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diversity & inclusion, virtual team building

How One Social Enterprise Advances Diversity & Inclusion Remotely By Giving Employment Opportunities to People Coming Out of the Prison System 

Coss Marte, the founder of social enterprise ConBody, has always been about advocating for diversity and inclusion, especially in the professional realm.

Before the 2020 pandemic, Marte did this by offering an in-person prison-style fitness bootcamp taught by formerly incarcerated individuals at ConBody’s gym studio. Now, he has adapted to the remote landscape of a post-Covid-19 world. But despite migrating to the virtual realm, his advocacy, impact, and invitation for corporate teams to get involved, remains.

 

Coss Marte teaches a pre-pandemic in-person class at ConBody — a NYC gym studio that employs formerly incarcerated individuals as fitness instructors.

Founded with Equity in Mind

Marte’s business model is informed by his personal experiences. Upon being told by doctors that his health was in danger, he lost over 70 pounds in six months—while incarcerated. With his passion for fitness, he helped 20 other incarcerated people lose a combined total of over 1000 pounds. After he left prison, Marte started hosting workouts on the streets of New York. They became so popular that he opened up his own studio, and ConBody was born.

Now, his social enterprise runs on the broader mission of giving employment opportunities to people coming out of the prison system, and “breaking down stereotypes” about them that the professional realm may have. That the physical gym studio has suspended operations due to the global health crisis does not stop this work.

Pursuing Fitness in a Socially Distanced World

Migrating onto the platforms their participants already use—sending out Zoom links and setup instructions through Google Calendar—ConBody classes now fit seamlessly into people’s schedules.

Additionally, ConBody has also installed a camera in their studio to make sure that the remote experience is as close to in-person workouts as possible. By definition, ConBody’s regimen is uniquely well-suited to exercising in isolation. With no machines, equipment, or direct physical contact even in a normal class, their workouts have transitioned well into the online setting.

Marte’s advice for hosting virtual activities?

Keep things simple. As soon as ConBody switched to Zoom classes, they created an easy-to-use livestream calendar where participants could book classes online. They kept the booking process and classes more or less the same—at a slightly reduced rate.

What Diversity & Inclusion Means at ConBody

From the beginning, ConBody’s main goal was hiring, training, and employing people coming out of the prison system. Formerly incarcerated people face countless barriers when it comes to finding jobs and stability. Through ConBody, Marte encourages people to be more empathetic to the struggles of formerly incarcerated people, especially minorities.

To nurture this empathy, while empowering those coming out of prison, Marte uses his work at ConBody, and recently, at Second Chance Studios as well—a program teaching digital skills to people coming out of the prison system. With these projects, Marte equips formerly incarcerated people with professional skills. At ConBody, he hones their public speaking and class management skills. At Second Chance Studios, he ensures they receive new media training, including video and podcast production. Moreover, through both of these projects, Marte is able to make an impact on the corporate world by developing an empathic relationship with the formerly incarcerated, through virtual workshops.

How Corporations Can Learn from ConBody

Through his experience leading ConBody, Marte has gleaned some valuable lessons for corporations looking to enhance their internal equity. “Everyone talks about Black Lives Matter, but a lot of people don’t know how to go about supporting them,” he laments. Specifically, he says, companies have the ability to go beyond financial support—although donations are a great start—to give opportunities to people of color and have uncomfortable conversations about racial injustice.

For instance, by booking a virtual ConBody fitness class through Visit.org, corporate teams will not only enjoy a fun and intense workout together, but they’ll also have the joint eye-opening experience of hearing their trainer’s personal story—helping lubricate and inform their internal discussions about diversity and inclusion.

Marte himself provides some tips on how to approach these post-activity conversations, recommending that companies ask employees of various identities to share their workplace experience. Some questions to ask could include: How did you feel growing up? How do you feel going into a workplace where people don’t look/act like you? To Marte, the conversation is a necessary step towards inclusion.


Coss Marte is the founder of a successful NYC gym studio called ConBody, which has gained over 25,000+ clients and hires formerly incarcerated individuals to teach fitness classes. Since the launch of his company he’s been featured in over 200 major media outlets such as NBC, CNN, The New York Times, TED Talks, and Men’s Fitness.

Interested in supporting ConBody’s vital work? You can book a virtual fitness class with ConBody for your team through Visit.org. Get started by emailing [email protected].

Photos courtesy of ConBody’s Instagram & Coss Marte