Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

InnerCity Weightlifting: Redefining Strength

Babson alum and friend of The Lewis Institute, Jon Feinman (MBA ’10), is no stranger to accolades. In 2012 he was inducted as a Rising Star into the Babson Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, and former Babson President Len Schlesinger is among his longtime supporters. But this May, a Boston Globe article about his non-profit InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) set off a fortuitous chain of events to help catapult his organization to the next level. Weeks later he found himself at his gym in Dorchester, Massachusetts, with an ESPN producer scouting for a feature.  By mid-June, a crew was there filming for a week and a half, and the feature aired earlier this month on SportsCenter.

Jon has created a model that is powerful at breaking down pre-conceived notions and stereotypes. Primarily servicing the communities of Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester, he’s championed a cause and community that many see as unchangeable or would prefer to overlook. Students at ICW learn the basics of Olympic style weightlifting and, as they advance, they move up to not only train other students, but also outside clients from very different walks of life. There’s a careful mix of structure and self-empowerment at the core of ICW. Students know it is there if they chose it, but it’s not forced upon them or made mandatory. It’s a positive community for students to opt into, building their strength and sense of self.

The impact of this approach speaks for itself. Right now, with 119 students and 18 trainers, ICW is well on the path to sustainability in the Boston area. Long term, Jon hopes to replicate the model in cities nationwide, but he wants to make sure that growth is done right. “We want to codify what can be codified, understand what aspects are relationship driven, how we can on-board the right people to grow.”

When asked what he thinks sealed the deal with ESPN, he says “I have to give the credit to the students. Once you get the opportunity to meet them and hear what they’ve been through, it’s hard not to be inspired by them and want to do whatever you can to help.”

The response, he says, has been overwhelming. “Our website crashed multiple times when it aired, we’ve received 600-700 emails, and tons of phone calls. What’s been most amazing about the response is that we’re getting emails from everyone from donors, to people working in law enforcement, to politicians, people who have done time in jail, who have been active in the streets, people in different cities who want to start up something similar.”

At the core of all their work is a drive to shift perspectives. If their mission speaks to you, Jon offers two great ways to get involved: “Spread the word and make sure we don’t neglect places like Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester. For people who are local – come in and train with our students.” When you’re there, be sure to keep an eye out for The Lewis Institute’s Emily Weiner who’s been training there for over a year.

For more information on InnerCity Weightlifting, visit their site and check out the ESPN video below: