When Brittney Rae and Joslyn Reese, sisters from Aurora, quit their jobs and departed on a three-month backpacking trip in March 2013 through Central America, they had no idea that they would find a calling to open a fitness and nutrition studio in Colorado. “We were very aware of our surroundings and the people that we were interacting with… and we realized these people have access to all this amazing food and unbelievable weather, but yet they’re very unhealthy. We [thought], this isn’t too far off from how the culture is in America,” says Brittney Rae, who also serves as head fitness coach.

In an attempt to make wellness and fitness available to more people, the women founded FIT & NU  that same year as a mobile studio in the Denver metro area, hosting workouts at churches and parks. Two years later, the two sisters—who are certified fitness and health instructors—moved their gym into a permanent location in Aurora, operating as Colorado’s first health club geared toward women of color. Although the gym caters to Black women, the studio is open for all ethnicities. Here, the Reese sisters discuss their successes and their role in Black Lives Matter discussions.

Editor’s note:  Due to COVID-19, FIT & NU is offering virtual classes in addition one-on-one sessions.

Photo by Blake Jackson

5280: What makes your fitness studio unique?
Brittney Rae: We were very intentional about creating a vibe that’s welcoming and that will lift spirits because we know that our demographic of women are experiencing a lot outside of here on a day-to-day basis.… And then also the fact that it’s ran and owned by Black women [is not something you] see in Colorado. We are Colorado’s first fitness and nutrition club for women of color and we pride ourselves on that because, to be honest, the wellness industry is very white. That was also part of the reason why we felt the need to have a physical space. From our personal experiences, we’ve gone to so many different studios out here and felt uncomfortable. You know, assumptions being made like, Oh, you’re not going to buy anything. You’re here on a guest pass. This is why women of color shy away from committing to [some fitness studios] because it’s not welcoming at all. We wanted to change that narrative.

Why did you decide to open a studio focused on women of color?
Joslyn: It wasn’t an easy choice. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a box. But after really considering the impact of health disparities of women of color and how important it is for there to be a voice and also a safe place, we [decided] this isn’t about us and our comfort level. So we have to do something different and we have to do it in a way that is celebratory. We’re celebrating diversity and we’re celebrating health and we’re emphasizing life. We are open to all ethnicities. And many white women really love this spot because it’s diverse.

What has been FIT & NU’s  biggest success?
Brittney Rae: Our space is definitely a big success in just being visionaries and doers. We could have easily played small and fallen into what everybody else was telling us to do, but we trusted the vision was planted in us for a reason.
Joslyn: And we bootstrapped ourselves.
Brittney Rae: Another success is just to see how our clients have received us in our community—how they recognize our value, and they trust us and they allow themselves to be vulnerable with us.

Why are you selling “TOO DOPE TO DIE” shirts?
Joslyn: [TOO DOPE TO DIE is an] emphasis on life. People of color are disproportionately at risk for dying of COVID-19 right now, social and racial justice, preventable diseases, diabetes, food desert. We wanted to emphasize the “dopeness” of being a person of color… You have a responsibility to take care of yourself a little bit better because the things that are going on in the world are always going to be happening, most of this stuff is out of our control. But the one thing [we can control] is how you treat your body.

Where did the hashtag #healthyBlackLivesMatter come from?
Brittney Rae: We’re acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, but healthy Black lives create change. If we’re going to continue to fight this fight of justice and equality, we have to be healthy so that needs to take precedence over everything else…. Think about how triggering all of this is for the Black and brown community, just having conversations is so triggering. But if you don’t have a healthy escape or a healthy way to cope with it, it’s going to tear you down. We’re encouraging our community to go beyond just surviving and actually thrive.