Gym owner: ‘Now I have been just consumed with fear’

Jen and Marcus Wilson are opening True Grit Society
Jen and Marcus Wilson

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity. Reporting for this project is by Zac Farber, Nate Gotlieb and Andrew Hazzard.

Jen Wilson, co-owner, True Grit Society gym

I’m married to a big black guy, so it doesn’t escape me that Marcus could have been George Floyd. It can happen anywhere. As a Japanese American, I am not as affected. There’s levels of minorities that people perceive as more aggressive. Being Asian, and I’m stereotyping here because this was my experience, but I wasn’t deemed as aggressive as say an African American person. I was seen as friend instead of foe. I dealt with racism but on a very different level, it was hidden and more passive-aggressive — I’d get called Connie Chung or Kristi Yamaguchi in high school. 

Me and Marcus’s understanding of racism is very different. For me, what I did early on was just not pay attention, because I felt that giving people that response kept them going. Marcus grew up in LA, having to deal with racism and discrimination on a different level, a level that could result in his death, which is very different. Over the years, he would tell me to look at a video or watch people getting beat up and I wouldn’t want to watch it. It hurts my soul. When this happened he said, “Jen, I need you to watch this video.” It devastated me. It makes me want to cry. You’re literally watching this man die, how are you not affected by this?

That was really a turning point for me. My first reaction was I really just wanted to chain Marcus to the inside of the house. I would be fearful of him walking across the street to the gym and taking Sachi with him. It crossed my mind that our daughter could see it, if something happened to him. Do we need to talk to her about what she needs to do?

Immediately I got fearful. I was talking to our mental health coach, and in these cases of trauma, people either fight, flight or freeze. I was frozen. 

I was never fearful that I would lose Marcus before. We were in Oakland for the Oscar Grant riots [in 2010] and marched in the streets. I remember being very upset, but I was never fearful of losing Marcus. But “now I have been just consumed with fear. I think, “Oh my god, this is the feeling he has had his whole life.” I don’t want that for me for the rest of my life, and I can’t believe I’ve been OK with him having this fear as long as he’s been alive. I don’t want him to feel that. 

I was a little depressed with the gym and trying to figure out outdoor classes. We sent out a survey and only about 10% of our gym was interested in outdoor classes, which was a little surprising. But we had our first outdoor class scheduled for [May 30]. Then we were seeing all the craziness on the news, but I didn’t think anyone would break into the gym. 

We got a call from the owner of the building at 7:30 a.m saying the building has been broken into. I ran over and started hyperventilating. At our building they had put boards over the doors, but someone tore down the board, shot the door and got into the autobody shop and came upstairs and kicked every single one of our doors out of the frame. They robbed and mugged John, the photographer here, and pistol whipped him and took his gear. They just kicked in our doors — they could have done so many things. 

I keep trying to figure out what happened. They held our entire future in their hands for a split second. The fact that was up for grabs scares me. It took them one half second to decide if they were going to wreck our future. I know this is nothing, because this did happen to a lot of people who’ve lost everything. We know that our guys were robbers. They weren’t looters or protesters; they had guns and masks. They were people here taking advantage of the chaos in the streets. Now, I’m sort of numb. I’m still a little frozen. 

To continue to see all the police brutality, it’s hard to stay positive and find the good in some of the horrific images I keep seeing and not see people be held accountable. Marcus, I honestly have never been more proud of who he is than I have been in the past week. The things he’s said and the people he’s connected with and his ability to articulately describe things. He has stepped up and been a voice and I am super proud of him for doing that. 

I can’t put two words together because I’m just shaken to my core. I will say I think the city has been amazing, just the level of support we’ve seen has been phenomenal. But I keep thinking, why did it take someone to die to see this? It’s one of those things where I knew it was going on. I just never saw it on this level, maybe, but it’s been surprising to me. People keep asking me, “How is Marcus?” But frankly, he’s used to this. He’s really not been fazed.


A project documenting the stories of coronavirus in Minneapolis. 

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