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News briefs 11.19.03

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Soul sweating

You knowyou've got soul if you can let it all hang out on Saturday mornings. While the majority of the working class is going extra rounds with the sandman, Tamiko Byrd, her sister Tamala David, Rob Johnson, and Miss Imani lead health-conscious urban folks in Soul Fitness. It's a pro-active attempt to get people to manage their weight and health through low-impact aerobics. And it's all to the throb and sway of soul, hip-hop, and r&b.

            Byrd ("Miss T" to her participants) came to aerobics almost by chance. She was commissioning to be an officer in the Air Force, and while working out at the YMCA noticed flyers for aerobic trainer certification. "So I said 'Since I'm here working out, why not do it?'" she says.

            Then Miss T's mom got sick. "She had blood clots in her legs, and basically it was from leading a sedentary lifestyle," she says. "As a society, we make obesity very easy and losing weight extremely hard."

            So Miss T wanted to help change things. And offering Soul Fitness classes to urban folks was the plan. But besides sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets, Byrd saw a financial obstacle.

            "The target population that we were serving just was not ready to pay for exercise," she says. "We're trying to serve the underserved --- basically those African Americans who have the highest instances of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, weight --- as well as the poor."

            So, in 2002, Byrd secured a location and contacted WDKX.

            "I said 'If you will announce it to your listeners and provide the music, I'll do the workout,'" she says.

            To Byrd's delight and surprise, classes filled up rapidly.

            "I expected 10 to 12 max," she says. Classes now top upwards of 60 participants with no shortage of first-timers. "You never know who's coming through the door," she says.

            Byrd and crew lead these 45-minute workout sessions with so much vigor and enthusiasm, you're left exhausted and grinning. Miss Imani belies her 60 years with the grace and agility of a 9-year-old. Byrd is a whirling dervish who joyously barks encouragement when folks show signs of giving up.

            Then there's the music.

            "The music is definitely what you feel when you come in here," she says. "Your soul feels good, so it feels like a harder workout."

            Miss T's energy and determination are infectious, encouraging, and limitless. Soul Fitness has applied for not-for-profit status, and Byrd is determined to take it across the map. Her long-term goal is to have her community exercise program implemented in urban areas across the country.

            It's only a matter of time.

            Soul Fitness is held Saturdays at 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. in the James Madison School of Excellence gym, 200 Genesee Street, and every Monday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Clinton-Baden Community Center, 485 Clinton Ave. Info: 944-7894.

--- Frank De Blase

Busing the (data) tables

As bulldozers warm up for demolishing the northwest corner of Main and Clinton, Rochester Central Station's enablers are grinding through the paperwork.

            Specifically, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been released, and a public comment period on the document is underway. Written comments must be received by December 15 at the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, ATTN: Mark Aesch, 1372 East Main Street, Rochester 14609. Moreover, a public hearing on the plan will be held Tuesday, November 25 (see Urban Action below for details, and for locations where the DEIS can be reviewed). You can contact Aesch at RGRTA for more information; he did not, however, return our calls.

            With endless data tables and verbiage, the DEIS presents the same concepts you've seen in an interminable series of ads starring RGRTA board chair Bill Nojay. The concept is basically a triple-arched structure facing East Main Street, with underground bus-bays and passenger platform. There also may be a 20-story office tower (up to 300,000 square feet) on the corner, with emphasis on the may. The terminal will be designed "to recreate the image and ambiance of the turn of the 20th century train station designed by local architect Claude Bragden [better known as, and spelled, Bragdon]." And the plan calls for "passenger support elements" that will include seating for 175 people, food concessions, restrooms, and bicycle racks.

            As shown by the reference to "Bragden," the DEIS has an odd take on architectural history. By law, such documents look at a wide surrounding area (and plumb deep into geological history). Still, it seems odd that the DEIS shows respect for architectural treasures like the old Rochester Savings Bank and Baptist Temple way over by the Liberty Pole while neglecting the older --- and thus intrinsically historic --- buildings at Main and Clinton. The document says the Main-Clinton buildings are not on the National Register of Historic Places and will be studied in "a separate report."

            Stylistically, the multi-volume DEIS is as dry as bone, just as you'd expect. But it's a highly politicized document aimed at selling Rochester Central Station with strategic turns of phrase. Take this example: "Recent opinion polls by the local newspaper have shown this project is viewed as number one priority for the city." Leaving aside the implication that Rochester has just one newspaper (sniff, sniff), the statement ignores some polls that indicate the fast ferry is higher on the local wish-list. Moreover, the statement doesn't acknowledge that the polls have measured only the public's reactions to a menu of big-ticket construction projects, not "priorities" in general.

            Indeed, you have to wonder how a hearts-and-minds battle between Central Station and, say, a low-pollution bus fleet would turn out.

Veep grabs cash, runs

Vice President Dick Cheney was visited on the Riverside Convention Center for a fundraising luncheon November 17. The Buffalo News said he made off with $200,000 in campaign donations from the appearance; he got $400,000 in Buffalo later that day. What gives? Isn't the Image Center's ruling elite as bloated and selectively generous as the Queen City's?

            Cheney, who reportedly gave a short speech defending tax cuts for the wealthy and the illegal war in and occupation of Iraq, may have picked up a message from the 400 demonstrators outside the Convention Center. What was the message? Basically, it was against US policy in Iraq. But the demonstrators were following the money, too --- through the presidential campaign as well as the Pentagon.

            "A lot of people are pretty disgusted" at the resources being "drained out of the community," says Bill McCoy, a Metro Justice council member. (Metro Justice organized the demonstration.) What did the demonstration accomplish? "How we did is tough to measure," says McCoy, referring to effects on US war policy. "Our people are being killed; their people are being killed," he says. "The outlaw element [in Iraq] is operating almost as well as in Afghanistan." Citing a recent piece by a liberal commentator, McCoy asks: "Why do [Iraqis] gather around and cheer when a helicopter is shot down?"

            The demonstration drew around 40 disability-rights activists, too --- and these activists brought slightly different grievances. According to Chris Hilderbrant of the local Center for Disability Rights, the activists are steamed that Bush-Cheney have not followed through on promises to move legislation that would benefit disabled persons "who transition from institutions to the community." Specifically, says Hilderbrant, the legislative package includes a $1.75 billion "Money Follows the Individual" demonstration project that would meet one longtime goal of rights groups: ending the plight of disabled persons who are in effect "locked up" unnecessarily in nursing homes.

            "We don't have a specific position on the war," says Hilderbrant, speaking for CDR and allied groups. "But conclusions can de drawn," he says. For example, there's the fact that that a certain $1.75 billion is AWOL while huge amounts go to the military. Hilderbrant notes that a unifying slogan at the November 17 rally was "Health Care, Not Warfare."

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