How Line Dancing Helped Big Mike Save Himself

Kids can be mean. Few know this better than 36-year-old DC native and Potomac Gardens resident Michael Ballard. Michael Ballard was heavy all of his life. The kids called him Fat Mike. His mother suffered from weight problems also so she understood what it was like to be teased and humiliated at school. It was only natural that they would become extremely close.

Michael continued to put on weight throughout school. By the time he graduated high school he weighed 300 pounds. Many people assume that anyone that weighs that much can’t do anything. Michael proved them wrong by going to work right out of high school. From 2000 to 2005 he worked for Goodwill Industries in housekeeping, a job he enjoyed. In 2005 Goodwill lost their contract with the Armed Forces Retirement Home and Michael went to work for Melwood, a nonprofit that creates jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities, in their housekeeping department.

Big Mike's Line Dance ClassAt Melwood, Michael faced discrimination. His co-workers claimed that he had body odor; that he took up too much space; that he moved too slowly and was unable to complete his tasks because he couldn’t fit into the bathroom. It was high school all over again. Within just a few months Michael had left Melwood and returned to Goodwill Industries. But the stress at Melwood had caused Michael to put on more weight. He now weighed ?? pounds. He had a different project manager at Goodwill, one who didn’t know him well and he faced discrimination at Goodwill as well.

He was accused of sitting on and breaking Goodwill’s second-hand chairs. To address the problem, the Government Service Administration brought a bench to his job site exclusively for Michael to use. Unfortunately, his project manager, unwilling to find ways to accommodate an employee of Michael’s size, threw the bench into the trash.

Besides the stress of the hostile work environment, Michael developed an upper respiratory infection from working in Goodwill’s Garage. Despite all this, Michael continued to work at Goodwill from 2006 until 2013, when he was let go.

After losing his job, Michael’s health deteriorated. Due to his extreme weight, Michael had for years suffered from lymphedma— a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs as a result of a blockage in the lymphatic system that prevents lymph fluid from draining well—on the bottom of both his legs. Michael also developed cellulites—a noncontagious bacterial skin infection—which spread from the bottom of both of his legs to his pelvis. This condition landed him in Washington Hospital for a ten-day stretch in March of 2013. From there he was transferred to Saint Thomas Moore Rehabilitation Center where he was bed bound for two months.

Two months of having to eat in the bed, having the bed made while lying in it, having his body turned and cleaned in the bed was more humiliating than years of being teased. Michael’s weight had made him a target for mockery but now it was risking his life. Michael knew that the only way to escape the derision and to save his life was to control his weight.

In May 2013, he went from being bed bound to being wheel chair ridden. Once in the chair, he was able to begin participating in physical therapy. Soon he was able to move around with a rollator. In December of 2013, Michael was well enough to move back home to Potomac Gardens but not without the use of two portable oxygen tanks.

By this time, his mother was in trouble. Being overweight herself, she had a hernia that had grown to the size of a soccer ball. In 2014, Michael’s mother had surgery at Georgetown Hospital. Terrified that he might lose his best friend, Michael’s stress levels soared along with his eating. While his mother was recovering, Michael’s weight ballooned. At 700 pounds, hospitalization was inevitable.

This time, Michael was offered the option of a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes all but twenty-five percent of the stomach and greatly limits the patient’s food intake. The operation was performed by Dr. Paul Lin at George Washington University Hospital in March of 2015. Seven months later, Michael had lost 301 pounds.

How did he do it? In addition to the gastrectomy, Michael started exercising with regularity and intensity. For three hours, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he does water aerobics. His real passion is line dancing, which he does from 6:00 – 8:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. In fact, Michael has been line dancing for five years, but this December 1st will be his one-year anniversary line dancing at Turkey Thicket with a group that calls themselves The Line Dance Addicts. Michael no longer needs to use the portable oxygen to get around, although he still uses it at home. He is well on his way to full recovery from a lifetime of weight-related issues.

He is grateful for his second chance and is working to spread what he’s learned to the community around him. He has begun teaching line dancing to Potomac Gardens’ and Hopkins Apartments’ residents. Classes cost only $2 and it’s already proven popular with those of all ages and all sizes. Line Dancing with Big Mike teaches you more than the Nae Nae and the electric slide; line dancing with Big Mike teaches you that overcoming even extremely large obstacles is possible and easier when your community has your back.

The community that has Michael’s back as he continues to lose weight includes but is not limited to: Cheryl Thompson Walker, Kembal Bonds, Russell, Jordan, Miss Rita and Rita from Turkey Thicket, as well as Miss Paula Allen, Miss Reshida Young and the entire Line Dance Addicts family; Dee, Reggie, Adrienne Jenkins and Dr. Cristina Schreiber from George Washington University Hospital; Sisters With A Purpose and the entire Master’s Child Church Family under the leadership of Bishop Melvin Robinson junior and his wife and church co-founder Erma Robinson-Fitzgerald; and last but not least the Lord, his mom and grandparents.

Potomac Gardens’ Resident Fights HIV & Addiction

Charles_WrightMeet Charles Wright.  He’s a tenant at 1229 G Street SE, which is home to about 140 seniors and  persons with disabilities inside the Potomac Gardens Public Housing Complex.  Charles is a senior with a seizure disorder.  He also has HIV.  He was diagnosed in 1999 or somewhere there abouts.  A number of people living at 1229 G Street SE are HIV positive or living with AIDS, but not many are willing to talk about it.  As a volunteer at Whitman Walker Charles is not shy about the disease, his condition or how he got there.

Charles Wright was born and raised in the District of Columbia.  He and his family lived on Euclid Street Northwest in Petworth, which even then was a relatively fashionable.   He fully admits that he was very spoiled.  He bought his clothes at Woodies and Landburgh’s.  His father bought him a Triumph Spitfire.  Plenty of girls were interested in Charles but there was only one girl for him.  Yes indeed, Charles Wright was a big man at Roosevelt Senior High School.   Like the other popular boys, he played basketball in a park on Hamilton Street and smoked reefer with his best friend Ronald and the other guys playing pick up ball on the court.  Eventually, the reefer led to harder drugs, heroine, cocaine and eventually crack.

It’s hard to say when Charles contracted HIV.  Despite his drug use, he functioned reasonably well.  After high school, he went to Maryland Eastern Shore for accounting, but he left after two years.  It was enough to land him a job at the United Planning Organization and later a better job as a tax accountant at the Department of Finance and Revenue.  But the money he was making, didn’t allow him to live the spoiled life to which he had become accustomed.  He needed money, not just for the drugs but to dress well and look good when he went to the clubs.  So Charles started forging checks and credit cards.

His drug use lost him his high school sweet heart, but looking good at the clubs got him a new girl.  “We met at Tiffany’s,” Charles remembers fondly.  “She had pretty feet.  In fact, that was my pick up line, ‘you have cute toes.'”  They danced the Hustle and because it was pay day, Charles bought everyone at the table a drink.  The rest is history.  They fell in love, moved into an apartment together in Northeast DC and had a son.

All was going smoothly until he got caught for his forgery and found out that he was positive for HIV.  Fortunately, he hadn’t infected his partner and so his son was spared as well.  He spent eight years in a low-security prison.  When he got out, he was still using drugs but this time without the steady accounting job or the illegal income.   Charles and his son’s mother continued to get along well, but he didn’t move back in with her.  She didn’t ask for child support and encouraged him to be a part of their son’s life.  He admits that he might have been more present for his son, if he hadn’t been chasing the drugs.  Somewhere during this time, Charles’ high school friend Ronald died of an overdose.

Fortunately, for Charles he found Whitman Walker and his life began to turn around.  Having finally decided to quit using drugs, he started going to their Narcotic Anonymous meetings.  Eventually, he was allowed in their drug rehabilitation program, which unlike the vast majority of in-patient treatment programs, was entirely free.   That was three years ago.  Charles stayed off drugs for two of those years but eventually, overcome by loneliness, he started using again.  “I was frustrated and mad,” he says, “so I started using weed and crack again.  The loneliness is the hardest part about drug use.  You get in your apartment and you just get lonely.  And then you go and do what happens.”

Charles still struggles to keep from using but he is trying to quit again.  He has a new girl friend.  She does not like his drug use and Charles wants her to be proud of him.  So, he’s started going to the Narcotics Anonymous meetings at Whitman Walker again.  “In the beginning, they know you won’t be clean,” he says, “but by taking the meetings, they expect you to get strong enough to get clean.”   Charles hopes to go through Whitman Walker’s drug treatment program again when they agree he’s ready.  In the meantime, Charles volunteers on the Whitman Walker outreach truck, passing out condoms and teaching the public how to avoid infection.  He advises Lifestyle condoms over Trojans and for heterosexuals, female condoms  over male condoms.

Charles is open about his status because he wants to make a difference.  Whitman Walker is known for working with Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender individuals, but they welcomed Charles who fits into none of those categories.  Potomac Gardens is proud to count Charles Wright as a member of the community.  We are also grateful to Whitman Walker for opening its doors to the public housing community, whose members are too often stigmatized and rarely given the second and sometimes third chance that everyone deserves.

Charles was interviewed for the Whitman Walker promotional video above.  In it, he is given the last line.  You’ll have to watch it all the way to the end to find out what that line is.


The Human Heart and How It Works

Bey with heart

The heart says, “I will take care of you; if you will take care of me!”

According to The New People’s Physician the human heart is a hollow muscular organ located in the breast that pumps blood received from the veins into the arteries. The heart beat is regulated in two different ways:  the heart muscle itself possesses what is called a rhythmic quality of its own and if removed from the body and placed in proper environment it will go on contracting at about forty beats a minute, and may maintain its natural rhythm indefinitely. The heart in its normal function, however, beats seventy to eighty times a minute, and is responsive to all the calls which the body makes on it. The blood in the course of its circulation traverses three varieties of blood vessels when it leaves the heart.

Blood enters the arteries which from there move through capillaries to feed our tissue (i.e., muscles and skin). Capillaries are arteries that divide again and again, until they finally become so small that they are invisible except through a microscope. They are arranged in the form of a network, the size of the mesh depending on the needs of the particular tissue. The blood flows through the capillaries at the speed of about an inch per minute to join the veins. The capillary bed is the great controlling factor of subcutaneous and muscular circulation. The blood flowing through the capillary vessel holds oxygen, and carries away carbon dioxide and other metabolic end products. Life can continue only if the composition of the blood is kept constant by circulation through the organs that replenish its expendable constituents and rid it of its wastes. So small is the reserve of oxygen contained in the blood and tissues that when the heart stops life goes out, in higher animals in a matter of minutes. The rate of circulation varies at different hours of the day; in the afternoon it is at the maximum; in the early morning hours, when we are asleep it is at its minimum.

The arteries are strong, thick and elastic tubes, whose walls are made up of three distinct layers. The innermost is thin and smooth and allows the blood to flow over it without friction or obstacle; next comes a layer of muscle, which by its contraction can lessen the size of the artery and thus diminish the amount of blood flowing through it; the outermost layer is gifted with great elasticity by which it retains an even pressure on the blood in the vessel, and by its recoil gradually drives it on wards. The artery is surrounded with a bed of loose tissue, which allows it a certain amount of freedom of movement. The muscular middle coat of an artery is an exceedingly important provision of nature. The blood supply to an organ must vary with its demand for blood, and this is not constant. The stomach, for instance, during digestion, when it is manufacturing gastric juice, obviously requires a much larger supply of blood than when it is in the resting state. This variation of the supply depends on the state of contraction of the muscle fibers in the walls of the arteries. If the vessels are narrowed the supply of blood is lessened, and vice versa.

The contraction of the arterial walls has another important effect. If it occurs simultaneously in many arteries throughout the body, by offering resistance to the flow of blood, it must increase the blood pressure. An efficient water supply to a town or to a house can be maintained only if the water pressure is sufficiently high, and the same is true of the supply of blood to all parts of the body. In most arteries the branches communicate freely with those of other arteries, a condition known as anastomosis. In this way, if the blood supply of one trunk artery is cut off the supply can be maintained through another. The largest and thickest artery is the aorta. It is the main trunk artery leading out of the heart and conveying the whole stream of blood from that organ to the various parts of the body. In an adult man it is a tube large enough to accommodate two or even three fingers. It runs upwards out of the heart and then sweeps to the left in a wide curve. At the top of this curve it gives off its first large branches, the vessels going to the head and arms; thereafter it runs downwards, behind the heart, passes through the diaphragm and branches to the stomach and bowels. Lower down it divides into two branches, one going to each leg. In health this huge artery is exceedingly elastic like a very large rubber tube. This is of great importance, since the elasticity acts as a reservoir of power between the heartbeats.

Each beat fills the aorta with blood and expands it. The white blood corpuscles can make their way out of the blood vessels by passing between the cells. This migration is enormously increased in inflammation. Ordinarily the red blood corpuscles do not pass out of the capillaries, but this may occur in inflammation. The presence of capillaries is the cause of the rosy tint of healthy skin and mucous membrane; in blushing more capillaries are flooded with blood. If the capillary network is well-filled with blood, then in contact with cold air the temperature of the blood, and therefore the body, will be lowered. In order to prevent undue heat loss, therefore, nature closes up many of the capillaries by contracting the smaller arteries, and this is the reason of the pallor induced by cold weather. On the other hand, if the weather is warm the skin becomes flushed and the loss of heat greater. This important mechanism for controlling the body temperature can be easily impaired by the common habit of wearing too much clothing. It can also be made more active by training the skin to exposure.

Healthy Youth


The causes of obesity are complex and include biological, behavioral and cultural factors. Obesity occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns up. They need a change in diet.

physical-effects-of-childhood-obesityChildhood obesity is a major public health problem.  Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of unhealthy eating pattern and a lack of physical activity. However children are at high risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure later in life.  The following is a list of common causes of obesity:

  • poor eating habits
  • overeating or binging
  • lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids)
  • family history of obesity
  • medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
  • medications (steroids, some psychiatric medications)
  • stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse)
  • family and peer problems
  • low self-esteem
  • depression or other emotional problems

How can obesity be managed and treated?
Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical cause. In the absence of a physical disorder, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase the level of physical activity. Lasting weight loss can only occur when there is self-motivation. Since obesity often affects more than one family member, making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control for the child or adolescent.


workout exercise for kids

Kids exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes, or when playing tag.

One of the best ways to get kids to exercise is by finding ways to get them active without making it feel like actual exercise. Thanks to video games and computers, today’s kids live a more sedentary life, so it is more important than ever to get them moving whenever possible. From fun games to trampoline tricks and even yoga, here are 10 steps you can take to get your kids to play hard and thus get exercise without even knowing it!

  •  Create a superhero-in-training
  •  Do a hoop dance
  • Create the Playground Olympics
  • Jump on the trampoline
  • Try yoga for kids
  • Jumping Rope
  • Using an exerciser ball
  • Make activity flash cards
  • Play the Wii game
  • Play with balloons


Nutritious meals for kids provide the vitamins nutrients and mineral needed to meet the daily dietary guideline for children.kids_healthy_eating

Children use a lot of energy to maintain a high level of concentration, increased brain power and a healthy lifespan. So exercise throughout the day will prevent energy high and low. A healthy daily diet for kids should Include three meals and two healthy snacks.

Teach your child to eat a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.

Healthy Meals for Kids

Good things come in small packages and mealtime is no exception. These healthy meals are perfect for popping into little mouths or picking up with tiny fingers. Your kids will delight in these bite-sized meals and snacks. Each meal is low in calories, provides a variety of healthy ingredients, and is so tasty even the big kids (a.k.a. Mom or Dad) will like them.

With each recipe, find suggestions for the parents to help make prep easier, to involve the children in the kitchen, or to add a unique, adult-friendly spin to the recipe. Best of all, you can feel good serving these healthy recipes to your children.

Chicken Fingers

chicken fingersChickens don’t have fingers! I think the name comes from how you eat them. This part of the chicken is the loin, which comes from the breast. The loin has a little yellowish-white tendon at one end that is sometimes tough to chew. You can cut this tendon off after you wash and dry the meat, but I usually leave it on. Hey, I’m lazy!

Yields: 3 to 5 servings

Oven Temp: 375

1 pound(s) chicken tenders (The package might call them “loins”)Chicken Fingers:

  • 1 cup(s) flour
  • 1 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • Cooking spray

Honey Baby Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup(s) honey
  • 1/4 cup(s) spicy brown mustard


  1. Preheat the toaster oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the chicken under running water in the colander, and blot it dry with the paper towels. The drying part is important because the coating won’t stick to wet chicken, so don’t skip it.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in one of the shallow dishes. (Since this recipe uses baking powder, you need to measure out the dry ingredients carefully.) Use the fork to mix them together.
  3. Use the fork to beat the egg lightly in the other shallow dish. Now the fun part: dredge each piece of chicken first in the flour (shake off any extra), then in the egg, and then back in the flour. Finally, place the chicken on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the tops of the dredged chicken with oil.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces over with the tongs. Lightly spray them with oil, and bake another 5 minutes until golden brown.
  5. To make sauce: Combine honey and mustard in a small bowl. If you’re sharing, let each person have their own little bowl of sauce.
  6. Let the chicken fingers cool before you dip them in Honey Baby Sauce. Chow down.


DC Health Link Info & Enrollment Day is Just Around the Corner

Mark your calendars for the citywide healthcare information and enrollment fair coming up on Saturday, November 23rd! See more details below. [For more information, you can go to or call 1-855-532-5465].


Enroll today!

Join us at the DC Health Link City-wide Information Day & Enrollment Fair

10 AM TO 3 PM


• Trained experts to work with you one-on-one to help you enroll

• Licensed insurance brokers to help residents and small businesses choose coverage

• Free health screenings

• Zumba classes and Yoga demonstrations

• Kids’ Corner

• Entertainment


• Meet members of DC United and personalities from WPGC, El Sol, and much, much more


…and a checklist of information to bring with you, please visit or call 855.532-LINKDC Health Link logo

NOV23EnrollmentEvent3 (original flyer)