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With growing Black representation in gymnastics, this Sandy Springs gym hopes it doesn't have to close

Phoenix Gymnastics has been operating since August 2019.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Cincinnati native Gina White fell in love with flips early in life. 

The 13-year gymnast went to Spelman College and now coaches kids in the Hammond Park gymnasium in Sandy Springs. White started leasing the space, which was previously city-run, in August 2019 and has nearly 300 kids take gymnastics classes and participate on competitive teams at Phoenix Gymnastics.

"Gymnastics taught me how to fall and get back up, so perseverance is a big thing," White said. "There are a lot of life skills with gymnastics: How to self-motivate, how to be part of a team, how to work through challenges."

White ran into challenges soon after starting her gymnastics business. 

She faced struggles similar to the 92 percent of Black business owners who reported financial hardship during the pandemic, more than any other minority group according to the Brookings Institute. White said she must now pay the city of Sandy Springs $7,500 or face shutting down the gym.

"Our revenue slipped, our expenses went up, we had to keep the place clean," White said. "Then once families started coming back, we dealt with the whole employee gap and workers not wanting to come back into work. Finding gymnastics coaches were hard."

The City of Sandy Springs sent 11Alive this statement about the current situation with Phoenix Gymnastics:

"The City ended its agreement with Phoenix Gymnastics for operations at Hammond Gym, due to noncompliance of the contract. However, we agreed that if Phoenix paid the rent owed to the City, we would allow them to finish out programming for those who had already paid Phoenix for classes. This includes recreational programming through February and competition through April. This arrangement is a space rental only."

White said she had to shut down the gym for several months during the pandemic and said the gym has also had a squirrel infestation problem, which she's pleading with the city to fix. She took out loans and connected with high schools through work-based learning programs to fill employment gaps. 

Parents like Shante Dingle are helping to raise money and push the city to keep the gym open. Her daughter, Autumn, has been attending classes at Phoenix for a little over a year. 

"This organization has been significant because of course the coach, the owner looks like her," Dingle said. "Part of this organization is teaching them discipline, etiquette, how to get along. We’re all different people, the diversity. I appreciate all the coaches in here that take the time with her. She loves it here, and I don’t want to see it go.”

Gymnastics has seen a boost in interest, especially among people of color, since the 2012 London Olympic Games. With so many young, aspiring gymnasts hoping to achieve bigger dreams, White hopes to have a hand in their training and keep her business afloat to serve as a light in her community.

“Gymnastics is getting very diverse. When I competed in gymnastics, there were times I was at a meet and I was the only girl of color that was there," White said. "We’ve come a long way as far as opportunity, and for these girls to see that they can be Olympic gymnasts too. Anybody can be a gymnast, anybody can go to the Olympics, and I think being a woman of color, running this type of program, all the other girls of color can see too if I'm not an Olympian, maybe I can run my own gymnastics program. The kids matter. The kids are the most important part of our future and being able to pour into them with critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, we’re building kids that can help us in our future.”

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