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Inclusion in the Wild - Community Spotlight

When it comes to being inclusive, or discussing any topic in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, there is usually a sort of systematic approach. Policy analyses, Chief Diversity Officers, committees, councils, consultants, the list goes on. But what about small community businesses, ones too small to be able to afford, or honestly even need, the policy analyses and formal programs. Should DE&I be ignored? Of course not. But how should it be approached?

In the case of one local business, it is being addressed by not needing to be addressed at all. Next Level Martial Arts in Reading, Pennsylvania is a living example of how inclusion should be approached. From the initial contact to the first class and on, being inclusive is deeply embedded in how they approach every student.

What brought our attention to Next Level was a student that recently started taking lessons there. This student has a handful of disabilities, including being on the Autism spectrum and having some mild cerebral palsy. In the initial email exchange, the parents expressed mild concern about making sure that the student is in the correct class for their current level, and that they will be able to learn and succeed without needing so much one-on-one assistance that they take away from any other students' learning experience.

With a quick "Don't worry about it! We've got it!", in they went to their first lesson with the owner, Charles Chauca . "We've got it" was not an overstatement. They inherently practice the true meaning of "equity" for their students. They give each student an equitable chance at success, giving some students a little bit more intense feedback to encourage them to push themselves, and giving other students more basic feedback to help them achieve more basic skills and confidence.

By practicing equitable instruction, no student is hovered-over by a coach any more than any other student. Their communication with each student is unique, and the connections they make are exceptional.

As a final, and exceptional, display of commitment to their students' successes inside and outside of the gym, one of the coaches, Anthony, joined a student at the Miss Amazing pageant for girls and women with disabilities. Because of his selfless act of support, she was able to demonstrate the skills that she had learned at Next Level, broke a board with Coach Anthony's instruction, and won Miss Amazing Pennsylvania Pre-Teen.

The young men and women coaching at Next Level, with the guidance of Master Charles, are truly changing people's lives. The effortless way they welcome every student regardless of ability or background makes us think that they truly don't put a single thought into it; it is simply engrained into who they are as an organization.

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