Jefferey Shelton has a natural talent for building community, a trait he’s carried through his many passions in life.
Growing up in Arkansas, Shelton was a basketball player in high school, a sport that satisfied his competitive edge and helped establish his own identity. “I’ve always had the desire to compete and challenge myself,” Shelton tells Urbaanite. “I’ve always fought for identity.” Shelton also crafted an identity for himself as a manager at a local Walgreens where he quickly learned he had a gift for creating community in a corporate environment. “It was the engagement and the community that we built,” Shelton expresses of how he led the successful branch. “I was a big part of that because I helped create it, but also giving people the ability to buy in and believe in themselves was everything.” While creating community proved to be one of his strong suits, the job wasn’t fulfilling Shelton’s competitive spirit. But that changed when he started working out with a friend who was a bodybuilder. Shelton managed to bulk up by 94 pounds. Fitness soon became a new passion for him, pushing him to get his personal training certification to help others achieve the same results. This step would later lead him to open Get Fit X with his wife Ashley.
Shelton first took his passion for fitness and health on the road – literally – by starting a mobile meal prep service, Get Fit on the Go, while working as a full-time manager at Walgreens and a part-time trainer. The gratification he got from helping others was influential when he made the decision not to take a “very high-paying” district manager job for Walgreens in Hawaii after moving with his family to Nashville, instead choosing to foster his love of fitness training. The life-changing decision opened another door of opportunity when he signed the lease on Get Fit X’s first brick-and-mortar in Nashville. Shelton and Ashley focused on keeping the community-oriented spirit intact by blending fitness classes and strength training with compassion. “We want to know who you are. We want to make sure that you feel included. We want you to feel a part of the community,” Shelton says of the “family” spirit at the gym that includes potlucks and holiday celebrations with members. “That’s how we define ourselves.”
Black art is integral to many elements at the gym, from the “X” in the title that symbolizes Shelton’s admiration for Malcolm X to the smoothies served in the protein cafe named after prominent artists in the 1990s, and the African-inspired motif designed by Shelton and brand consultant and gym attendee-turned-friend, James Muriel, in the yoga studio. “No matter if you are part of the African culture or not, it draws you in and you feel like ‘this is my community, this is my tribe,’” Shelton observes. The incorporation of Black culture is a result of his own experiences with racism, recalling one incident when a White man shoved his then-three-year-old daughter Aspen to the ground and called her the N-word. He had to have a conversation with her and explain there was nothing wrong with her. “I pride myself on saying that I am a Black-owned business,” he declares. “I want the Black culture to be embedded in this…I want to embrace my culture, but I also want [Aspen] to embrace it and other people like me to understand that they can do it too.”
The future of Get Fit X looks bright, with Shelton’s plans to franchise the cafe and open up more locations by the end of 2023. At the core of the expansion is to continue to grow the community of inclusivity. Shelton knows he’s fulfilling his mission when he sees the smiles on the faces of the people who frequent his gym, choosing to stay after class to socialize or take it upon themselves to touch up the mural in the cafe. But he truly sees his purpose in action when he sees his eight-year-old daughter thriving in the space as she talks to patrons, knowing the business was built with her future in mind. He proved this during the soft opening event when he got down on his knees with tears in his eyes and presented Aspen with a key to the building, symbolizing that one day, she will carry on the vision. “The American dream was not made for somebody like me. Now to see this melting pot of people embracing me, my wife and more importantly, my daughter, it completely changed our whole family tree and her whole perception of life. I can’t be more grateful for where we are and that’s what pushes us through every single day. It is definitely not about money,” Shelton proclaims. “It’s about changing people.”
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Photographer: Elle Danielle
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