”Pete Molinelli, a court officer who lives in Southbridge Towers, said that the building’s seniors used to be 'just kind of shut in.' And then Mr. Addo arrived.
“'All of a sudden, it’s like there are all these new people in the neighborhood,' Mr. Molinelli said. 'But no, they’ve been here forever. Addo brought them out.'”
What is it that man did to bring out those elders?
Martin Luther King Addo, opened a storefront fitness club last summer inside Southbridge Towers, a housing development in Lower Manhattan that is home to many old people. As Louis Lazar reports for The New York Times:
”Mr. Addo’s clients vary in age and shape, but they skew older and female.
"There’s Elizabeth Birnbaum, 72, a retired librarian, who loves Mr. Addo’s inspirational speeches on the connection between physical and mental health.
"There’s Diane Harris Brown, 66, who attends his Monday classes and has Parkinson’s disease.”
One of his most dedicated clients is 90-year-old Shirley Friedman:
”She has private training sessions twice a week, attends a suspension training class, and, she said proudly, 'I also do the boot camp...'
“She has had trouble lifting her shoulder since a mugging two decades ago, when a man ripped her purse from her shoulder, damaging her rotator cuff...
“She thought she was 'too old' to work out. But Mr. Addo made her comfortable, and after a few months of stretching, massage treatments and suspension training, her shoulder’s range of motion had improved remarkably, she said.”
A bodybuilder and two-time winner of the Mr. Ghana competition in his native country, 44-year-old Addo was inspired as a teenager in the 1980s by Arnold Schwarznegger. He “honed his muscles using a mango tree as a pull-up bar and concrete blocks for dumbbells” in his grandmother's backyard and in 1999, achieved his dream to live in the United States.
Nowadays, at his little gym in Southbridge Towers, Mr. Addo is dramatically changing the lives of elders, people like 86-year-old Mary Kalloran who took a bad fall several years and and began using a walker to get around:
”Mr. Addo...taught her exercises like balance lunges and stretching techniques. Gradually, she regained her balance and traded the walker for a cane.
“Now, she drinks a protein shake each morning and strolls to the World Trade Center and back — twice a day.”
It's not just his fitness expertise that is helping these elders broaden their lives. What these elders are also responding to is Addo's respect for them, something that comes naturally to someone raised in a culture that views old age quite differently from ours:
”Raised within the Ashanti tribe, Mr. Addo was always taught that improving the lives of one’s elders is of the highest virtue. 'They remind me of my grandmothers and aunties back home,' he said.
“Mr. Addo sees his work as more than just improving older people’s fitness. He set up a computer for them to use, and organized a holiday party and a trip to a Ghanaian restaurant in Brooklyn.”
Here's a video from The New York Times
On the occasional of Shirley Friedman's 90th birthday in March, Mr. Addo “ended class early for a party...
”About 25 people, including many women of Mrs. Friedman’s generation, gathered as Mrs. Friedman beamed and blew out the candles on a cake provided by Mr. Addo.” Mrs. Friedman explains that Addo give old people who've never worked out before the confidence to do it. “He’s not a phony,” she says. “Got me?”
The world needs a whole lot more people like Martin Luther King Addo who genuinely likes elders. Go read the whole story. You will be inspired.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On Gaining a Balance