“[A]nybody in the medical field that looks like you, you, you have better outcomes”
Zakiya joins Yumlish to discuss the importance of a community coming together and creating a space to become healthier. Zakiya Jenkins owns and operates a fitness studio dedicated to helping people in her community be healthier. Zakia resides in Des Moines Iowa and is the founder and Executive Director of Grace Fitness.
Zakiya is the founder and Executive Director of Grace Fitness. She holds a Masters’s degree in Public Administration and is a certified personal trainer as well as a community health worker who helps people overcome their struggles to get healthy. She was born in Gary, Indiana where she witnessed the impacts of social determinants of health in her community. She is working to become a registered dietitian.
Shireen: Podcasting from Dallas, Texas. I am Shireen, and this is a Yumlish podcast. Yumlish is working to empower you to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions Like type two diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions.
Shireen: In today’s episode, we will be talking with Zakiya Jenkins, who owns and operates a fitness studio dedicated to helping people in her community be healthier. Zia will be discussing the importance of [the] community coming together and creating a space for anyone to get healthy. Stay tuned.
Shireen: Zakiya, welcome.
Zakiya: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Shireen: An absolute pleasure. Zakiya, tell us a little bit about your journey and what led you to it. Especially talking about your own beginnings and now you’re becoming a registered dietitian. Walk us through that journey.
Zakiya: Well, and once again, thank you for having me and having this platform where people can talk about this. What led me to who I am today is I weighed 305 pounds. I was an acute asthmatic. I was in the ER twice a month with flare-ups needing prednisone, just everything that was related to chronic asthma. I needed a seatbelt extender to get on the plane, my knees were swollen, my ankles were swollen. I was just really unhealthy and I was unhealthy because of a lot of trauma that I had experienced as an adult, as well as a child. I used food to help me. I, I didn’t know how to eat healthily. I just know I just ate. I didn’t read my labels or anything like that.
Just through a lot of various, interventions, I was able to become an ambassador at a yoga studio, where classes I could not afford out of pocket myself. This lady had an ambassador program and I had to write a letter to get in, and the synopsis of my letter was, I’m black and I’m fat, and I need some help. I had nowhere to go. I remember going to an old church building or someplace, overeaters anonymous place. I was at my wit’s end. I did not know how I was going to get healthy or anything. That just led to me starting to teach classes heavy at 305 pounds I was still, I just fell in love with how exercise made me feel and so I, I just fell in love with it and I have not looked back yet, and it has saved my life. It has cut down on my prescription drugs. I’m able to run. I’m, I just feel my clothes size, I was in a size 26, right?
I have went down 10 sizes and I just feel better. No surgeries, no not being perfect, just every day putting me first. And so that has led me to starting my own health and wellness organization, Grace Fitness, and I’m embarking on, finishing my degree to become a registered dietician, to show people, especially in my community how to eat because it’s helping me too. I’m learning so much. So that’s, that’s where I am.
Shireen: You’ve mentioned, people in your community.
Shireen: Can you talk about representation and understanding the social factors associated with getting help from a provider that looks like you, including a registered dietician?
Zakiya: Oh, it’s, I can’t, If you’re, if you don’t walk in our shoes, you don’t know, what you’re missing, right? Because when people, when you are somewhere and everybody looks like you, your doctor, your pharmacist, anybody in the medical field that looks like you, you, you have better outcomes, right. I feel like having, people of color in health spaces is, it’s critical to our care and to being related to, right. You have to relate to the culture. You can’t assume, and I know that’s hard because some people don’t. Like when I moved here from an all-black city to Des Moines, Iowa, it was a culture shock, a complete culture shock for me, but it is nobody that looks like me here, that I can’t go be an ob-gyn. That can be a registered dietician. We have a few dentists; one or two doctors. But, seeing somebody that looked like you is so very important. Really, it is.
Shireen: Important in the sense of building trust and understanding the individual’s needs or how would. , how would you place that need?
Zakiya: All, I would say all of the. because in school I’m hopeful with George Floyd, all the race, all the race situations that people are really looking at the health equity piece as far as how they give care and how you may think black people can tolerate pain more, or all these biases that have been ingrained for centuries. Now we’re not talking about years. This is centuries and centuries of how we have been treated. It isn’t and has not went away in medical care. What has opened up is the internet. You know, you get to see you know how people, black people are treated in this country and it’s just not by the police. It’s in healthcare. It’s at the grocery store. You go to a black grocery store, our prices are higher, right? You like, you really have to look at this at a large scale. It’s just not the police that’s bringing all this on. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that nobody’s talking about that, affects our health. Health insurance, access to care. It just, the list goes on and on.
Shireen: I wanna, I wanna next go into some of the work that you’ve been doing. You have a personal connection to this. You’ve gone through this in your own personal journey. What is the impact that you are now creating in the community? I know you’ve got Grace Fitness as well. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and making connections in the community?
Zakiya: Me making connections with Grace Fitness, we have been certified through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be a diabetes prevention site. That’s huge because when I was growing up, I would say [the] majority, over 60% of my family suffer from complications of diabetes, and as the kids, we didn’t know, We just saw your grandma shooting herself with insulin. You just think that this is the American way. Right. I had to take a deep look like, that’s gonna be me, right?
Because if I don’t change what I eat, the same as what my grandmother ate, we don’t know. We don’t know that you can eat this over that and still have the taste that we like going back to the culture thing but that’s healthier, that’s better for you. That won’t give you diabetes, that won’t give you hypertension and gout and depress you. It’s, it’s, it’s just deep. And so what I’m doing in the community is really the education piece. I’m not selling, I don’t have any waist trainers to sell. I don’t have any pills to sell.
What I sell is a healthy lifestyle that you can do it. You have to do it. It’s life or death if you don’t make small changes. But, sometimes honestly, we don’t know what those small changes are. We don’t talk about that at our dinner table. Right? My aunt died at 51 years old of complications of diabetes, lost her eyesight, lost her ability to pee. She was in a wheelchair for 10 to 12 years from complications of diabetes. We see it in our community more than any other race. Why is that? Why don’t we have dieticians of color? Why is that? At our grocery stores, like really, who teaches us about this? Nobody. And that’s, that’s, that’s a death sentence.
Cause what you put in your mouth is life or. and without being perfect, I’m not saying you have to starve, you have to eat a salad. Absolutely not. And it’s not about how thin you are black people, we, we big bone it, right? We thick, we are and that’s what we pride ourselves on, but we also have to pride ourselves on being healthy and break in generational curses going to exercise. I offer free exercise classes Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM to 6:30 as a way as an opportunity for people to have access to move. It’s in the comfort of the home, right? I wanna take excuses out of it. because we just don’t know [any] better. We can’t, I’m not saying every black person, but a lot can’t afford the fitness boutiques and the hundred dollars a month gyms. That’s not even on our radar cuz we trying to survive and pay our bills and put food on our table and you know, have a little, you know, go, you just live. It’s tough out here.
Shireen: You bring up such interesting points, Zakiya. I think one of the key things is getting involved in the community and being out there and showing people, and I feel a lot of it has gotta do, part of it is access and part of it is knowledge. Right. As you’re going out in the community, can you talk through, because we hear a lot of, like, we need to do more grassroots efforts and more community, uh, you know, based efforts and all of that? What are some of those, challenges that you face as you go out in the community?
Zakiya: I face. I’m learning, you have to go to the people, right? You can’t expect them to come to you. You have to go to where they are. Go to their grocery store and no, don’t mean no. You know, people just, they are stuck in their ways cuz they don’t know any better. So you have to, you have to show them me, I have to show them people in my own life. Hey, I can do it, you can do it.
That is the hardest thing is changing people’s mindsets. If you change a mind, you can change a life, but you have to change, their mindset for the long haul. Because you never, you never close the race of health. It’s never, when you hit this number on the scale, then what do you stop exercising? Do you stop eating? Well, what do you do when that number on that scale says, or don’t say what you want? You can’t give up either way, and that’s that. I’m just the ambassador of health. Right. Uh, that’s it. I’m just the ambassador to cheer you on and that you can do this and, but you need help. You need education and you need access to it.
Right? I didn’t know that there was a diabetes prevention program and the people in my community, do health fairs Oh, I didn’t know that this was available. Yeah, neither did I, but now I get to. I get to share it, and that’s my challenge. Right? That’s my challenge is sharing my program with everybody. Right? That’s, that’s it. Just getting a word out. Yeah. You have social media, but that’s, it’s just a challenge. Awareness is a challenge.
Shireen: What are, what are things that other community members around you can do to help build up some of those things?
Zakiya: Well, I have had some great community support. I, I can honestly say that, um, you know, they share my, my brochures with their networks and, um, you know, I’m having a challenge getting into the rural communities and because that’s, that’s, you just can’t walk in there and be like, Hey, I’m Zakiya from Grace Fitness. You know, once again, you are in a rural community in Iowa, and I’m a blackface right? So that comes with its own challenges and hesitancy on my end. But I have to still run the race of health, even in their community, not knowing what I’m getting into. But there [are] pockets of, you know, pockets of black people in rural communities too. It’s just, I, I, I would say just the, my, my, my community partners have been great, in supporting Grace Fitness and helping me get the word out. So it’s been, it’s been great.
Shireen: What are you, you mentioned diabetes a little bit ago. What are some of the most common health problems in the community? Um, you mentioned the diabetes prevention program that you, that you provide. What are some other resources, and solutions that exist to address some of those? Challenges as well.
Zakiya: So it’s a lot of challenges. So they have, so for instance, we have like a, a lot of mental health, right? This nutritional health, [and] mental health go hand in hand sometimes because if you not, if you not if you not stable and happy and accountable mentally. Having that mentality toward your food sometimes can’t coexist. So there’s a lot of, especially in Des Moines, there’s a lot of up and coming black mental health therapists that you could tout like, Yay, we need that. We need to see, I can’t say in Des Moines there’s more black mental health in any other profession and I love to see that.
We have Polk County health, we just have a, we there are groups of people that’s in the community, to get you what you need. But you have to know about it, right? That’s the thing. And not be afraid to access the service and don’t look for a quick fix. That’s another thing. People, they want instantaneously and health is not like that is a beautiful thing to learn yourself in the journey. It’s a, it’s a process. If you, you know, everything, it’s just a process. You gotta be ready to do this thing for, for a lifetime, and not wanna do it. Lose weight to go on a trip lose 30 pounds to go on a trip, lose the 30 pounds plan ahead, and just live life as you are. Be healthy as you are. Getting healthy would be my suggestion cuz fad diets don’t work. Fad stuff don’t work. Stuff don’t work.
Shireen: Yes. You know, it’s, it’s interesting you mentioned that because I, I mean, I, I kind of joke about this as to say that the secret to losing weight is that there is no secret. It’s, it’s literally a lifestyle change. You have to keep making those changes and keep modifying behaviors on a day-to-day basis. And the unfortunate thing there is that you’re never taught any of those skills growing up in school, neighbors, family, you’re never kind of taught that, especially in an environment that’s not set up in that way.
And so you kind of see a disease state, be it diabetes, just getting passed down, generation and generation cuz you don’t know better. But then you make the case to say like, education needs to be provided in these communities. Awareness needs to be brought. But there is, especially to, the folks listening here today that are wanting to make a change in their lives, what would you tell them to encourage them to be more open and ready to make those lifestyle changes?
Zakiya: Strive for progress, not perfection. Every day you get up, do something for your health. Take a walk. Take, Do try something new, right? Dude, you might really like it. Like me, I did indoor cycling. I thought it would kill me, but I loved it. Right? But you have to you, if you don’t try anything new, you never know. If there’s something that you will like and you have to find something that you can stick with. Small changes every day, add up to big things, but it’s, once again, it’s a long, it’s a process, but you are worth it. People, you are worth the sacrifice and you are worth the wait and it’s people to help.
Shireen: I love that you mentioned that you are worth it. My mind immediately go to, So we do a lot of work with, uh, you know, women and moms and again, with the lifestyle changes for diabetes, prevention, management, all of that and the biggest thing, and most of our work is here in Texas and the biggest thing we hear is moms especially, especially when you talk about you are worth it, moms really taking that second. And saying that, Oh no, I have all this stuff to worry about with my kids, or a family, you know, a spouse, whatever it may be. Mom just really gets dropped down in that priority. To the moms listening out there too even those who don’t put themselves first. What would you say to them?
Zakiya: That they are doing a disservice to themselves and to their children and to their family, because you, you cannot not, and I hate to even say this, but you cannot pour from an empty cup, right? You have to be filled up in order to have the, I’m a mom. I, I have two dogs and a kid. I’m like, Oh my goodness. I couldn’t imagine having a lot of children and a, i I just could not. Cause I, it is a lot, especially if you wanna keep a good, a clean house if you wanna, but you cannot. That’s why you have to take care of yourself first thing in the morning before the world gets to you.Right.
That’s why you exercise, you meditate, and give yourself. That half hour, you know, or 45 minutes before the kids even get up. If you have to wake up early, that’s what you have to do for you so you could be a better you. Cuz that’s what it’s about being a better you. And the only way you be a better you is if your health, you, you are nothing without your health.
Nothing. , you can’t buy health. You can’t buy a new kidney. You can’t buy being able to walk down the street if you have an emergency to be able to run and get away from an emergency, right? You just, you, you are nothing. It sets the tone for your children. If they see that mom is making herself a priority, they are gonna make themselves a priority as non-negotiable but is a learned behavior. I didn’t wake up like I’m 45 and I, it just clicked about five years ago that I, I, I need to take care of myself cuz that’s why I got myself in the predicament at 305 pounds. I was too busy taking care of other people and I did not take care of myself. And I’m like, wait a minute. I’m, I’m, I’m not who I wanna be trying to fill somebody else up and take care of them.
And that’s, that’s a, that’s not right. But we see it. We, think women, we have to, and moms, we have to be all, do all, But it has to be a balance. But what helped me is. It’s getting up before my daughter gets up, getting up to do 30 minutes, 45. Now with, with, um, everything being virtual, that’s, that’s, that’s simple, but you have to be motivated to do it. Go to bed early, put the kids to bed. That’s not selfish. You need it for your peace of mind so you don’t go, you. Crazy. Right. And realistically you just have to, you gotta just take a breath and be with you cuz you all you have that.
Shireen: That is so true. You know? Zakiya, I wanna touch on the flip side of this. So with all the work that you’re doing out in the community, how does it help you in return?
Zakiya: Mm, Well, I, I, it is, I cry a lot, you know, And I cry good tears. I cry, thankful tears. I cry like, Wow, I didn’t see this self for, look, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now because I am so grateful and I’m humbled that I was chosen. To do this. I was not, this wasn’t in my 20-year plan, my five-year plan, This was not in any of my plans, but I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful because I really get to save people’s lives, one life at a time, one class at a time, one health fair at a time, and that’s what life’s about. Just giving back for what I didn’t have, I didn’t see, I didn’t see me. I didn’t see Grace Fitness, but we, needed it, and I’m not perfect, right. I’m, I’m a new non-profit, so there’s a lot. I don’t know, but I, I keep going and that’s what I, I wanna encourage people you may not know, get some help, reach out. It’s, it’s organizations like Grace Fitness that’s here to help.
Shireen: Mm-hmm. I love it. I absolutely love it. With that Zakiya, we are toward the end of the episode. At this point. I would love for a listener to know, how they can connect with you and just learn more about your work?
Zakiya: Absolutely. Our website is www. gracefitnessdfsn.org. D as in David, F as in S as in Sam, M as in mary.org. And we are also on social media, Gracefitness dsm. If you want to email us, the email is email@example.com and we would love to chat with you and do, a risk assessment and see where you are. You know, health, you have to know your numbers. You have to know so you can make a change. Knowledge is power, and that’s what I do know. Knowledge is power on every front.
Shireen: Thank you so much for sharing that Zakiya, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. I love, I absolutely love the passion and commitment that you have to this cause because we need more warriors. We need more champions like this who are out there saying, No, I’m not gonna take the status quo, um, as being okay anymore and a change needs to happen and it needs to happen today. And if I’m not part of the, if I’m not part of the problem, then I’m gonna be part of the solution. And I, love that attitude that you have. Been such a pleasure just talking to you and learning from Zakiya. Thank you so much for your time.
Zakiya: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Shireen: And to our listeners who are listening header to our social media, let us know how you like this episode. Find this podcast post, and let us know what you think of this episode and things that you are doing in your day-to-day that’ll help you get ready for change Next. Um, again, head over to a social media at Facebook on Instagram.Find us there and comment below this podcast post. With that, Zakiya, thank you so very much.
Zakiya: Yeah. Thank you, Shireen. Thank you.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media at Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and at Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn for tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions, and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspective. You can also visit our website, yumlish.com for more recipes, and advice, and to get involved with all of the exciting opportunities Yumlish has to offer. If you like this week’s show, make sure to subscribe so you can hear more from us every time we post. Thank you again, and we’ll see you next time. Remember, your health always comes first.