Our bodies are our vessels. They tell endless stories about our past, present, and future and contain the essence of who we are. They are sacred, and we should treat them as such. This especially holds true within a society that doesn’t actively do the same for black and brown bodies across the nation.
In America, the presence of obesity is significantly greater among black women as compared to our white counterparts. According to research gathered by Rush University Medical Center, Black women are more likely to underestimate bodyweight. In turn, this becomes the root of issues such as reduced weight management behaviors, higher weight gain, and an under assessment of health risks.
Alongside this disadvantage, social and professional normalities have also played a role in the amount of physical activity in some black women. To conform to social acceptance, many of us find ourselves wondering if our image will be presentable to society if we do decide to break sweat past the boardroom.
These contributions are harmful to the foundation of our community and have created a rippling effect of complications within the wellness of black women. Therefore, positive examples and realistic teaching toward healthy lifestyles within the community is not only empowering — it’s essential. That is why the work of women such as Deja Riley is imperative toward shaping a bright and fit future.
“I truly think the fitness industry could stand to shine a light on more Black women in general,” Riley shares, “There are more of us out here than may meet the eye of various shapes, sizes, shades, and walks of life. Representation matters — ‘Period.’ I see that daily when I watch videos of young Black kids doing my workouts.”
Deja is an undeniable force within the industry. Inspiringly, she used her talent to get into the fitness industry and worked her way up with pure determination and grit. Now, she is motivating others with her workout method, “Dance out the Box,” which combines both shadowboxing and dance in a music-driven cardio workout. With versatility within her grip, she is also a host on PopSugar and her own YouTube Channel.
Though her career is on the rise, no journey for any BAUCE is truly easy. As Deja goes throughout the beauty within the highs and lows of building her brand, mantras and self-encouragement are some daily practices that have been her biggest motivators. She even states that her “secret sauce” to conquering life has been the vision of Decide, commit, and succeed.
“That mantra is tattooed on my right hand. I saw it on my best friend’s, Jason Williams, sink just as I was making a transition into the fitness industry and it has been words I’ve carried with me ever since.
Some of the other motivational words I often say to myself and others are: “Keep going beautiful Black queen, you got this,” “You will miss 100% of the chances you don’t take,” and “You have survived 100% of your worst days.” My ultimate favorite, especially as I lead my own business, is “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can!” These are the wonderful words of the late, great athlete Arthur Ashe.”
When going after our dreams, we all have to build a strong foundation that encompasses our goals and everything that aligns with them. Deja is no stranger to the spotlight, nor is she unfamiliar with all things fitness.
Before launching her brand Deja Riley Athletics, she was a backup dancer for more than a decade alongside celebrities such as Beyoncé, Trey Songz, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. Aside from this, she is the daughter of famed producer, singer, songwriter, and New Jack Swing king Teddy Riley.
Deja confesses that after her exit from the dance industry, she didn’t know what would come next. After finding herself in her “season of “Yes,” she began confidently going in the direction of the unknown and unfamiliar.
“I had no idea that from starting in the group fitness field as a cardio boxing instructor 5 years ago that I would be working for massive, life-changing companies like PopSugar and lululemon. When I began hearing and seeing that I was affecting people all over the world, encouraging them to lead happy, healthy lives, is when I knew I was destined to be a force within this field. It’s been my constant motivation.”
With entrepreneurship, it takes that huge push to make you realize how you can limit yourself without knowing it. Riley’s transition from being a dancer to an entrepreneur opened up endless possibilities for all that she could do with her passion. While being the boss wasn’t easy, she admits that she loves carving out her path.
“From hiring and firing to being involved in lawsuits, and having to navigate the direction of an entire company daily, these are all obstacles I never had to face as a professional dancer. I love being an entrepreneur and carving out my path. It means that I have the chance to positively pave the way for others through risk-taking, to provide guidance and opportunities along the way, and still embrace my passions simultaneously. However, it also comes with hardships that will sometimes teach you lessons or be revealed as some of your greatest blessings. I must say that I’m grateful for it all and this is only the beginning.”
As a new business owner, pressure can be crippling. Taking on so many roles while still figuring things out can make or break the go-getter spirit that many enter the challenge with. Yet, having those in your corner that motivate you to hold on to your deepest desires.
Riley gives credit to her parents for providing her with the resources and work ethic to chase her dreams.
“When mentoring the youth, they often ask me what it’s like to be the daughter of a musical legend. You know, I’ll never be able to escape the impactful Riley name but I wouldn’t want to know that I am building upon a legacy that will one day live on beyond my father, my family, and me. My Dad taught me incredible work ethic, dedication, resilience, and ambition through his actions in his industry and I’ve taken those tools and diligently applied them in a completely different field. I loved that he allowed me to find my way.
Both he and my mother provided endless resources for us when we were kids, from learning various musical instruments to being in the theater. They both let us each spread our wings and learn how to fly once we were adults and though I’ve fallen many times, they’ve given me the space to get back up and grow on my own. I proudly say that I’ve worked extremely hard for everything that I’ve earned and will one day pass those tools on to my children.”
Deja’s transition into fitness has her that the mental aspect of movement goes hand in hand with the physical. She confesses that in the industry, she obtained low self-esteem — as she was conditioned to be rejected, replaceable, and resilient. Yet, she does accept that those traits helped to build her into the powerful woman she is today.
Like the trailblazer she is, she realized that she had to recognize the toxicity in that cycle. With her brand, dance has artistically come full circle as she implements it as a means of athleticism, self-care, and performance into her daily life. Now she is traveling the world and sharing her gifts of empowerment on wellness stages as an artist.
Yet, within the toxicity that the wellness world presently perpetuates, black women are often tasked with holding the burden of being “the strongest in the room.” While this can be a notable accolade, it can also be dehumanizing. Deja can relate to having to face this narrative in her career while also trying to break the harmful cycle regarding it.
“Carrying the burden of ‘being strong’ not only mentally and emotionally but also physically as a fitness professional has been frustrating and challenging. I can only speak from personal experience but I feel as if I can only share the highlights of my fitness journey that perpetuate the narrative that is acceptable to our current society and the world is comfortable seeing in terms of Black beings. I am a work in progress and currently utilizing therapy and life coaching to assist me in this area of growth. As I continue to learn and build myself up, I hope to help shift the narrative around being Black, healthy, and whole.”
As a woman of fitness and a hard-working business owner Deja is always on the move. Though, as an advocate for putting herself and her body first, she is a believer in the importance of standing still.
“My therapist once said this simple life-changing phrase to me: “YOU are not a machine!”
This year has been both transformational and illuminating for me. Discovering that I do deserve to have a “self”, to reward myself with love, kindness, and care as I do others, and simply taking moments daily to pause and just behave forever altered the way I move through life. We often hear “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” but I now believe in strictly sharing the overflow and doing my best to keep my cup full at all times. That way I’m not giving away what I need to give to myself to be the light in this world that I aspire to be.”
Daily, Riley practices morning routines called Deja Dailies. She starts by envisioning what she is grateful for as she opens her eyes, then takes time to meditate, write, read, eat and move her body in a way that feels good to her. After that self-work is complete, she states that she can begin the work she does to pour out into the world and others.
“That is the way that I refill my cup each morning and truly is my secret to being able to handle the hurdles that I may face in running my business day-to-day.”
The talented innovator admits that this is only the beginning and her journey is just starting to unfold. Overwhelmed, yet excited, Deja knows that there is much more to do. She is grateful for the gift of uplifting others while making them enjoy sweating. After making incredible strides within the craft of fitness, she leaves behind a legacy that encapsulates creating seats at numerous tables for fit black girls everywhere.
“As long as I continue to ‘never dim the light that shines from within’ I will carry the capability to navigate this industry and pivot to any other industry life may have in store for me. If I can always be remembered for that, for leaving a beautiful footprint of putting out good into the world that will be more than enough.”