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Mindful : April 2013
community to get together. Ali signs off, “All right, that’s what ’s up.” A lean, athletic man, looking like a young Bob Marley with short, messy dreads, walks up to Ali’s red Chevy Trailblazer. It’s Atman. He’s 34, with a radiating calm like his brother’s, dressed casual a nd comfortable. The bumper sticker on the back of At- man’s black Nissan XTerra is a Marley quote: “None but ourselves can f ree our mind.” Atman climbs into the Trailblazer. He says to Ali, “Thank you, chauffeur.” Ali says, “You know how I do. Call me Jeeves.” Then Andy jumps in the car. He’s 33, quick to smile, with a thin beard and long hair tied back in a ponytail. Ali points the car downtown, with Kanye West’s summer smash “Mercy” playing on the stereo. Ali muses on how long a particular home on North Smallwood has been vacant. “That one on the corner, remember the guy who had the dog up on the roof?” he asks. He estimates it’s been empty since he was a child. “Maybe there’s two people liv- ing on this block—at the most,” he says. Occasional gaps in the rows of homes begin to appear. “These spaces,” Andy says, “a re because the houses just kind of collapsed.” The blocks multiply, empty lots increase, and the city begins to resemble a war zone. Ali and Atman call their parents hippies. But when they were growing up, yoga wasn’t something they talked about with their friends. “If we were vega n and did yoga now we’d be the coolest kids on the planet, but back then, nobody was doing it,” says Ali. It was their father, Meredith “Mert” Smith, a basketball coach at Southern High School, and their godfather, Will Joyner, who taught them. Ali says it was normal to see his father in a headstand down in the basement. “ We walked on past, went into the TV room to watch Saturday-morning cartoons, and when he was done he’d come join us.” Ali and Atman went to a Quaker school in a middle-class neighborhood, the Friends School of Baltimore, and his sons, Asuman and Amar, go there now. “Quaker school was kinda cool. It reinforced the meditation stuff we’d learned,” says Ali. “ We did meaningful worship, where you had your moment of silence, where you sat and kinda reflected on things.” Though Ali and Atman’s mother, Fredine “Cassie” Smith, a nd Mert divorced in 1986, they remain friends. And it was around then, as the brothers be- came teenagers, that they really noticed the neigh- borhood change in the wake of the crack epidemic. “ When we were kids, it was like one big family,” says Ali. “ You could point at every house on the block and say who lived there. But the people who were making sure good values were being passed on, who were strong male role models, drugs took them away from the community. They were either locked up or dead. And women, too. A generation was raised by grandpa rents or foster parents.” It limited people’s vision of what they could be in life, says Atman. “ Drug dealer, rapper, or athlete. You weren’t worried about trying to be a scientist, or mathematician, or philosopher, or...” “A yoga teacher,” Ali adds. In the late 1990s, while attending University of Maryland College Park, they met Andy Gonzalez, who grew up in Severn, Maryland, the youngest of five. Andy was a marketing major and musician with a passion for hip-hop. He sta rted doing yoga with Ali and Atman and found his personal outlook cha ng ing. “A la rge part was that self-practice,” he says. “ When you’re inside and you look outside, it’s like, wow, ma n, the outside kinda sucks compa red to the inside. Within us is tra nsformative.” While at college, the guys started an informal reading g roup, devouring books on ancient history, spirituality, astronomy, astrology, and physics. The books inspired their practice and perspective. “ We were trying to figure out what’s the meaning of life, why we are here,” says Atman. “Once we started analyzing that, we realized the purpose is to help everybody. Selfless ser vice.” Ali and Andy finished school and moved back to Baltimore in 2001, with Atman joining them on weekends until he graduated in 2002. They knew that their selfless ser vice needed to be here, at home. The a nswer was the Holistic Life Foundation. → Below: Darrius Douglas, 22 , was in the first Holistic Life Foundation program, which was offered after school at Windsor Hills Elementary in Baltimore’s North Smallwood neighborhood. He now teaches with HLF as a volunteer. “People wonder why a lot of black guys end up in the streets,” he says. “That’s cause they don’t have nothing in their life.” Opposite: Kaila Winkler practices her breathing. 44 mindful April 2013 community