Fighting to be fit: Located in the heart of the Crenshaw District, kickboxing classes taught by Mark K. Smiley at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The wellness program has inspired a growing movement in the region for community residents
At the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, blessings come in all shapes and sizes
Betty talks about someday joining the popular local health club, but the busy Crenshaw area mother of three realizes that the free weekly Cardio Kickboxing class at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza may be the closest to a paid gym membership that she may ever get.
The same may be true for the many others who arrive more than an hour early each week to secure their space on the second floor Macys Bridge. It’s another opportunity, they say, to be physically challenged by their no-nonsense fitness instructor, Mark K. Smiley. Most don’t mind, happy that their fitness goals are much clearer today, than before they when they began taking his Kickboxing class nearly two years ago.
They credit Smiley for his availability and passion for fitness and plaza management for establishing a venue for affordable, accessible and fun fitness activities for the community.
The class is offered as part of the Plaza’s bFit wellness program, where members are instructed weekly by Smiley, as well as other certified instructors who teach Yoga and Zumba classes. For parents with multiple responsibilities, the classes are a dream come true; both a chance to get in shape and an opportunity to bond with family.
Timely and life-saving classes
The bFit wellness concept is partly the result of a series of medical-related incidents that occurred at the mall and the need to develop strategies to reduce hypertension, which is so prevalent in local African American and Latino neighborhoods.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that African-American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese and are at risk for many other diseases. Moreover, with strong social support of members, group exercise helps lower rates of depression.
“It became clear to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw management team that we could make a real, positive impact in the community through promoting healthier lifestyles,” stated mall general manager, Sharron King.
King adds that the bFit fitness program has been extremely successful with almost exclusively positive feedback, many praising the mall for providing the high quality of instruction and a variety of classes that work with their schedules.
Giving back with a passion
Whether a beginner or advanced, Smiley’s Kickboxing class meets the needs of all members, offering a combination of martial arts and boxing movements that improves speed and enhances agility. Smiley’s ultimate goal, he says, is to instill the benefits of exercise in members through a competitive, supportive and fun workout environment for all.
“Don’t be lazy, don’t be cute,” he yells for motivation, soliciting huge smiles throughout the aerobics floor. It’s one of his many “Smiley-isms” or a term which members have coined for his clever sayings to a mixture of popular hip-hop, R&B, and pop music.
A professional fitness Instructor since 1999, Smiley is considered one of the most exciting and inspiring fitness instructors in California. His unique ability to motivate, coupled with an infectious energy level, has earned him a phenomenal following both in the community and within the 24-Hour Fitness organization.
Never pressed about which passion he prefers most, Smiley has also excelled as a top producing licensed realtor since entering the industry in July 1999.
Outside of corporate fitness success, Smiley goes beyond the walls into the community to reach those who may never see the inside of a corporate workout facility. Smiley lectures and conducts fitness workshops for local houses of worship and schools and collaborates with other fitness professionals to host outdoor community fitness “Bootcamps.”
Over his long career, Smiley has amassed an impressive list of success stories along the way.
“He let me know from the beginning that quitting was not an option,” says Myisha Pratt, 28, who went to Smiley nearly three years ago weighing “a whopping 358 pounds.” Today, after working his program and subscribing to his advice that it would not happen without making it a lifestyle change, Pratt is down to 228 pounds.
“His style is not for the weak hearted or sensitive,” one member shares, “You either love him or hate him.” Another compares Smiley’s approach to a cross between a Marine Corps. Drill sergeant and charismatic Baptist preacher.
“I've always been a gym person, but never found an entire community of like-minded people who love working out together and focused on getting and staying in shape,” said Wil Key, an international music producer and artist. In 18 months, Key says he has lost almost 30 pounds and surprisingly has added lean muscle mass.
A healthy social experience
Located in the heart of the Crenshaw District, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza caters to the largest and diverse class of African American community in the Greater Los Angeles area.
For nearly two years, local residents have had an opportunity to learn the basics of fitness in an extremely large support group – sometimes up to 200 members. The weekly gathering is one that the community appreciates and looks forward to with great anticipation. It’s a welcoming sight to see youth doing homework, as they smile watching their parent’s workout.
On this particular night of class, Smiley begins issuing his normal instructions about the importance of giving your all. His next announcement was a surprise birthday acknowledgement to two class members, complete with a cake presentation.
But before anyone even thought about sinking their teeth into the cake, he yells with authority, “Okay, everyone, on the floor, push-up position! Let’s go!”
Mark Smiley can be reached at