Community Voices is a series shining a spotlight on Black-owned, small businesses in the Bay Area. We talk about the COVID-19 crisis, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and how living simply and empathetically is our future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in your career?
My name is Le Vander Brown. I'm a personal trainer. I’m from San Francisco. I was born in Los Angeles, came up here and I played sports all my life... I'm a typical jock. My mom, she instilled books in me, going to class, going to school. I always played sports. I did dance, I did ballet, I did folk dancing. And I did dance in high school, which most don't really know about me, and this is why I kind of had a lot more flexibility when I got to be older, because I did dance and I had a dancing background.
I went to college in San Mateo after high school, then went to San Jose State. I tried out for the NFL, didn't make it, and I just didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved to train, I knew I loved to work out. And working with my mentor, that basically brought me into training, which is Rico Armstrong, I was like, Why not? Why not follow in his footsteps, grow the business to where we have kids, teens, adults… and help people out. The main thing that we want to do is give back and help people live a healthy life with fitness and learn how to take care of your body.
Do you still dance?
Sometimes I do… if there's a good song on, but I was in his own, but if I'm having fun, it's a good day and everybody looks like they're working out, and everybody's great. I'm like, Hey, why not... I’m gonna dance, have fun. Because that's what I like to do, I like to have fun with everybody. And this is supposed to be fun. This is an enjoyment. Inside these four walls, you get away from the outside world, and you just get in tune for making your body the way you want it to be. You have music and you have fun, which is what working out should be, it should be fun. You get all that adrenaline, that rush, the feeling that you get when you used to play sports.
I don't know, it's something about college sports, you can ask any college athlete and specifically professional if they make it to pros or not, but once you stop playing, there's no way to get that type of energy, the adrenaline, the rush, the feeling of going against somebody stopping and work, succeeding against them, there's no way to fulfill that. I can't not go 100%, I have to. It's just instilled in me to go 100% and to compete and to just get that joy that I used to have when I played sports every day.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a personal trainer?
My journey started when I was a senior in high school, I was just playing to play... I didn't know anything about going to college, I didn't even want to go to college. I really had no aspirations to do so, but I was going to a summer program and they said, Hey, come here and work out if you wanna go to the next level. I was like, Why not? I came in here, there was about four or five ladies that were in their mid to late 30s-40s, and they were looking at me and I was looking at them, and they were doing all this amazing stuff and I couldn't do it. And I was like, What's going on? They're so much older than me and I can't even keep up with him. I was tired and I was just feeling low after that. Rico had to sit down and talk to me. Was I serious? I said, Yes. And from there, from then on, 10 years later, I'm here. And following his footsteps, and I come in here every day from 6AM to eight at night.
My thing is just to really give back, I want kids to go further than me. I got as far as I could. I didn't really have a scholarship at San Jose. And I want kids to get an offer straight out of high school. I don't want them to have to worry about late development once they get past high school, I want them to get it in high school, so when they get to the next level, they're already great and they can be good and have fun in college, instead of worrying about struggling, fighting as I did. And I had to fight because I didn't have anything behind me, I just had my heart. And that's all I have.
What’s your philosophy or approach when it comes to training others?
My philosophy is to learn what people can and can't do. What they can't do, I will teach them so it can become a strength. What they can do, I’ll enhance, put them at an advanced level. This is basically conditioning. I like to give people a lot of things at one time so they can keep moving, keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. That's an easier way to have people get conditioning.
Instead of running on the treadmill for 30-40 minutes, why not do multiple things at a fast pace, and that can be your conditioning? You have little time to rest, you have a little time to get water, but you have to keep moving, add a light weight and you can just keep moving. I'd rather have people be able to do a lot of things with their core, their legs, their back, their glutes, hamstrings… isolate certain muscle groups so that they can keep moving and eventually they're gonna get tired after a couple rounds. And that's better than being on the treadmill for 40 minutes and your legs are tired, but what about your stomach? Or what about your shoulders? What about your back? What about your arms?
Why not do all these other different components at a fast pace? It's high intensity and if they haven't played a sport, this is the closest thing they'll get to it. Every sport is high intensity. Highly competitive. This is the same thing. High intensity, competitive, you got music going. It's a competition, you know, have fun competing for yourself, obviously you have others around, but create that competitive level.
How do you help someone your training, understand what they're capable of both physically and mentally?
We put them through a lot of things. I try to give them the beginner level and eventually we keep doing it, doing it, doing it, doing it, doing it, and it becomes a recurring process where they get frustrated, they get mad. And I promote that, I want them to get frustrated and mad, because then like a month or two later, they're like, Oh, I can do this. Oh, give me more, give me more, I want more. And then that's when we instill what the body is capable of really, and what they can do if they physically and mentally zone in to what they can do, they can see their growth.
They’re lifting weights, running faster, see how their core and abs are working for them, their muscles are developing, and then they slowly see, Okay, this is working. Okay, I can compete. Okay, let me go to Le Vander, and try to beat him. They always wanna test me to be better than me, which is what I love, because if they can be me, they could be anybody, and then they'll really know what they're capable of, because I'm the ultimate competitor.
I don't care who you are, I don't care how old. If you beat me, you beat me. That’s what our whole goal is really, if you can beat us competitively and know what you're capable of, and you're a lot younger than me, and you learned it faster… the world is yours.
This is just a development for what's to come in the real world, when you have to take care of your own self, you got a job and all these other things without sports. There's a competitive level here, but it's just a mental thing, just as it is in the world, it's a mental thing. Here, it's mental and physical and learning to not be afraid to take chances, not be afraid to speak up, not be afraid to challenge somebody, and then they'll find out that there's nothing that can hold them back because their body and their mind is capable of anything.
What motivated you to focus on training teens?
I wanted to find a way to give back… I just didn't know how. It took me to college to understand what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to speak... I went to college for communication. My senior year in college, I was trying to think of things to do, I wanted to do a podcast, but it just didn't hit me the same way, and then I was like, Well, maybe I should focus on kids because they are the future and they should learn what I learned in college at an earlier age, so that when they become juniors, seniors in college, when they have their degrees already, they'll know what they want to do. They don't have to have that, Oh, no! moment where they have to waste a year of their life trying to figure out a job, or have little jobs here and there.
Really, I wanted to give back to kids because I don't want kids growing up in San Francisco that don't have a lot of positive influences, to go down a burden of hanging out in the street or doing drugs or not being motivated or goal-oriented. And I wanted to give kids some way through sports, obviously, to learn, be excited, be a go-getter, go after things, even if people are doubting them. Most of the kids in here have been doubted. I wanna be a positive influence to kids so they can teach the next generation and the next one, so there can be a smart generation of kids as we grow up, and not make the same mistakes we have done as adults.
Let them be smarter than us, help the world give back and make it to where it's not about money, it's about the people and the interactions, and the networking that can be beneficial, and it all starts when you’re a teen and your body, and your mind, and you have outside influences pulling you in certain directions, so that's why I wanted to just give back. It's the right thing to do.
A lot of people do things for money, I'm not here for the money. Money is, of course, you gotta get paid for your time, but I'm here for the experience to help kids out, and if I can help a 100,000 kids and they all can be smarter than me, and they already know the game of college sports, they know what it is when you go to college and how you have to take care of business, and it's not just about partying and drinking and going out and having fun, it's about taking care of studies and celebrating the successes. So that's why I really want to give back to teens, so they can give back, and keep the ball rolling. As far as people giving back, and it's not just, Give me, give me, give me it's... Here, you take some of this, you take my knowledge, you take whatever gifts I learned, that's better than money in any way.
Tell us about the transformation process you've witnessed in some of the young people that you've trained?
The transformation process... Wow. All the kids have grown a lot as far as their core and chest. We focus on that, because a lot of kids, they don't really have a chest, they have a flat chest, like a bird chest. In high school they’re not really taught to weight train and weight lift. They're just taught to run, run, run, and run and run some more. And to do push-ups and barbaric things such as lifting and hurting their shoulders and back. Our main thing is focusing on legs, the leg power and strength. Obviously getting them a chest so they can be more developed and grow, and then obviously their core. A lot of kids don't really like doing abs... nobody does, but it's necessary. Especially if you want to run, jump and be agile, you need to have a core.
Most of the guys that have come in, they’ve progressed a lot. Like Khephren, as you saw, he was like 6’2”. Now he's 6’4” and he's looking 200, almost 220 pounds. And he looks like he has a chest, he looks like he is stomach, he looks more of like an athlete and not just a tall, skinny, slender kid. He looks like an athlete, and he's a silent, gentle, dominant force, which is how I was.
I obviously tell them, it's not gonna be one, two weeks, it's gonna take a couple of months. Like six months at the most, when you really see changes. A year later, you'll see a whole new body, you'll feel better, and that is the best part, to see that they can do things that they couldn't. And it's like, Oh, my body transformed to this. I can keep going. I don't have to worry about you saying, Are you tired? Nah, give me more because I can do it. And my body is used to it.
That's the best part. That's what it’s all about, the transformation from when they first came in, to a couple of months, to six months, to a year, that whole transformation process is everything. And everybody's progressed, even the ones that can't get it as fast, they're a little slower, but they get to where their body transforms sooner or later. And not everybody is the same, not everybody's gonna develop fast, but eventually everybody's gonna progress to being great and their body transforms and then they see the difference between then and now, and that's everything.
Do you see a shift in their confidence?
Yes. Obviously, everybody gets bullied, a lot of them come in out of shape, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves, and then they have outside pressures as well, the outside pressures are from guys that are a little bit more developed or get more playing time, and they bully the ones that we have. And a month or two in, they’re like I can do it!, and they're confident about it. And they're like, Le Vander, what's next? And then when they go to see their team and those teammates, or those guys that were bullying them, they can’t... Because they can't keep up to the intensity level that we've instilled in them… and the effort, the drive. Everything that you get from the outside world, you put out in here, and when you go to play your sport, it's like there's nothing, there's nobody that can stop you.
A perfect example, I had a kid that I got in January. I took him to the field the first day, he was like, What is this, how do you do that? He was hooked, he was hooked at that moment. Like a month or two in, he was like Le Vander, give me more, I’m good. Now he's a wide receiver and he's dominating pro athletes, college defensive backs, and he's like, Nobody can stop me, not even you. I still want them to learn and still want them to be humbled, but he is on a level that he knows whoever you put in front of him, can’t guard him. He doesn't care how tall, he doesn't care how fast, he knows how to release, he knows how to catch the ball over you, be physical and separate. And he’s progressed so much, not only as a young man, but as a student athlete... because he learned. And I was telling him, I'm preaching to him that I could give you all the stuff, but none of this matters if you don't have grades. Not to say his grades are bad, but they weren't up to his par and not up to the par that I want them to be, I expect him to be. And as me and his father spoke, his grades went up, his level of intensity went up, his growth went up, now he just earned a D1 scholarship.
You trained to play professional football. Tell us a little bit about your experience and what you learned about yourself in that process?
I did my pro day at San Jose State, wasn't picked up by anybody. I went into the 49ers and the Raiders Rookie Mini camp, and that was it. I didn't make the cut from there. A thing I learned about myself is… it's a big thing with football players, because of concussion problems… it's a mental drain. I really was depressed. I really was. I didn't like football and I didn’t wanna watch it. I didn't care for it. My mental capacity was not there.
I didn't play football ‘til I was in high school, so I learned a lot within nine years, but it went by like that. And I couldn't take not making it, but also I didn't know what to do past that and I was really... I was really depressed. My life was just drained out of me. It was just... What's the point? It took me a year. It really took me a year after not making it.
How did you pull yourself out of that?
Honestly, I just try to make sure that the guys, that any team doesn't go through what I went through mentally. I don't wanna scare them away from playing sports and enjoying it. You have to let them experience it, and then I share my story, and what I went through, how I would stay up at night and just sit there…I don't know whether I wanna go to sleep or not, because I don't know what else I wanna do, I don't have a passion, my passion is done. So I don't tell them that part yet, but I do want them to have fun. Experience college, enjoy life. Grow up, know what you wanna do. If they happen to get to the pros, I'll let them know about that situation and what it's like to mentally be frustrated.
And it's not even family that can help you, it's more like you have to have people that have experienced your same things, and you have to have a conversation with them, let them open your mind, open doors to different avenues or things that you can and want to do to fulfill that adrenaline, that itch, that thing inside of all athletes that they have to fulfill.
It's tough, it's tough even talking about it because I don't really want to show that as a former athlete. I don't want to people to see me as, not even weak, but see me as vulnerable because I couldn't do something that... It's just a game, but to me it’s not, to me it's life, to me, it's everything. If I don't have sports then I don't know…
To really go in depth, it's scary to tell people because not many understand that that's what we really have to go through if we don't have sports... It's like a forbidden thing to talk about, because we're supposed to be tough, even women, women athletes, tough. But if you talk about mental, emotional stuff, not physical stuff, mental and emotional, and you're not being able to put it out, that energy, it eats you up inside. So, it almost did with me, but I found my thing with the guys and giving him back to them. That’s a thing with our society as men too, men especially, we don't talk about that stuff 'cause we're taught, we're not supposed to.
I have three, four people I tell, I get all my mental frustration out and they're strong enough to take it because it's a lot. It's real frustrating to tell somebody you don't know what's wrong with you, but you do, but you can't put it into words to make someone understand. I don't make it a problem, I want it to be a thing where I can teach others to hone it, to not make it a big deal in their life. And that they don't have to go through it because I went through it, and I feel I can take it because I'm tough enough. I also have outlets because I've somewhat learned to control it, somewhat learned to understand it, read on it, research.
If you can help other people not go through things, you’ve done your job. Like I said, if I can help 100,000 kids. My job is complete. That 100,000 is a million and that million is 10. And 10 is a country. A country is the world. And that's what we're here for. And it's not for riches, it's to progress as humans and as people. And if I can get somebody to get over that mental lapse, my job is complete. And if I can help somebody to be a better person, more successful, my job is complete. That's what I'm here for. And I figured it out, and it took me 24-25 years to figure it out. I'm 27. So that's why I've been trying to do, and that's what I'm gonna do. And I'll do whatever it takes to do it.
What would you like to see from the Bay Area and across the nation in terms of supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Specifically for the Bay Area. Now, we've done a lot. There's been a lot of protests. I would like to see action instead of protest... Now, I'm not against protesting, I'm not against letting your voice be heard… But, we wanna see action across the nation. It's a slow, gradual change and no change happens fast, it always takes time.
It might not happen in my lifetime, maybe the next after us, it may be two, three generations after us where there’s absolute change, equality, and it starts now. Because it's weird, history repeat itself, and it's an old saying, History always repeats yourself. And I think the movement is creating a conversation that's needed.
It's a change that is needed because it's like one of those things we talked about that if mental health is swept under the rug, so is the conversation about race, equality, gender, sexuality, those type of things, are swept under the rug because we don't wanna have the conversation. What's the point? We've lost and we've experienced so much now, let's have the conversation, we have the time. Nobody's going out. Let's have a conversation. It's the time, and a lot of people are frustrated. A lot of people are tired, I know I am, but I feel I can use my voice in a different way.
I think my way is to create a conversation, to have conversations with different people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ways they grew up. I can talk to a person that's another Black person like me, and they may not experience the same things as me, they may not see things the same way as me, but if we have a conversation... Okay, I understand, I respect it. And we grow up. We're not gonna be Kumbaya, we’re not gonna agree, we're not gonna be 100% on the same page, but if we can have a conversation that’s a start, and I think that's what we're doing.
What does the Black Live Matter Movement mean to you personally?
The Black Lives Matter Movement, to me, means I can stand up and I can have a voice. Before I did, now my voice is even bigger, because like I said before, if I can say one thing and it can reach 100,000 people, 100,000 people understand my feelings.
I really feel like it’s the Civil Rights Movement 2.0, but we're just using technology to our advantage. Because you don't see a lot of people protesting hand-in-hand, a 100,000 strong, walking 20-something, 30, 40, 50 miles. We're not doing that. It's Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, you know, Twitter, we're connecting that way. And we meet. We do it. I think we're on the right page. I think that we're making progress, we're making slow progress, and it just starts with connecting with people, and exposing people that have hateful feelings and it's slow, but it's working... So I know it's not gonna happen in my lifetime, but I know the next... For sure, they're gonna see what we're doing now. There’s gonna be change, and that's what it means to me, just doing something to put your stamp in this world, and it's happening with the movement, that's what I feel.
Who inspires you and why?
When you say who inspires me, I have too many people, I’m gonna be honest with you. I am a person that takes little bits of knowledge from a lot of people... I don't have one specific, I have too many. Obviously, I have my mother. Obviously, I have Rico here. He's one of the main people. I have friends that I call family members. They're not friends to me, they’re family. I have about four or five people that I consider and they’re inspiration to me for life, everything.
I really love when people preach to me and teach me something. And the many people that have taught me and helped me grow up, they know how much I appreciate them and love them. But to put one, it's gonna take a while, it's gonna take a book, something... I don't know, I'm gonna figure it out.
Find Le Vander on Instagram @lvla_lee_vander_. For more information about training with Le Vander visit ricoarmstrong.com.