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Noose, racial epithet create sense of violation at vandalized Black-owned Tower District gym

Sam Akoidu, owner of Iron Bird Fitness in the heart of Fresno’s diverse Tower District, said he’s spent the past six months in business “dealing with COVID and all kinds of other stuff.”

But even he was surprised when his Black-owned business was the target of racist vandalism, including use of the N-word, on Saturday morning. Sometime between about 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., someone tied a small plastic toy skeleton to the front door with a hangman’s noose and scratched the phrase “Hey n******” into the door.

Akoidu said there was nothing amiss when he was at the gym between about 7:45 and 8 a.m. Saturday. But one of his coaches discovered the vandalism when she arrived later in the morning, notifying Akoidu by text message about 10:45 a.m.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I just thought that’s what cowards do,” Akoidu told The Bee. “If that’s how you feel, you should say it directly. But to go out and buy a toy (skeleton) and scratch something in the door when no one’s looking, that’s cowardly.”

Eric Payne, executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute, learned about the incident when he arrived at the gym on Olive Avenue near Wishon Avenue to work out later Saturday morning, after the skeleton and noose had been taken down. He tweeted that some of the people at the gym were very upset by the vandalism.

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One Black woman at the gym, Payne said, “broke into tears and cried for her son.”

Akoidu said the gym staff and customers felt a sense of violation of what they have worked to create as a safe space.

“There are women who come in there, people of color, all kinds of people who come into our space,” Akoidu said. “We pride ourselves on being able to reach people who normally wouldn’t go to places like gyms.”

The Tower District is known for its diversity of lifestyles, and Akoidu said it was “super surprising” to see a racist incident such as this. “But then again, maybe not because this is the day and age that we life in,” he said. “People talk behind people’s backs, send messages through ghost accounts, and everything else.”

Fresno police officers based in the Tower District arrived quickly after being called, Akoidu said, “and they were super helpful; I’m thankful for that.”

He added that the vandalism has strengthened his resolve

“For me, as a Black business owner, I don’t bow down to things like that,” he said. “If anything, it makes me go harder.”

Akoidu said he plans to paint a mural on the front of the business “to double down and let them know we’re not going anywhere.”

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