Nurturing health, mind and community in Belair-Edison


BALTIMORE – Triana and Shelton Flemming beamed with pride when they spoke about their son, Amaree. In recent years, however, they felt challenged as parents.

The Baltimore couple wanted to round out Amaree’s upbringing, increase his confidence and help him grasp the importance of community participation. They said they believed athletes exhibit an inner strength and wanted to instill Amaree with those values.

A chance encounter with a fellow parent tipped them off to a wife-and-husband athletic duo who ran a fitness program that also built social, emotional, and mental wellness. The program had a profound impact on not just Amaree but the entire Flemming family.

“Socially, he’s developed so much,” said Triana Flemming, 41. “The leader in him is growing. You know, he’s helpful. He understands what it means to be in a community and not just take but you also have to give. I’m very proud of where he is.”

The Flemmings credit Amaree’s progress to a training program led by Ore-Ofe Iluyomade-John, 40, owner of UmojaFit, which provides physical and life-skills workshops that foster a holistic approach to health and wellness. She also runs group dance classes for women and the community, and she has private and corporate clients. Around Belair-Edison in Northeast Baltimore, people refer to her simply as Ore.

What makes UmojaFit different from other fitness programs is her focus on education, Iluyomade-John said. “We train you but we [also] teach you how to make this a lifestyle,” she said. Iluyomade-John is currently brainstorming ways to expand offerings to senior citizens.

BALTIMORE – Ore-Ofe Iluyomade-John, owner of UmojaFit inside the UmojaFit studio in Belair-Edison. (Robert Stewart/Capital News Service)

She partners with her husband Michael John Jr., 38, who founded a nonprofit, The Agoge Project, which teaches martial arts and mentors neighborhood youth.

Iluyomade-John said her interest in wellness and nutrition started with her mother and grandmother, who taught her that proper food heals. After finishing college at University of Maryland Global Campus, Iluyomade-John worked as a business analyst for a few years but soon she began delving into nutrition and training. She began a new career in the field in 2011.

Iluyomade-John started helping her husband, who launched The Agoge Project in 2017, by teaching students physical and life skills such as sewing and gardening at a nearby garden. “It’s really creating a safe haven for them whether they want to lift weights, if they want to box, they want to do jiujitsu, whatever it is they want to do, we got them,” she said.

Iluyomade-John and her husband moved their business to a second-story unit on Belair-Edison’s bustling business strip, Belair Road, in August 2022. It is one of roughly 50 businesses in the district dominated by retail shops, according to John Watkins, community real estate development manager at Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc. UmojaFit is building social connections across the neighborhood and beyond. Umoja, after all, is Swahili for unity.

Amaree, 14, said he’s been able to physically, emotionally and academically benefit from training with the Johns. Besides boxing and jiujitsu, Iluyomade-John has been helping Amaree study. “My grades in French have just been improving,” Amaree said.

But above all, he appreciates the emotional support the coach has provided. “Her helping a small child talk through stuff when they’re feeling unmotivated to do all of this working out — just talking to them in general — talking helps a lot,” he said.

The work the Johns do filled an important need for the Belair-Edison neighborhood, said state Sen. Cory McCray (D), who represents Maryland’s District 45. There are few recreational opportunities for the neighborhood’s youth, especially after school, due to the lack of a community recreation center, he added.

“You learn discipline, you learn what wins and losses look like, you learn what teamwork looks like,” he said. “These are all social skills, emotional skills that our young scholars need to be learning.”

Beyond its work with the neighborhood youth, one of UmojaFit’s most popular offerings is the cardio dance group classes that feature Zumba, Afro Dance and Mixxed Fit, which involves moving your body to hip-hop, Iluyomade-John said.

The Flemmings are examples of how that lifestyle training can change a household and transform their sedentary habits. Triana Flemming is an entrepreneur and Shelton Flemming is a truck driver. They have five children between them, two of whom live with them, and they have lived in the Belair-Edison neighborhood for almost seven years.

Triana Flemming started attending Iluyomade-John’s dance classes about a year ago after her husband started personal training. Shelton Flemming is working on weight management with Iluyomade-John. He’s impressed by her focus on community building.

He recalled a health and wellness fundraiser the Johns organized last summer in Herring Run Park at the northwestern edge of the Belair-Edison neighborhood.

“Bringing the kids from the neighborhood, the parents from the neighborhood, the elderly folk out,” he said, “It definitely means that it’s bringing a community together.”

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