Sunday, February 11, 2001

Exercising his options

Clifton social worker wants to change lives
through his films and funky workout sessions

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One way or another, Jeff Shelby is determined to change people's lives.

        Maybe through his films. Or maybe through workout sessions.

        Mr. Shelby, a 30-year-old Clifton social worker and fitness expert, co-wrote (with poet Shawn Scott) Our Father Our Friend, a one-hour Dreambuilder special on the impact of absentee fathers. It aired last month on WCPO-TV, the fourth annual Dreambuilder Script Contest for African-American writers.

[photo] Jeff Shelby
(Joseph Fuqua III photo)
        Here he goes now, trying to change lives with film:

        “My hope is that somebody watched and got some kind of insight into non-traditional families. Maybe thought about why people do what they do and how certain issues affect lives.”

        And here he goes again, trying to change them via workout sessions:

        “A guy came to me, he was 260 pounds, and said "What can you do for me?' He joined (Mr. Shelby's exercise class) and lost 70 pounds. Got trim and toned. His body image changed, that changed his outlook and that changed his whole life.”

Beat the stats
        Mr. Shelby knows about changing lives. “I'm the only child of a single mother. You hear the stats on that: Single mom, poor, raises child in the West End, often ends in welfare or something worse.

        “But I saw her work every day, put herself through college, lift herself up and really advance herself. She was a real inspiration to me, the way she changed her life. She took herself out of the box and me with her.”

        Out of the box for him meant the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a degree in broadcasting. “My goal was to be a TV cameraman, but there was always this writing thing in the back of my mind.”

        No kidding. For him, writing began as a freshman at Hughes High School with Soap 2, an African-American soap opera loosely fashioned after the old TV show Soap. The deal was, he wrote a script a day, then sold it to fellow students for a nickel or dime to make lunch money.

        “I still have Soap 2,and the issues are still fresh enough that it could be done now. I've thought about revamping, you know, updating and making it a project. But so many new ideas keep popping in to my head I never get around to it.”

Unconventional family
        Ideas like the Jeff Shelby Showcase, a collection of short pieces that the Cincinnati Film Society screened last May and that Time Warner Cable soon will air on Public Access.

        One of the Showcase pieces says a lot about his message: “In A Family Way” is about a newly married man who takes in his father, his brother, fresh from prison, his brother's daughter and her child.

        “It deals with conflict, a lot of it, but it's really about a blended African-American family, about as non-traditional as you can get, overcoming it and staying together.

        “I have a passion for stories that haven't been done yet. I hate those bandwagon African-American films where they hit on a concept that sells and then do it to death. They perpetuate all the wrong things, and I have no interest in that.”

        What he does have an interest in is finding ways to get the word out without beating his audience over the head. Like his film Boys to Men — before the group Boyz II Men hit it big — where he tackled the issue of young black males fascinated with gangsters, but wove in a message about education — in school, on AIDS and drugs.

Funk aerobics


        Getting the word out without battering the audience also applies when pushing 30 sweaty adults to the limit three days a week at the Avondale Community Center.

        He won't even call it a class. Workout Party 2000 has all the basics — stretching exercises to begin, cool-down period at the end — but the middle is, well, a dance party — 45 minutes of cardiovascular dance aerobics with lots of hip-hop and classic tunes.

        Funk Aerobics he calls it.

        “There are a lot of people out there who love to dance but don't go to clubs, so they come here. I've always believed that the key to a great session is good music. People forget how powerful it can be. It makes for fun moments and motivates people to come back.

        “There's a myth that aerobics is only for women, but not here. It's not even billed as aerobics, so we're getting more and more men. All ages, too.

        “I push the fun side, and that brings people back. The overweight slim down, the bad hearts get healthier. Me, I lead the party and watch people transform their lives.”

        There he goes trying to change lives again.

        “I did it myself. I started picking up weight in my 20s and knew I had to start working out. I also loved to dance. So I played music while working out. People started joining me and Funk Aerobics grew out of that. The best thing that has come out of it are the student testimonials. People whose lives were transformed.”

        There's that word again. And here it comes again, this time with something that involves his twin passions: Film and funk.

        “It's a workout video, a collaboration with two other instructors. I produced it and hope to have it on the market by mid-year.

        “After that, I'm going to take some time off and travel to a few film festivals, San Diego and Acapulco for sure, to show Our Father and Showcase.

        And maybe change a few lives.

        Jeff Shelby Showcase will air on Time Warner Cable's public access, in February, times and dates to be announced. For information on Workout Party 2000, call 241-4376.


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