Splintering wood and shouts, or "kihaps," echoed inside the Barnett Tae Kwon Do Academy in Athens on Saturday. Athletes in both the children's and adult classes participated in rank promotion testing to advance and earn subsequent belts.

Barnett Tae Kwon Do Academy has been in Athens since 2005 when current owner Curtis Barnett's parents first opened the gym.

Taekwondo became a family affair for the Barnetts when Air Force captain David Barnett was stationed in Spain for six years. As a Black student at the time, Curtis stood out from his classmates and started experiencing bullying at school. To gain confidence and learn to defend himself, his father got him involved in martial arts.

With his father gone a lot, taekwondo became an activity that Curtis and his brother looked forward to practicing with their father when he was home.

"It was something for us to bond. It didn't require a court, didn't require a field. We'd just come home and work on our techniques together," Curtis Barnett said.

Now a father himself, Curtis Barnett took over the family gym in 2018, and this year has brought unique challenges to the gym. To promote the safety of instructors and athletes during COVID-19, temperatures are taken at the door and masks are required in the viewing area. The gym is starting outdoor classes next month and currently offers Zoom classes for those uncomfortable or unable to attend in person. 

Offering Zoom classes has made the gym more accessible, as students from California, Israel and everywhere in between join the calls and practice from their kitchens and living rooms with a live instructor in Athens. 

This story is part of The Red & Black photo desk’s series recognizing Black-owned businesses in Athens.

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