January 24, 2013 - In New Orleans, Using CrossFit to Prevent Violence and Promote Healthy Choices
Early on in Michael Halperin’s clinical training as a Tulane University School of Medicine student, he came face to face with the tragic impact of gun violence on kids in New Orleans.
“In the emergency department, the lucky ones get their wounds cleaned
out by a gadget that looks, ironically, like a water pistol,” Halperin
says. “It shoots a high-pressure stream of sterile water into the path
of the bullet, washing out foreign material to prevent infection. The
unlucky become part of a statistic: 58 homicides per 100,000 residents
in 2011, a rate 12 times the national average.”
With the support of the Schweitzer Fellowship,
Halperin is working to promote healthy, nonviolent choices among young
students in New Orleans through a unique vehicle: the popular exercise
program called CrossFit.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
MH: In the last couple of years, there has been a concerted
effort in New Orleans that focuses on a public health framework to
violence prevention. Working within this framework, my Schweitzer
project provides at-risk youth at KIPP Believe Primary School a novel
opportunity to participate in the sport of CrossFit—an activity that
would be otherwise be cost-prohibitive.
Valuing fitness and camaraderie, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds
will get the chance to better their health and personal development, and
thus more easily choose to be involved in fitness, sports, and other
positive outlets instead of violence, drugs, and gangs.
Halperin and participants.
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
MH: The primary collaborators in this project, KIPP Believe Primary School and CrossFit NOLA,
have a strong and growing presence in the New Orleans community. The
challenge will be to maintain this collaboration in such a way that
produces a sustainable CrossFit for Kids program in the KIPP community
who otherwise would not have access.
That’s why one of the goals of my Schweitzer Fellowship year has been
to produce results that are attractive to a diversified and
mission-aligned group of organizations. We believe that at the end of
the Schweitzer Fellowship year, we will be able to show several project
outcomes attractive to future collaborators: successful implementation
and a proven approach, significant impact and behavior effects on a
large scale, and an approach that fundamentally disrupts the status quo
to help solve social issues.
Each collaborator already involved in this project has strong
leadership, a clear mission and implementation model, an unwavering
focus on that mission, and a commitment to measurement and learning—all
of which are necessary for sustainability.
Halperin’s CrossFit participants break a sweat.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
MH: Thinking globally, I think the most pressing health issue
of our time is gender inequality. One specific challenge is maternal
mortality associated with childbirth. The statistics are chilling. For
example, in Niger, one in seven women can expect to die in childbirth. I
think the way to address gender inequality is through education and
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
MH: As with many of these questions, it’s difficult
to pick just one answer. I’ve been continually surprised at the level of
creativity and commitment of other Fellows I’ve met, both here in New
Orleans and at the national Schweitzer Leadership Conference in Boston.
I’ve also been surprised at how well KIPP and CrossFit Nola
leadership—two different organizations within the New Orleans
community—have worked together on this project.
Perhaps most surprising, however, is the group of kids involved in
this CrossFit for Kids program. Their questions, comments, abilities,
and teamwork have left me amazed at the current capabilities—and future
potential—of this group of first graders.
Halperin hopes CrossFit will empower KIPP students to look towards healthy, positive choices.
ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?
MH: Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life
ethic—”that good consists of maintaining, assisting, and enhancing
life”—encapsulates for me what it means to be a Schweitzer Fellow and
Fellow For Life.
Forming new multidisciplinary collaborations (between KIPP Believe
Primary School, CrossFit NOLA, and Tulane University School of Medicine)
and participating in Fellowship activities with like-minded individuals
is making for a productive and stimulating Fellowship year for me—and a
positive experience for the group of first graders participating in the
Just as important, though, the Fellows for Life network will help
facilitate sustained efforts to expand on goals accomplished by
providing a forum for a community of people to continue to inspire each
other in their work.
to learn more about the New Orleans Schweitzer Fellows Program and our
work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable
communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.