Hood To Neighbourhood

Posted by Vinya Sankaran Vasu on Mar 11, 2013
6839 reads  
           Whatever happened to those times when children played child-like games and sauntered the streets? Or when there was a friendly nod or an assuring wave when you walked out the door?  Those were the times when Ali and Atman grew up in the neighborhood.  It was awesome growing up amidst neighbors who were more of uncles, aunts or grandparents. The brothers went on to college and returned years later to see their neighborhood stripped off the community and peace that they had so cherished. It was now a “hood” without the neighbors and was rampant with violence, gang activity and open drug markets. One could not make eye contact with anyone because that was perceived as an open invitation to fight.


          This is a story of three warriors who strive to fill the gaping holes in a torn community, one child at a time, one breath at a time.
The brothers had grown up in a family that had strong roots in spirituality. They recall practicing yoga and meditation from a very young age with their parents. Their keen interest in spirituality and philosophy connected them on a deep level to Andres who they met while at college. The newfound brothers shared several interests and a burning question: “what was wrong with the world and what can we do about it?”
                 

         They heard on TV about ways to get funds to run your own program and decided to apply for a grant in response to a request to work on creating an ozone detection system. It was while applying for the grant that they realized that they would need to be a registered non profit in order to apply for money. They dropped plans to apply for the grant and returned to Baltimore to the neighborhood where they had grown up. They realized that so much had changed about the peaceful haven that their neighborhood was. They were determined to do what they could to give a sense of community to the children in the neighborhood.

The three some spent intense time delving into their spiritual practices and worked on creating a non profit. The Holistic Life Foundation was thus born. They rented space from the YMCA and drove the students there. They taught the students different kinds of yoga practices and meditation and mentored them as they went on to high school and then college. They have served several students as years passed and have taken special care to reach out to those hard to reach kids who run around terrorizing the neighborhood by slashing tires and breaking windows.

      The HLF works as part of afterschool programs in elementary schools, programs for seniors, educators and adults. The benefits of the program have brought back more and more students with their numbers doubling each year. Ali, Atman and Andres take special care to tailor the program to the unique needs of each age group and needs of the population they work with. They have creatively interspersed music and basketball in their programs, thus tapping into the interests of the children they work with. So much so that it leaves the children reflecting on the connections between rap and yoga.
...And here is one for your beats:
I work out all day on tracks, I’m dedicated
Family history of depression self-medicated
I can teach you who you are, and how to regulate it
Prescribe the right diet, exercise and meditation
But I can’t make you drink the water
I just lead the way
 
For the food to flourish, gotta flush the weeds away
And I can see it in myself every single day
That’s why I go so hard
I know I gotta make a change
 
But the education system
Keep the lives ingrained
Along with the media
It’s hard to find your way
 
I know what it is, at the same time
I wanna play
To the point where
For real, whatcha gonna say?
 
I used to be worried bout what other people thought
But L-O-V-E
That’s all before the people talked
If you want someone to answer, you just gotta knock
The truth is a process, it’s something that can’t be bought
.

      The HLF programs prepare the children to lead their own practice and to teach yoga and meditation to others! So much so that the children teach the yoga and asanas to their parents. The older students of the program are now serving as mentors and volunteers completely prepared to serve as teachers in the programs as HLF expands its horizons.


      The three brothers see themselves as instruments playing out a higher design: “When you see everyone as a part of yourself, it makes life so much smoother calmer and more relaxed. All you are is love, the essence of love.”

       It is no wonder that the brothers have curbed several fights, one of which had left their student with severe head injuries requiring his head to be stapled. They spent considerable time talking to the involved boys which resulted in an amicable resolution instead of possible death.
Apart from yoga and meditation classes and sports programs, the Holistic Life Foundation undertakes several projects in environmental awareness, community clean up, vegetable gardening and workforce development programs. The story goes on…

    Ali, Atman and Andres are doing the impossible, by bringing the sweet memories of their childhood back into the hood. The children there can skip into the doors of Holistic Life Foundation knowing they have not one, not two, but three brothers who will breathe, stretch, rap or dribble a ball with them.

As one of their students puts it: “The best thing I learned from you is to love others and not to hate others.”
               

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The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Pennsylvania University worked with The Holistic Life Foundation on studying the effects of a mindfulness based intervention on youth. Here is a link to the study.

Ali, Atman and Andres live in Baltimore, Maryland and continue to spread ripples of serenity and love through their lessons in inner and outer work.

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Comments (2)

  • Guri wrote ...

    Vinya thanks for sharing about this amazing project. It provides a lot of hope in those circumstances...and what an amazing rap. :-)

  • Bela wrote ...

    beautifully captured Vinu:)!