Elijah “EZ” Muhammad, founder of Project Onyx and a veteran CrossFit athlete, is in Madison this whole week to compete in the 2021 National CrossFit Games. But before he embarked on the international celebration of fitness where the CrossFit community crowns “the Fittest on Earth,” Muhammad stopped over at Goodman Community Center on Madison’s east side to do a little community outreach — exercising with and inspiring Madison-area youths.
“This is a really sweet place here. When I first got to Goodman today I was overcome with emotions because everything I was seeing from the diversity in the staff to the diversity in the kids was incredible,” Muhammad tells Madison365. “It was a beautiful thing to see so many young Black kids that just seemed so well taken care of and happy. And to see Black staff looking over the activities … that representation is so important. When a kid sees someone that looks like him or her, that helps them succeed. Even though you might not think it’s something big, it is.”
The 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games officially kicked off on Tuesday at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison with men’s and women’s competitions and team events and will run through Sunday, Aug. 1 CrossFit is a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. Muhammad is a two-time competitor in the National CrossFit Games.
On Tuesday morning at the Goodman Center, Muhammad gathered students together to do a little CrossFit interval-style workout, dedicating 30 seconds to each movement and station.
“We went through as many reps as possible – air squats, burpees, lunges, sit-ups and jumping jacks,” Muhammad says. “Just giving the kids the idea of the intensity of CrossFit, the style of training and how to work out and have fun.”
Muhammad sat with the kids after the workout and answered all of their questions regarding CrossFit, physical fitness, nutrition, health and well-being and life. The kids, for example, asked him who the most famous person he ever met, and Muhammad, who finished 35th in the world at his most recent National CrossFit competition, said ‘me.’
Muhammad did mention a video (below) that he recently did where he was in close quarters with superstar comedian Kevin Hart.
One young person asked if Muhammad, the former college basketball player who is now 33, could still dunk.
After some stretching and warm-up, Muhammad provided them with the answer (below right) which was ‘yes.’
Muhammad’s goal with this visit to the Goodman Community Center as he got ready for the National CrossFit Games in Madison matches one of his major goals in life — to get children of color involved in health, fitness, and focused on their well-being and to help diversify the CrossFit world that he loves so much.
Muhammad grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Tennessee Technological University in 2010. He currently lives in Ankeny, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines, with his wife and four children. Muhammad has been doing CrossFit intensively for 11 years now.
“I first got started with CrossFit because my strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee Tech University wanted to hire me as a strength coach,” he remembers. “In order to be a strength coach, he wanted me to compete in CrossFit on his team. He thought I would be good … I was fresh out of college and played basketball.”
A little more than a decade later, CrossFit has become a passion in his life. Muhammad says that he would like to see CrossFit, often seen as a white person’s sport and overwhelmingly showcasing white athletes, become more diverse.
“We are working on diversifying it. I feel like we are heading in the right direction,” he says. “I feel like people are aware of [the lack of diversity]. My non-profit, Project Onyx is full-steam ahead in diversifying this space. We have 15 kids coming this weekend [to National Crossfit games in Madison] that will be here. Two are level-one certified.
“If you walk into gyms in bigger cities you will see more diversity in CrossFit,” he continues. “It’s just that on the big stage you don’t see enough representation. Therefore, it recruits more predominantly white people because that’s what they are marketing and that’s what everybody sees.”
Muhammad founded Project Onyx with the mission to “eliminate the barriers that underrepresented and underserved people of color face by providing affordable and accessible health and fitness services, mentorship for our youth and future professionals, and empowering our communities to become more culturally proficient, healthy, and active.”
“I started Project Onyx about 10 months ago. We started after the murder of George Floyd,” Muhammad says. “When that happened we just sat down and our hearts were like, ‘How do we make a change in our community? How do we support and help our community?’”
“Along with that, there were some racial slurs and things were said in CrossFit pointing at the Black community. Then the Black community in CrossFit just sprouted out and said directly, ‘Hey, these are my experiences in CrossFit.’ It was so disheartening to hear those stories. This is what I invest my life into; this is what I love. We just want to change that.”
One of the goals of Project Onyx is to help young Black Americans understand they have choices rather than what the system is telling and showing them, Muhammad says, and to give young people the support they need. Project Onyx focuses on young people ages 15-20.
“We just want them to have access to CrossFit and to fitness, in general, and teach them more about the sport and the byproducts of what CrossFit is and what it is actually doing in our lives,” Muhammad says. “We set out with the mission to eliminate the health disparity gap. It’s so important to teach these kids what health and wellness is, what fitness is and what CrossFit is doing … and then bring them into the spaces.
“The beauty of CrossFit that a lot of people don’t see when they watch the games is the community and the camaraderie aspect of it,” he continues. “That’s what I got from it when I first started and that’s what I’m looking to carry on through Project Onyx. What does your community look like? It can look like a beautiful thing.”
For more information about the 2021 NOBULL National CrossFit Games, click here.