Shaniyah Scott struggled to finish 15 pushups.
“I need to start doing that more often,” said Shaniyah, 16, from the Bronx. “They will become my favorite workout.”
Shaniyah, along with 400 bleary-eyed middle- and high-school students, recently learned one element of what it means to be a Marine. The students took part in the “Wake Up and Work Out” event the U.S. Marines Corps hosted in conjunction with the 2015 National Urban League Conference, held recently in Fort Lauderdale.
First up, the time: 7 a.m. sharp at Nova Southeastern University’s Fort Lauderdale campus. There, the students encountered Master Sgt. Damian Cason, who barked the orders for the pushups, jumping jacks, stretching and other calisthenics.
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“Is everyone awake already?” Cason challenged, after the group completed a set of 20 jumping jacks.
The event emphasized the importance of regular physical activity and offered a close-up view of what that means when you’re a Marine.
“It was a wake-up call, not only physically, but mentally, to let these kids know that their health is important,” said Maj. Nadrian McGill, who has been a Marine for 22 years.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the increasing obesity rates among children and teens has an immediate impact on their health. In a sample of obese youth aged 5 to17 years, 70 percent had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the CDC has found. The percentage of obese adolescents ages 12 to 19 has grown nearly fourfold since 1980, from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent.
William Knowles, a chaperone for students of the Derrick Brooks Charities Youth Program of Tampa, lamented a lack of physical activity in today’s world. He brought eight teens to the conference and all participated in the fitness workshop.
“A lot of people now across society, young and old, form a sedentary lifestyle. Folks who sit in front of a computer exercise their thumbs and not their body,” said Knowles, who served in the U.S. Army. “These interactions will expand [the students’] horizons.”
Destiny Ferguson, a 16-year-old Broward student, was participating in the conference for a second year. She said she discovered her desire to become a civil rights lawyer at last year’s conference.
“It’s a really cool experience,” said Destiny. “I still keep in touch with many people from last year. Even if you don’t want to network, it’s fine, because you end up making friends anyway.”
Capt. Matthew Ervine, who works for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command Office of Diversity, acknowledged the Marines’ participation was part of a larger effort to reach out to young people from different backgrounds.
“We strive in the Marine Corps to represent the society that we serve,” Ervine said.
Some of the Marines at the event were from South Florida. Others, including Ervine and Cason, traveled from the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
“I appreciate that the Marines came out,” said Shaniyah. “They cared enough to take the time to come out and inspire us.”