Petersburg ranked Virginia’s unhealthiest locality: Fitness guru offers ways to close health gaps

Petersburg ranked Virginia’s unhealthiest locality: Fitness guru offers ways to close health gaps

‘You don’t really understand what racial injustice looks like until you’ve left your neighborhood,’ – Virginia State University Alumni Don Brooks

PETERSBURG — Did Petersburg native Don Brooks’s upbringing influence his decision to become a fitness trainer? The VSU alumni who donned jersey #10 on the PHS basketball court took time away from preparing for Donamatrix Day 2022 to answer this question and more. 

Brooks aka Don-A-Matrix has shifted the culture of fitness and attracted global attention for nearly 20 years. The celebrity fitness trainer appeared multiple times on the long-running reality show “Keeping up with the Kardashians” as the family’s trainer. 

Petersburg native Recording Artist Trey Songz also utilizes the fitness guru’s training expertise.


Brooks’s upbringing absolutely influenced his decision to become a fitness trainer. 

However, in his youth, Brooks did not interpret his dedication to exercise and nutrition as a goal to become a fitness trainer. He understood that taking care of his body and going to the gym both played a part in his becoming a more competitive basketball player and an overall better athlete. 

His daily routine since he was 12 or 13 years old consisted of working out in the gym before and after school and also before and after basketball practice and games. From middle school until he moved from Petersburg, he spent every day at either the YMCA, Petersburg Legends Historical Park [formerly known as Lee Memorial Park] or American Family Fitness, some days all three.

At a very young age, Brooks started learning about the body, transforming the body, and nutrition. In high school, he made his own protein shakes.

His discipline around nutrition, fitness and basketball inspired him to pursue a college degree in health, physical education and recreation, and later a career as a fitness professional.

Petersburg unhealthiest city

County Health Rankings: University of Wisconsin study ranks Petersburg as the unhealthiest locality in Virginia

Last year after the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute rated Petersburg the least healthy locality in Virginia, the Progress-Index reached out to Brooks to discuss the health of his hometown.

P-I: Do you recall any healthcare racial injustice in the City of Petersburg?

DB: I moved from Petersburg not long after graduating from Virginia State University. During that time, I don’t recall any.

When you’re young, you don’t really understand what racial injustice looks like when it comes to healthcare, insurance, medical treatment, emergency room wait time or even the response time for the ambulance to arrive. 

It’s not until you’ve left your neighborhood or where you’re from that you begin to realize it’s not like that everywhere.

P-I: What is your reaction to the Virginia Department of Health’s claim that while Virginia is improving overall, there are still gaps that need to be addressed and health in some of the more financially strapped localities is one of them?

DB: Research has shown that it requires a lot of money and buy-in to improve and sustain the overall health of a city that is already strapped for cash while also addressing the disparities. 

When you’re in a meeting talking about the money needed to increase pay for teachers and to reduce crime, the argument asking for money to build state of the art gyms in every school, to pay for YMCA memberships for every resident, to offer free PPO health insurance for everyone, to open an affordable organic food market on every corner, and to have only fresh whole food for school lunches will not seem as much of a priority.

Although, efforts similar to these are needed to help close the health gaps, offering opportunities for high school students to earn personal training, nutrition, group fitness, yoga, and meditation certifications during the day is important as well as nursing, barber, and cosmetology programs.

Expanding the offers for fitness and health-related certifications will increase the knowledge and excitement around exercise, nutrition and health among teenagers. They will take it to their family and start building their own home gyms, just as I started with my protein shakes in my mom’s kitchen.

P-I: What steps do you think the City needs to take in order for Petersburg not to be recognized as an unhealthy city?

DB: I think Mayor Parham and the City’s Parks and Recreation Services are doing a great job with taking the necessary steps. As I mentioned, it requires a lot of money and a lot of support from every level of government — local, state and federal — to help make that shift. 

What many people may not know about Petersburg is that it has a huge fitness movement. I was surprised, myself, with the number of fitness trainers, group training, personal training, running groups, boot camps and everything that is going on every day all day back home. I learned that from Donamatrix Day.  

When I was growing up, people were not going to the gym after church. Now, back home, they are working out before and after church and even at church.

I would love to collaborate more closely with the Mayor and the schools on health and fitness initiatives. 

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Man with a plan 

The action plan Brooks is working on includes visiting his hometown at least every three months to help aggressively change the narrative of health outcomes about Petersburg. 

“It does hurt me to read those headlines,” Brooks said. 

One of Brook’s biggest dreams is for Donamatrix Day to become the largest fitness convention in the world where people travel from everywhere to work out in Petersburg. 

“It’s pretty difficult right now to get funding and sponsorship for a massive fitness-inspired event in a place like Petersburg,” Brooks said. “But, I believe in my City and I believe in everyone there. Until we are able to secure sponsorships, I will continue to fund Donamatrix Day and partner with the Mayor and Parks and Rec.”

Donamatrix Day

Fun-filled fitness festival for all ages: Petersburg’s Donamatrix Day: Bike ride and expo, Fit Zones, RVA Black Farmers Market…

In 2018, Brooks received a proclamation from the City of Petersburg which recognized his contributions to the fitness and wellness industries. The fitness guru was honored by the City officially declaring April 3 as Donamatrix Day.

On Saturday, April 2 from 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Brooks and the City of Petersburg will host Donamatrix Day 2022. The hometown fitness festival will be held at the Petersburg Sports Complex located at 100 Ball Park Road. 

The free event will feature a 6-mile family bike ride, fit zones for adults and children, fishing, kickball, a bike expo, health screenings, 10,000 steps walk challenge, health and wellness vendors, the RVA Black Farmers Market and more.

At 1:15 p.m., Brooks will attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the “largest resistance band workout.” To smash the record currently held in Sydney, Australia, 650 people age 16 and older are needed to participate in Brooks’s Donamatrix Workout at the festival.

Visit for a complete list of events, and to register for the bike ride and/or Guinness World Record Donamatrix Workout

Brooks loves to give back to the community that raised him, and he will continue to motivate and inspire residents to get fit and live healthy lifestyles.

“We all want to live healthier,” Brooks said. “We all want the feeling we once had at the school’s field day.”

— Kristi K. Higgins aka The Social Butterfly columnist is the trending topics and food Q&A reporter at The Progress-Index. Have a news tip on local trends or businesses? Contact Kristi (she, her) at, follow @KHiggins_PI on Twitter, @socialbutterflykristi on Instagram, and subscribe to us at

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