Team Autobars with staff from Arundel Elementary/Middle School: Tarahn Harris, left, Michael Young, Principal Rochelle Machado, Assistant Principal Lawanda Wilson, Sean House and Monte Jackson.
African Americans suffer from many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, at rates far higher than those of their White counterparts. In Baltimore City, a fitness and wellness collective with a distinct approach to working out has developed a fitness and nutrition curriculum, known as DIPS, that aims to address the prevalence of chronic illnesses among Black people by imparting healthy habits at an early age.
Tarahn Harris and Sean House are members of Team Autobars, a wellness collective operating in Baltimore City and founded by themselves and two others, Michael Young and Monte Jackson, in 2010. Harris has a background in social work, with degrees from Virginia State University and the University of Maryland, and over 18 years of hands-on experience delivering therapeutic services to children and families.
House, who served in the Marines from 1991-2002, has been working with institutionalized youth and their families since 1994, first at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a residential detention and treatment center for juvenile offenders in Baltimore, and more recently for Catholic Charities.
Team Autobars focuses on overall wellness and their workouts at Lake Montebello drew a lot of attention for its impressive, pull-up bar centered regimen involving tricks and moves more at home in a Cirque du Soleil performance than the average weight room.
The team wanted to use the appeal of their workouts to stretch their message of wellness even further.
“We were trying to come up with an idea that we could try to empower our community overall,” said Harris in an interview with the AFRO. “The idea was to come up with a curriculum that we can incorporate what we were doing on the pull-up bar in regards to our calisthenics workout . . . how we could transfer that energy to the community by informing the community about better eating choices and about incorporating exercise and better nutrition into their diet on a regular basis.”
The idea they came up with was DIPS, which stands for Discipline, Inspiration, Physical fitness and Structure. It is a 10 month curriculum designed to last the length of the school year and to impart knowledge about exercise and better nutrition, particularly to Black youth in Baltimore City.
“We have a structured curriculum that is effective, and it’s evidence based, and it’s something that’s needed throughout the city, if not throughout the country, honestly, because we know that our children are experiencing obesity and continuing to consume the processed foods that long term are going to have effects on them,” said Harris.
Nationally, 25.7 percent of African-American children between the ages of 6 and 17 are obese, compared with 14.6 percent of White children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health’s website. African-American adults are 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease, and twice as likely to suffer a stroke as Whites.
DIPS introduces kids to various drill-style and body weight based workouts, as well as practices like Yoga and plyometrics. It also includes a culinary component, introducing city youth to foods like hummus and Mediterranean platters, as well as teaching them to make their own fruit infused water or fresh, homemade salsa dip.
As the curriculum develops and grows, House wants to see families pulled in along with their children.
“That’s going to be a key piece, a key component, getting the families involved and seeing some of the same things the kids are going to see and be exposed to so it becomes not only an individual thing, it becomes a collective thing,” said House.
Team Autobars has been implementing its curriculum with youth at the Change House Youth Center in Waverly for the last eight months. They have applied to become a vendor with the Baltimore City Public School System in order to be able to present their curriculum in the schools and expect a decision on their application within the next month and a half.
For Harris, the sooner the DIPS curriculum can be implemented and healthy habits can be taught, the better.
“We can start now versus waiting to say, ‘okay, now you have to stick a needle in you for the next 30 years of your life,’” said Harris.