February 21, 2024

This NYC Run Club Leader Prioritizes Physical and Mental Health With a Free Community Group

Adam Francique Sr. knows that working out isn’t a replacement for therapy. And he’s working to make sure that people in his community have access to both.

Adam Francique Sr. knows that working out isn’t a replacement for therapy. And he’s working to make sure that people in his community have access to both.

A New York City native and former teacher, Francique started a free fitness program for the members of his community in 2016. Called The Body Prjct, the program offers various workouts to residents of Washington Heights, the Bronx, and other parts of the city that were underserved by the broader fitness community in the area. Rather than commute down to Central Park for a marathon training session with runners who often didn’t look like them, The Body Prjct’s attendees could move, sweat, learn about healthy cooking, and improve their moods in their own neighborhoods.

Yet it took until 2021 for Francique to add mental health to the roster. And it all happened because he finally went to therapy beginning in 2018.

“I've trained for marathons and half marathons, and nothing had prepared me physically for what I was dealing with mentally in 2018, 2019, 2021,” said Francique. “It was really the mental health services that got me back on my feet, got me back into working and feeling better about myself, feeling better about life in general.” When he got a grant from Adidas to build out The Body Prjct, he knew exactly where he wanted to focus his new resources.

“My whole community, my whole circle are runners and fitness enthusiasts, and I wonder how much they're tapping into their physical more than their mental,” said Francique. “Is it a balance? Is one outweighing the other? I really wanted to provide a source of mental health services to Black and brown runners of New York City, whether it be therapy, a life coach, someone, just someone to talk to for free for two months.”

Enter Therify: Francique and The Body Prjct teamed up with the mental-health platform to serve mental health support to 200 active members. There’s special emphasis on people who might not be able to afford therapy on their own, and community members who can afford therapy but might have previously been reticent to it are supported, too. They receive a few months of therapy or other services, and are often paired with mental health professionals who look like and can personally relate to them.

That was important to Francique, whose first therapist was an older white woman – he was grateful for her, but after he graduated from working with her, he wanted to work with someone who could relate to his own lived experience. According to the American Psychological Association, the mental health industry is still majorly lacking in diversity: Nearly 81% of people who work in the US psychology field are white, which can be discouraging to patients and overbooked therapists alike.

Therify made that search easy for Francique, and for members of The Body Prjct. “I was able to tap into Therify through my own program and I found someone that's a father, Black, male, and that was an experience that I really wanted to give others as well,” he said. “It was refreshing to find somebody that looks and feels like me or has the same experiences. Therify really gave me that straight from the first page of mental health providers.”

In doing so, Francique hopes members of The Body Prjct can spend less time explaining their upbringing or their culture to their therapist — the person they’re talking to will simply understand. And in Black and brown communities, where mental health can still be heavily stigmatized, that baseline knowledge can make a major difference. In fact, an estimated 25% of Black Americans have ever sought mental health care, compared to 40% of their white counterparts.

“Mental health wasn't really something that was talked about in our family, it wasn't something that was actually encouraged,” said Francique about his own upbringing. “No one wanted to work with the person that was struggling mentally. So that was always something that was ingrained in my mind growing up, to keep these things quiet.”

Now, he both knows differently — and is making sure his neighbors, friends, and training partners do, too. Therapy, he says, has helped him both in his training and his programming. Now, he knows how to process not hitting a personal record in a race, or pace himself when he’s planning community events for The Body Prjct or his other running commitments.

Therapy, he said, “actually loosened me up and allowed me to still work hard and still be ambitious in the community and to have goals, but to be flexible and open to life, the universe, God. It gives me something other than I expected and I trust that even the things that I didn't expect, that I'm receiving, are for my good.”

And the benefits are cyclical: Francique has seen firsthand how movement — whether it’s going for a walk, or training for a marathon — have helped his community tap into their own physical and mental health. “I don't think one should be prioritized over the other,” he said. Rather, when members of The Body Prjct work on their physical and mental health simultaneously, they create a ripple effect for the rest of their lives, too.

“It could be you're going for a walk now. Now you're taking a few steps and then that walk could turn into, ‘all right, I'm going to push myself and I'm going to do a mile,’ and then the mile turns into more and more,” he said. “And then before you know it, you're so far away from the stage that you were at before, on the couch or in the bed or wherever you were.”

All it takes is that first step, whether with a running shoe or to find a therapist who gets you.