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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Englewood Gym Almost Closed After Looters Destroyed It — Then Neighbors Stepped Up To Help: ‘I Owe It To Them To Stay Here’

Activists launched a GoFundMe last month to help Black businesses affected by looting and vandalism. They raised more than $7,000, and saved the Fitness Annex.

Jamaal Burris, owner of The Fitness Annex, one of the recipients of a grant created to help Black businesses affected by looting in May.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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ENGLEWOOD — Jamaal Burris’ gym was vandalized weeks ago — but he will soon reopen his business thanks to two altruistic Englewood residents.

Activists Jurema Gorham and Joseph Williams launched a GoFundMe last month to help Black businesses affected by looting and vandalism. They raised more than $7,000, which will go directly to owners to help defray repair costs.

“We wanted to figure out another way to help because we want our businesses to stay here,” Williams said. “This is our way of giving back.”

Burris, a native West Sider, was inside his Fitness Annex at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave. when the looting began in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. He was in the middle of attempting to secure the gym’s windows when the crowd came, he said.

“They rushed in so fast, I didn’t have time to board up the windows. I had to run out of the back door and got caught in the traffic jam,” Burris said. “That’s when they began shooting. I was pretty much a sitting duck, so I had to duck down in my car.”

When the dust settled, the vandals had done $10,000 worth of damage to Burris’ gym. And the Fitness Annex had already been closed for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, causing Burris to fall behind in rent. Before Gorham and Williams contacted him, he was ready to call it quits.

“I was traumatized to the point where I said I was done with Chicago personally and professionally. I was ready to move,” Burris said.

Williams reached out to Burris and offered him a grant from the GoFundMe campaign.

“He told me what he was going to do, and with what he gave me I was able to get my window fixed and get a new state-of-the-art spin bike,” Burris said.

That act of kindness forced Burris to reconsider his departure.

“People like Joseph gave me the courage to stay here, to stand strong and fight and keep this type of business in the community,” Burris said. “People like him — and everyone else who reached out to help us clean up — made me realize that I owe it to them to stay here.”

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