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Percell Dugger was born within the beachy borders of Coney Island. His childhood days chasing the sun and bathing in the Atlantic led him to a life of fitness. The Harlem-based writer, certified strength coach, USATF coach, and NIKE running coach founded Goodwrk and Fit For Us. These powerful platforms address health disparities for the most marginalized subsets of Black and brown communities, offering affirmation and training for individuals looking to find freedom in their form.
As a champion of equity, Percell isn’t mincing words when it comes to accountability and representation. Fueled by confidence and concepts of womanism and community instilled in him since childhood, Percell finds power and pride in his own skin and guides others to do the same.
In an unapologetic discussion on his growth, philosophy, and impact on all things health and fitness, Percell shares his take on why transparency is a non-negotiable for change.
My parents. My mother is a pastor, and my father is a social worker, who has been sober for over 30 years. My mother introduced me to the writings of Toni Morrison and Bell Hooks at an early age. She normalized the idea of reading the work of brilliant Black women at a very pivotal time for me. Being a Black woman in ministry meant that she navigated patriarchy and racism in spaces that were both religious and community oriented. I learned early that systems, religious and otherwise, can be simultaneously uplifting and oppressive. My Dad spent decades as a clinical social worker, while also navigating sobriety. He’s been clean for over 30 years, and supporting his journey and witnessing his life play out has really informed how I aim to care for people both interpersonally and at scale. I recognize that calling and my work differs from that of my parents, but their experiences both as individuals, and as husband and wife, have had a direct impact on how I understand the idea of community wellness.
In a world where we are constantly being pulled and pushed in different directions, taking ownership over your body’s autonomy is both a political act, and the highest form of self-love; because for many of us, it is the one thing in this world that we have control over. Having an accessible movement practice is the most effective way to further your lifespan, while improving your health, for most people. No one is immortal, but for the most part, we all have the ability to move. Doing so has proven to elongate our lifespan. I think everyone deserves an equitable opportunity to live a health-happy life filled with love. And for me, that starts with moving our bodies.
I have ADHD, and having a regular movement based routine has enabled me to show up as the best version of myself, while serving as the source for how I inspire others in my practice as a coach. My personal practice as a writer has enabled me to find the language to be a better communicator to myself, and inform the messaging that I use to grow the Fit For Us community, and our community based programming like For Us Festival. I don’t know that I would be able to show up for anyone or anything, if I wasn’t vigilant and showing up for myself on a daily basis.
The fitness & wellness industry markets products and services that are supposed to improve people’s physical health. However, when we recognize that Black and brown folks are disproportionately impacted by heart disease, diabetes, etc., the fitness & wellness industry — a billion-dollar industry domestically and a multi-trillion-dollar industry globally — is supposed to address that because the most accessible and sustainable cure for heart disease is regular exercise. You can talk about nutrition, but moving around in some places is a lot easier than finding kale or fresh, nutrient-dense produce.
Health disparities are real. These disparities exist because of bias and elitism. Not naming that isn’t gonna solve the problem, and building boutique gyms in affluent neighborhoods will continue contributing to that disparity and inequality. I’m confident that the work Fit For Us is doing is part of the answer, and I’ll be damned if I wait another 20-30 years for some disconnected, ivy-league educated person to tell me that they have the answers.
I am going to overturn the collective health disparities that disproportionately impact marginalized groups. And that starts with centering intentional care, art and joy, in my community.
It’s important for me to continue creating systems that foster equitable outcomes, instead of trying to fix the ones that exist. Continuing to tell our stories, celebrate our stories, and create safe and brave spaces for wellness to take up residence in the souls of Black folks. That conviction is the origin of my calling.
Whether that’s on a treadmill in Harlem, at a festival in Durham, at a swimming pool in Detroit, or in a farmers market in Oakland — I want people to know that you don’t have to be rich or subscribe to this notion of elitism in order to experience happiness.
Don’t fall for predatory marketing. The industry is filled with biases and it constantly projects this idea that you’re “unhappy” because you’re plus size. Or you’re not worthy of respect and love because you have stretch marks. I don’t know when it started to become a thing where we can’t acknowledge your creativity and brilliance without asking about your weight. Your value as a human isn’t diminished or impacted because you don’t have six-pack abs. Just be a good person, and that’s enough.
I love to do a check-in. When I was younger, I found out I had dyslexia, and my mom got me reading and journaling like everyday since then — like reading three to four books in a month — and as a kid, I thought it was boring. But she was helping me build a sustainable practice by thinking critically and then taking those thoughts and manifesting them in action through movement. That said, I think checking in with yourself is an invaluable skill. Before you go out there and start moving around, ask yourself, “How am I feeling today? What do I wanna move today and why? What does movement today look like for me?” Once you understand what you’re doing and why, use those answers to help navigate your thoughts whenever doubt creeps in.
Sometimes we wanna jump right into things because of the grind culture mentality. Checking-in makes the movement part realistic, and not simply wishful thinking, or just some random act of God. Your likelihood of success improves when you can ideate and visualize yourself doing the work. Sometimes the lack of intention when making a decision [to move] can contribute to an unhealthy habit or a meaningless cycle of actions that don’t get you anywhere. You end up just responding to a stimulus or a feeling that might be temporary. When you’re rooted in intention and reflection, those answers will be why you continue to move when you don’t feel like it.
It’s become less me-centered. As I’ve grown, I realized I wasn’t maximizing my ability to be impactful. Fitness isn’t just about me and my aesthetics or thoughts and feelings; it’s the canvas in which I create art.
My community has experiences, learnings, and traumas that impact their ability to be with me and how they function in any given time and space. The moment I slowed down, I realized I was just taking people’s money and making ’em do things they reluctantly wanted to do. I wasn’t making it any easier for them, and I contributed to making the process feel like the end of the world for them.I listened to them more and understood that they weren’t simply here to be told to move around. It is a shortcoming for a coach to think that people are solely coming to us because they want to have abs or be stronger or faster. That can be part of their experience, but if you limit their experience to that alone, you’ve missed the opportunity to change people’s lives. Now, my greatest skill is being intentional. Wellness and health for people are more intersectional than it is transactional. Being intentional and more forward-thinking has allowed me to build better relationships and positively affect people.
Writing is my baby. I do it frequently. I had a series called “Kings Bleed Too,” with me reflecting on past traumas — it was a cathartic experience. I’ve also been doing a way better job of caring for myself. Many coaches and trainers are out here eating things and doing things they shouldn’t. Sleep is probably the biggest thing none of us get enough of. We’re up early in the morning and up late at night. I remember going to the doctor, and when I got my lab results back, they were like, “What are you doing?” Like yeah, I’m moving around enough, but am I drinking enough water? Do I feel as good as I look?
Caring for my skin, too. I make sure my lips are moisturized, and my skin isn’t cracking. I get manicures to have clean hands and get my hair cut regularly. Those things impact how I feel about myself and my overall health as a human.
I don’t have a limitation, but I’m gonna measure it by my impact on people’s lives through Fit For Us’s community programming and events, like For Us Festival. It’s not about making a lot of money. If I’m compensated for my time and not having a great impact on people’s health, outcomes aren’t being overturned, changed, and reversed, I would have wasted a really good opportunity.
I have an increased level of visibility now — I went from 10,000 followers to almost 140,000 — and it was never about the level of engagement. It was always about the level of impact. The increased awareness and opportunities are just another chance to drive awareness and eventually impact at the highest level imaginable. I’m gonna do my part to inform and influence how we narrate, think, and process around fitness, our relationship with food, environmental health, mental health, and wellness culture as a whole. You should join me sometime…See you at work.
What’s your movement motivation? Share your “why” and favorite practices in the comments!