By Carmen Robles, Associate Editor, Afrodescendientes

The Insight2Health Fitness Challenge (I2HFC) kicked off Round XI’s this past Saturday (Feb. 17).

The day turned out to be much more than a day of registration, measurements, weigh ins and orientation; it was a celebration of music, dance and song. It was a gathering of old friends, soon to be new friends, families and strangers; all coming together for a common cause – our health and the health of community. 

The Cora McCorvey YMCA’s elegant lobby at 2015 4th St. N. was the perfect backdrop for the launch of Insight2Health Fitness Challenge’s 11th round, as the challenge moved “home” to North Minneapolis.

The challenge is the brainchild of Insight News founder and editor-in-chief, Al McFarlane, and this time around the challenge engaged celebrated fitness warriors Valerie Fleurantin and Chaz (pronounced Shay) Sandifer, co-owners and founders of Noir Elite Fitness.

A woman-owned and led Northside based business, Noire Elite Fitness is a wonderful fit to facilitate training this time around.

“We started our business with three kids between us and $17,” said Fleurantin, her eyes glowing with excitement.  A little tear gathered at the corner of her eye as she watched the historical scene unfold in the lobby of the Cora McCorvey YMCA, proof that passion, commitment and perseverance always win the race.

Recruiting support of community agencies that are revitalizing North Minneapolis neighborhoods one block at a time, was McFarlane’s strategy; to create and support articulated neighborhood interests in improving individual residents’ opportunities to pursue personal health improvement goals and to elevate health and fitness awareness.

Stella Whitney-West, executive director of North Point Health & Wellness Center is taking a leadership role in bringing I2HFC home to the Northside. North Point Health & Wellness Center is providing scholarships for staff and clients; providing expert support from nutritionist Karen Blanchard, RD, LD, and Dr.Kevin Gilliam, MD.  With baseline assessments, nutrition and life coach support, North Point Health & Wellness brings balanced robustness to the fitness training at the core of Insight2Health Fitness Challenge.

A beautiful scene unfolded as nutritionist Karen Blanchard led participants up the grand foyer’s winding staircase to the offices of North Point Health and Wellness clinic housed on the second floor. Femi Akinnagbe, mindfulness yoga and meditation instructor, led participants through a meditation/relaxation technique, helping create an environment of internal calmness, harnessing energy for the 10-week journey of personal challenge that lies ahead. He invited participants to visualize this experience as the journey of a lifetime, challenging ourselves to aim for the best we can be.

Akinnagbe will lead weekly I2HFC yoga and meditation sessions. Currently, he is a third-year medical student at the University of Minnesota. He hopes to serve as a bridge between Eastern and Western healing modalities for both mind and body.

Neighborhood partners for the inaugural North Minneapolis Insight 2 Health Fitness Challenge include Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, Lind-Bohannon Neighborhood Association, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC) and Cleveland Neighborhood Association. Insight2Health Fitness Challenge receives financial support from the Medtronic Foundation and other corporate supporters.

And so, it begins. A new year. A new fitness challenge. A new you. A stronger community.  Join us.

For more information on the Insight 2 Health Fitness Challenge call Carmen Robles at (612) 588-1313 or email at

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