Most of Dwayne Delves' earliest memories are of the boxing gym.
Delves grew up around the ring in gyms around the Rexdale neighbourhood in Toronto, starting out at ringside watching as his father – a professional kickboxer – trained, before stepping into the ring himself for the first time at the age of three.
Given that pedigree, it's no surprise Delves chose to pursue a career in fitness and now finds himself running his own line of fitness apparel and owning three gyms with a faithful client list that includes members of the Toronto hip-hop community and R&B royalty.
What is remarkable, however, is how Delves got to where he is now.
Although he's the owner of a successful business today, Delves said he believes that could have turned out very different. After high school, Delves said he fell in with the wrong crowd.
"Like a lot of kids, I got in trouble when I was younger," Delves said. "I was in and out for seven years. Last time that I was in, I started training a bunch of guys. And when I got out, I felt like, I might as well just keep training and keep helping people."
"I knew deep down that this was not the life I wanted for me and my daughter, and so one day I made a choice to change my life, and that choice brought me back to boxing," said Delves.
From TO with XO
In 2009, Delves launched his personal training company, Body by Chosen, which offered personal training sessions inspired by his boxing background.
"Those first few years I was on the ground with friends handing out flyers, training new clients for $10 to $20 a session, just making enough to pay for gas while I built my brand," he said.
"When I finally started to establish my downtown client base, everything changed."
Delves' boxing-inspired, high-intensity fitness training style attracted the attention of several individuals from XO Records, the Canadian label co-founded by hip-hop star The Weeknd. Before long, Delves was training Sal Slaiby, one of The Weeknd's managers, and his creative director, La Mar Taylor.
Delves and Taylor bonded over their intense workout schedule and their shared desire to support Black and other racially diverse communities.
When Delves started going back to his old neighbourhood to run community events – including running free boxing classes for kids and information sessions about the importance of fitness and healthy eating – Taylor was right there to support him with donations of time, money and XO apparel.
"Our relationship was really built on our shared goal to help at-risk kids and communities and we’ve been close friends and collaborators ever since," Delves said.
BLACK HXOUSE: Activating Black talent
Over the next eight years, both Delves and Taylor evolved their respective businesses while pursuing their dreams to help empower Black and other racially diverse individuals and communities. Delves launched the Body By Chosen brand of fitness apparel in 2011, and opened his first gym in Toronto's downtown core in 2015. His second gym opened just outside Toronto in Mississauga in 2018, all while Delves continued his community work.
Meanwhile Taylor, The Weeknd, and Ahmed Ismail – founder of Influencers PR – launched HXOUSE, a Toronto-based incubator for young creatives in 2018.
Two years later, the same group created the BLACK HXOUSE project with TD Bank Group as the founding sponsor and Body by Chosen as one of the new initiative's first participants, or 'tenants,' of BLACK HXOUSE.
"BLACK HXOUSE's goal is to be the first program in Canada dedicated to the long-term economic advancement of Canada's Black and other racially diverse communities," said HXOUSE Founder Ahmed Ismail.
The program's mission, explains Ismail, is to empower Black and other racially diverse individuals with tools, learning opportunities, and the mentorship networks they need to activate their talent and create a sustainable career that promotes industry innovation and diverse representation across multiple sectors.
"BLACK HXOUSE is much more than just highlighting the work of Black and other racially diverse entrepreneurs, it's about empowering individuals with the tools and opportunities they need to activate their talents and thrive professionally," said Lisa Bayne, Senior Manager, Strategy & Planning for Business Shared Services Technology Solutions at TD and a Black Experience Council member who acts as a relationship manager for TD’s BLACK HXOUSE sponsorship.
"As a TD employee, it's great to see my organization get behind something that is not only supporting individuals at the community level, but also helping to build a more diverse and inclusive economy in general," she said.
Five-year goals, achieved in one
Thanks to TD's investment as the founding sponsor, Ismail said BLACK HXOUSE has been able to hire new faculty, build a new 7,200 sq. ft facility, create jobs in the production industry, and facilitate mentorship opportunities and network connections for 'tenants' of BLACK HXOUSE.
"This sponsorship has made our five-year goals for BLACK HXOUSE attainable in one year, and could not be more needed during a time when the pandemic has devastated so many entrepreneur's goals and dreams,” said Ismail.
"There is absolutely no way we could have launched this program and served our community with the speed and quality of opportunities for our participants without the generosity and support of TD.”
With the support of his friends at BLACK HXOUSE, Delves is taking Body by Chosen international with a third location about to open in Los Angeles, and the wider goal of franchising across North America.
"They've helped me amplify my messaging to a wider audience which assisted me in expanding Body by Chosen," said Delves.
With a thriving business, Delves continues to pay it forward with his family-friendly, community-focused fitness and lifestyle programs, as well as a new non-profit, charitable organization called Teamchosen mentorship, that aims to better the future of youth.
"I want to give kids the positive role models that I didn't get when I was younger," said Delves.
"The older guys I hung out with as a teenager didn’t set a good example for me, so I hope to break that pattern in the community I grew up in, and beyond."