was a student leader while in college, along with being an anti-violence activist. We intend to bring this mentality to the council, and the basis of this [mentality] is community.  

What type of crime plan would you implement?

We have had the advantage as community activists of studying these problems from several vantage points, and we believe crime has to be approached from various sides – a holistic approach, if you will. Viewing crime a disease has proved to be very useful in understanding the root causes and movement of violent crime throughout our community. Our approach must be three-pronged: prevention, intervention, and treatment.  We will release a comprehensive explanation of our plan at a later date. 

How will you help small businesses and inspire entrepreneurship amongst the citizens of Irvington?

Small business development, we feel, will be at the foundation of any development we have here in town. With this being our focus, we will have to ensure that our current small businesses have all of the support that is needed for them to grow. Furthermore, those aspiring to become entrepreneurs need a specific type of support, and we also have to ensure that our residents are being prepared to fill the jobs.

There is another important element in reducing unemployment, and that is making sure that our residents have access to those jobs that are already available, and are receiving their fair share of those jobs. And that means making sure that businesses who have contracts with the town are employing our residents.

What’s up with Newark? A Newark teacher’s account of the new youth organizing movement

Newark-based educator Leah Owens recaps this weekend's What's Up with Newark? roundtable discussions, the first in a series of events to be organized by the Newark-based group Young People Organizing for Change. Read on to learn what the group discussed, and why the converstations "renewed [her] activisit spirit".

Facing the near-Antarctic temperatures, I walked over to Bethany Baptist Church this morning to attend the What’s Up with Newark? roundtable discussions. I am a member of the host committee for Young People Organizing for Change, a coalition of young professionals who are targeting a particular population to get more involved in their communities, and the group that organized this morning’s event. In Newark, there tend to be islands of political activity. Any young person trying to eat usually is attached to one camp or another, and their talents and ideas can get overlooked. But this morning, that wasn’t the case. We were speaking loud and clear about what we see as the most pertinent issues. Unfiltered. No sugarcoat.

are the words that first come to mind when I reflect on the conversations of which I was a part. My area of expertise is what has come to be known as urban education, so I was super-ready to contribute to the “The Miseducation of Education” conversation. I ended up doing more listening than speaking (though if you know me, that’s not unusual for me); however, this time it was because I was drafted to take notes. There were a few other educators at the table, but most were speaking from different roles. Listening to my peers, they were hitting all of the major points of contention in education debates today—the role of charter schools in public education systems, culturally relevant teacher preparation, the importance of engaging parents in their children’s education, and more.

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