Fitness Workout Aims to Strengthen Minds

By Ksenia Galouchko on Dec 7th, 2010

Wearing purple sweatpants emblazoned with “Giant Thinking” and a silver sports jacket, Hassan Yasin, the founder of a workout program called Bartendaz, exercises in a small Harlem park on 139th Street and Lenox Avenue. Focused and serious, he keeps his legs perfectly straight as he flips his muscular body over the jungle bar.

Having spent three and a half years in prison in his early 20s on drug charges, Yasin, says when he was growing up, he didn’t have mentors — whom he calls “giants” – who could tell him to “do better.” During his sentence Yasin discovered mentors among fellow prisoners. “In prison I met some geniuses; they changed my life,” adds Yasin, now 41. “I was told by the men who raised me in prison— you come back to jail, you are a sucker.”

“My challenge in prison really became a benefit, like a school of hard knocks. I got my mind right, I got my body right, and most of all I got my spirit right, and I learned how to be a man.”

After his release, Yasin began hosting youth mentoring sessions in New York public schools, focusing on leadership development, anger management and crime and drug prevention. He called his program Giant Thinking. In 2004 a group of principals asked him to add a fitness component to his workshops because many young people were skipping gym. Yasin, who regularly worked out in Harlem parks, embraced the new challenge and Bartendaz was born.

In a city where 21 percent of public school students are obese, according to the June 2009 special report by the New York City Health Department and the New York City Department of Education, Yasin’s fitness program wound up in 20 public schools.

Along with his friends, Yasin started demonstrating his fitness routine in parks around the city. “People couldn’t afford to go to the gym, so Bartendaz was a perfect fit because everybody was already in the community inside the parks,” Yasin says.

Reaching out to the local community was the organization’s best marketing, Yasin says. “We didn’t have money for traditional marketing so we started to create T-shirts and DVDs and upload YouTube videos with the routines. And within two years we got at least five million hits, and more schools started to call us and more youth started to touch us,” he says, adding, “The community became the torch and the microphone for the Bartendaz.”

Performed on ordinary jungle gyms, Bartendaz exercises focus on strengthening the entire body. The workout is accessible to all genders and ages: The youngest member is 3 years old, the oldest 70, says Solomon Gold or “Dr. Goodbody,” the organization’s exercise facilitator. The Bartendaz members exercise in Marcus Garvey Park three times a week, and pay a $50 membership fee and $20 per week for classes.

Mental training remains a significant component of Bartendaz fitness training. “You can’t do Bartendaz without the ‘Giant Thinking,’” Yasin says. “Because we started fixing the bodies but the people were still mentally bankrupt. So we said, let me fix your mind before you fix your body.”

With small units of the Bartendaz now spread across the country, as well as in the United Kingdom and Brazil, Yasin’s priority remains “unlocking the minds of the youth,” preventing young people from committing crime by engaging them in exercise. “There’s gangs in London, gangs in Brazil, but now they take their energy out on the Bartendaz, and they’re too tired to go fight,” Yasin says.

“The biggest issue in Harlem are gangs,” says Bartendaz member Rasael Cruz, also known as “Chaos,” who met Yasin after losing his job. “The family structure is breaking apart because we don’t have strong father figures teaching young fathers to be men. When young people feel they don’t have families, they turn to gangs.”

Bartendaz helped Cruz, who had served a prison sentence, avoid committing more crimes. “I was down on my luck, and was about to get back to the streets to earn some income,” says Cruz, 39. “I met Hassan, and his goal of trying to keep the youth out of prison blew my mind.”

Darnell Hopkins, 28, a Bartendaz member whose nickname is “Jedi,” felt torn between the “dark side” and the “light” when he joined the movement. “My father fell on drugs in the 1980s and his people wanted me to follow them,” Hopkins says. “By doing the Bartendaz routine, I’m channeling the dark energy into the positive, good side.”

Gold, whose mother died of cancer when he was 5, joined the Bartendaz five years ago after watching one of the organization’s shows at Marcus Garvey Park. “By nature I’m a quiet person,” he says. “But Hassan told me, you went through what you went through for a reason, and now it’s time to use this as a springboard, so other people don’t have to go through it.”

With his workout program recently featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine, Yasin says he is committed to continue helping a community where youth diabetes and obesity present a serious challenge. “I’m saving lives and if you see me tomorrow, I’ll still be doing what I’m doing for the community today.”

Categories: Community, Sports
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1 Response for “Fitness Workout Aims to Strengthen Minds”

  1. Hats off to Yasin we need more people in this world like him. Sure he made some mistakes but he overcame them. Now he is giving back to the community with being a fitness mentor and role model to our youth.

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