South L.A. residents in desperate need of exercise opportunities

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

Zumba class at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

More than 200 South L.A. residents participate in a free Zumba class at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. (Photo by Molly Gray.)

If you take a walk along the streets of South Los Angeles you could go miles without ever encountering a public park … or even more rare, an athletic facility.

In fact, if you type the word “gym” into Google Maps, only about half a dozen dots pop up in the 20 square miles between the 405, 10, 710 and 105 freeways.

This lack of fitness space is bad. Especially if you consider that South Los Angeles has higher rates of obesity than anywhere else in the city.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity… a combination of all three,” said Ivy Marx, a dietician at St. Johns Well Child who works with children and adults in South Los Angeles.

According to the California Endowment 39 percent of South Los Angeles residents are obese. That’s nearly twice as high as the rate for L-A County.


According to Marx it’s a lack of access to healthy foods, medical care and most importantly safe places to work out.

“If you don’t feel safe going outside to play and you’re stuck inside,” she sa.d “They’re going to be playing more video games or watching television.”

So that’s where the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping mall comes in. Over the last year, the mall has built up a program they call B-fit.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday fitness classes are held at the mall for absolutely free.

Sharron King is the general manager of Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza and has been there for about two years. After coming to Crenshaw she noticed that the mall’s security staff was unusually busy helping with medical problems.

“In one month … we had over 30 medical assists, and you know, I’m accustomed to seeing maybe two or three a month,” King said.

Zumba classes start

King knew something had to be done. So they started offering a Zumba class on Tuesday nights. King says attendance grew each week until they quickly reached the 200-person maximum for the space.

So it’s a win-win: more people come into the mall and people have a safe and free opportunity to work out.

“I’m not an active person. Well, I wasn’t prior to this,” said Candace White, a South L.A. resident who has been coming to the classes for about four months. She brings along her sister, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes.

“This has kind of changed my whole outlook with my physical day-to-day activity,” White said. “It made me really pay attention to what I need to do to stay healthy. I don’t want to be the next diabetic in the family.”

And the class is designed so that anyone can participate. Victoria Balderaz is a 65-year-old immigrant from Mexico.

She says the class makes her feel good and gives her hope that she can still be healthy. Across the room, 10-year-old Aijah Pittman wears a green belly dancing skirt with gold coins.

Her mom Iesha brings her to class to help her foster good habits now.

“It’s very important because with so many things going on in the school,” Pittman said. “Not eating properly and not exercising properly neither in school so it’s very encouraging for her to encourage me to be here.”

For Cita Hill, the best part about the class is the community. She says she knows she can come here and fit it.

“A lot of people here we meet of all different ages. Size. Don’t be shamed,” Hill said. “We got everything from ‘why is she here she’s a size two’ to maybe a size 22 or whatever.”

Hill also says she can’t afford to go to a gym so the fact that the class is free is helping her to lose the weight she gained when she quit smoking.


  1. I think Baldwin Hills Crenshaw initially had plans to just be a retail center. But it has really gone out of its way to be so much more than that. It’s funny… I speak with friends and I think about how much I loathe going to Beverly Center, the Grove, Century City, or driving to South Bay and how much I like going to BHCP. It doesn’t have the chain retail that Fox Hills has, but it’s just a comfy, homey place. The exercise classes, the mellow mood of the shoppers, the awesome RAVE theaters and the summer concerts make it very special. I’m so appreciative Macy’s renovated the May Co. store. I hope Capri Capital gets to develop Marlton Square.

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