Spring 2024 Issue

An Hour for the Soul

Jennifer Gray Braswell ’08 creates a space for fitness and community

By Valerie Brown Wilkins M.Ed. ’08 and Faith Odom ’22

Stepping into Hour Cycle feels like home. There is a certain warmth — and not just from the rigorous workout curated by Jennifer Gray Braswell ’08 and her staff. Hour Cycle, an exercise studio in downtown Richmond, Virginia, is a vibrant space designed to celebrate music, culture and fitness.

Hour Cycle is not your typical indoor cycling class. “A couple things set our business apart. We’re not just Black owned, but Black led,” says Braswell.

She shares the importance of presenting positive images of Black excellence, health, joy and body image. Hour Cycle celebrates the culture it’s inspired by and the people it’s created for. The studio’s core values state a commitment to staying real and moving forward together. Describing the community that participants build, both on and off the bike, Braswell says, “We have a wide range of people that come in, but everyone comes in with pure intentions and the same set of values.”

Jennifer Gray Braswell smiling while sitting on a cycle
GATHER 'ROUND: Jennifer Gray Braswell ’08 has built a community through her cycle studio in Richmond, Virginia.

Braswell’s love for cycling began as she explored various exercises to prepare for her wedding. Realizing how much she enjoyed participating in indoor cycling, often called spin classes, she became an instructor.

The inspiration for Hour Cycle blossomed during the summer of 2020, a time of difficult transition and unrest for Braswell and the nation. As people around the United States and the world reacted to the murder of George Floyd, Braswell also navigated the journey of being furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her husband asked her what she would do with her newfound availability if she could do anything in the world. She answered, “I would open a hip-hop spin studio.” A few months later, her cycling studio opened in September 2020.

Braswell sought to create a space “centered around the Black experience,” where Black people and their allies could exist safely. A place where, even for just an hour, they could let go of the world’s troubles to have fun moving their bodies. She notes that she was able to do just that by relying on the support of her William & Mary community.

Braswell, who grew up in Richmond, decided to attend William & Mary because she wanted a well-rounded education. “I felt like William & Mary gave me what I needed. I was not 100% sure what career path I wanted to go in. I really appreciated the liberal arts style of education, so I could try a bunch of different things.” Braswell ultimately decided to major in psychology.

She also wanted to be surrounded by the high-quality individuals W&M attracted. Her favorite memory while at the university was becoming a member of the Mu Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. in the spring of 2007.

She cherishes the community of support that her sorors — sorority sisters — created for her, especially when she was expecting her son during her senior year.

“It was a lot of my older chapter sorors who had graduated who wrapped their arms around me and took care of me because I was away from home,” she says.

Her time at William & Mary granted her the opportunity to strengthen many skills that she values and still uses today.

“William & Mary was one of the first places that I put together a business plan. Raising money for Ebony Expressions [the student gospel choir] and trying to fill out grant information for Delta prepared me for starting Hour Cycle.”

Her William & Mary experience also helped with time management and the ability to juggle competing priorities, she says.

Braswell, who also earned an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015, says these skills aid in overcoming the challenging responsibilities of running a small business while balancing her professional career as a human resources executive and her roles as a wife and mother. Accomplishing this balance is a huge endeavor, but she celebrates the best moments.

For Braswell, the highlight of being a business owner is witnessing the development and community support of her vision. “One of the best parts is seeing the growth, the joy it brings people and knowing that it is grown from scratch,” she says. “This is not a studio where it’s a bunch of my personal friends and family humoring me. We’ve had 3,000 individuals come in. I don’t know 3,000 people.”

Building and furthering relationships is a large component of the mission for Hour Cycle and a personal goal for Braswell in her efforts to stay connected to William & Mary. “I had a good community at William & Mary. Leesa Christian ’08, M.Acc. ’09 was my friend as a student and she’s one of my instructors at Hour Cycle. There are so many people I can call right now. They are a solid group of people that I can reach out to or can reach out to me, that I only know because of our time at William & Mary.”

Braswell also stays connected to the university by engaging with the Hulon Willis Association, the W&M Alumni Association’s network for alumni of Black and African descent, and by attending Homecoming & Reunion Weekend.

She encourages current students to lean into her philosophy and build meaningful relationships while at William & Mary: “Build relationships with people. Don’t be so focused on the next step.” Braswell encourages students to focus on the present and the people going through the experience with them. “Make sure you’re putting as much effort into the people around you as the people are pouring into you.”

Braswell’s upbeat personality and motivating coaching make attending a cycling class at her studio an unforgettable experience. “If you’re on the fence about taking a class, just do it. Know we are here celebrating just moving your body. Take the time to invest in yourself and invest the time to try it out. You’re going to have a good time, even if just because we have a fire playlist, which we always do.”

Attending Hour Cycle, we are reminded that we’re all running out of or toward something. Even after the final cool down and stretch, her voice still echoes, “1, 2, 1, 2, get what you need ...push through.”

Cycle class at Hour Cycle
MOVE FORWARD TOGETHER: Braswell's classes celebrate Black excellence, health, joy and positive body image — all to a hip-hop playlist.