The Rev. Deron Cloud passed out suddenly one day while riding his exercise bike. When he woke up in an intensive care unit, doctors said he’d suffered from an aneurism and could have died. He would not return to ministering for about two months after being hospitalized.

“I didn’t even know I had passed out, and when I had came to, I said that’s it. I said, ‘God, you’ve been trying to get my attention…I need to exercise,’” said Cloud, who at the time was taking medicine for high blood pressure, but has decreased the dosage since making several lifestyle changes.

At more than 320 pounds, Cloud joins a stifling number of African Americans across the nation living with high blood pressure. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure compared to their non-Hispanic White counterparts.

As pastor of Forestville, Md.’s Soul Factory for the past 14 years, Cloud has taken a holistic approach to addressing his congregation’s needs. The physical well-being is just as important as the spiritual, so he asked the church to commit to a 90-day mandate promoting healthier lifestyles and fitness.

“I came to a conclusion…we’re killing ourselves. We have to stop, we have to exercise,” said Cloud.

Since the 90-day mandate and with the help of a personal trainer, Cloud has created a stringent workout schedule that includes weight training, swimming and maintaining a raw food diet.

The commitment has also worked in many ways for Soul Factory members Crystal and Shawn Hunter, although it wasn’t an easy change. “It was a sacrifice for us; we sacrifice for so much in our life. If it’s a concert coming up or something going on, we have to sacrifice our time to do it…Whatever you want to do in life, you sacrifice your time. This is something we wanted to do in our life. We wanted to live a better, longer life, so we knew we had to make the sacrifice,” said Shawn Hunter.

In addition to being overweight, Crystal has to take insulin to manage her diabetes, while their youngest daughter has a severe heart condition, so getting healthy became a top priority. The change definitely paid off and the family was able to garner significant results.

“Once we started doing it , it was awesome. The energy was there, my medication was cut down in half, my insulin was cut down in half,” said Crystal Hunter.

Along with the mandate, The Soul Factory started Zumba classes, a popular aerobics fitness training program inspired by traditional Latin dances and rhythms.

Cloud selected his personal fitness trainer and Soul Factory member Will Washington to lead the classes. Two nights a week, Washington instructs female-only Zumba sessions. The new change has become increasingly popular at the church.

“It’s prevalent in this area. Just Thursday night there were 30 people that had never been here before. We average between 85 and 120 people each class. A few people have had their cholesterol really drop. I have definitely had a couple of ladies come to me and say their -esteem has changed,” said Washington, who has worked as a personal trainer for three years and a Zumba instructor for six months.

The 90-day mandate paid off and The Soul Factory participating members were able to lose thousands of pounds and lower cholesterol by hundreds of points. Cloud was able to shed 40 pounds during the mandate and said it was an experience that greatly impacted his life.

“I feel like I’m 10 years younger and I got my life back, said Cloud. “Before I lost it the physical way, I lost it the emotional way. I feel emotionally a hundred pounds lighter because emotion no longer drives me to eat.”


Bobby Marvin

Special to the AFRO