This article was written by Mary Klauk
Fitness is what is happening in North Minneapolis! Valerie Fleurantin of VF Solutions is the driving force behind adding a fitness option to Northsiders. Coach Val, as she is known, has been connected and dedicated to the Northside since 2006 — she started her business in North, and is committed to North. Coach Val shares her journey and how it shaped her goals for the future of her company.
What is the goal of VF Solutions?
My main goal is to increase fitness access and health services in North while building community. I can support this by teaching free “Afrokaribe Dance Fitness.” I created the class using music that celebrates my own Afro-Caribbean culture and I know that others in the community can also relate. Afrokaribe classes brings people together. The more we know our neighbors, the more we care about them, and the stronger our community gets.
What sparked the idea for your company?
I heard a report on KMOJ about the health disparities for Black and Brown people that made me angry. Minnesota is known as one of the healthiest states in the U.S. However, many Black and Brown people die of diseases or conditions that are mostly preventable such as diabetes and high blood pressure. When I moved to North, I quickly saw that parts of the city were not only a food desert but also an exercise desert. I know in my own life that exercise is an extremely important part.
What happened next?
I also saw so many positive things happening in North Minneapolis. At the same time in my personal life, I was going through some difficult times. I went through a divorce and became a single mom, had financial issues, and went through a career transition. As a result, I can identify with many residents in North in similar situations who come to my classes. I struggled with my weight all my life and have always used exercise to manage it; however, during my divorce, I struggled mentally so I started using exercise as a form of therapy. I loved Zumba, the Latin-based dance exercise craze, because I’ve also been a dancer all my life so I got certified to teach. Teaching fitness classes is one thing but teaching the community how to change their lifestyle to a healthier one is also very important to me, so I got certified as a Lifestyle Coach in disease prevention.
What is your background in fitness and advocacy?
I worked in corporate America and was a fitness trainer for companies. Industry-wide, there are very few people of color in the field. Providing representation in the area of fitness is very important to me as is providing fitness programs that are accessible, culturally relevant and fun in the North Minneapolis communities. I took a permanent sabbatical from my career and dedicated myself to community fitness.
What partnerships have you formed in the community?
I partnered with Northpoint Health and Wellness and The Urban League to offer free/donation-based classes from 2014 to 2017, then worked with Pillsbury United Communities and North Market until 2022. I added a new partnership with Lululemon of Mall of America in 2019 and now I am a Brand Ambassador, a community partner and a recipient of their Community Impact Grant which has funded the community classes for 2022. My goals of increased fitness and reduction of diabetes etc. in the community align with theirs and I am extremely grateful for their ongoing support. Also, I am looking for new organizations in North and metro-wide to join me in increasing fitness and building community.
How can the community join Afrokaribe classes?
Everyone is welcome! Folks range in age from toddlers to teens to elders. No dance experience is needed. No reservation either! While classes are free, donations are appreciated. Outdoor classes are on Mondays and Fridays at Webber Library, and during cold weather classes are at Creekview Rec Center. All classes are for one hour and begin at 6 p.m.
What kind of programming would you like to see in our neighborhood?
I would love to see locations with full-service programming including more free fitness classes with teachers who represent the community. I’d like to have childcare, homework help and transportation to the location.
More info: Social Media: Facebook VF Coach Val and Instagram @VG_CoachValWebsite:vfhealthfitnesssolutions.com/