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Mindful : April 2013
don’t ,” she says. “ When a pa rent has substance- abuse problems, they don’t always have good parent- ing skills. Their anger is passed to the child.” She’s seen the good the leaders at HLF can do for her stu- dents. “For those children who don’t have a father figure, they have become that to them.” The after-school progra m at Coleman is pre- kindergarten through fifth grade. Ali says that with so ma ny younger children, HLF emphasizes mentorship and taking responsibility. So the fifth graders help oversee the younger kids. “They see that they have to model good behavior or we’ll ask them, ‘How old are you?’ They’ll say their age and we’ll say, ‘We’ve got a four-year-old over here doing the right thing. How come you’re not?’” For the 2011/2012 school year, enrollment in the after-school program was 25 at the beginning and rose to 32 by the end of the year. In 2012/2013, enrollment began at 54 and is expected to rise to the mid-60s. Ali, Atman, and Andy are in their 12th year running HLF, which has been slowly expa nding. They’ve initiated seniors programs a nd adult pro- grams at drug-treatment centers and mental-health facilities, adjusting the practices for the demograph- ic. They’ve been invited to speak at conferences and have twice been to Madison, Wisconsin, to teach mindfulness and yoga in schools there. The princi- pal at Frederick Douglass High School, just behind Colema n, wants HLF in his school. With these opportunities, funding for a work- force development progra m to enable HLF to pay its volunteers is crucial. “ We have these young men who have had mindfulness practice for 10 yea rs,” says Atman. “And they are all familiar with the environment in which they’d be teaching.” But the money isn’t there yet. (see sidebar, above), Douglas is leading a nother group of 14 children, who a re lying down on their mats. “Good job everybody, focus on that breath. Inhale deep a nd exhale that breath out. If your body is sore, send positive energy to those sore parts.” For the past three years, HLF ’s after-school program has been held at this school, just up the hill from North Smallwood, because it’s where so many of the neighborhood kids go. Coleman principal Carlillian Thompson makes sure that children with behavioral issues have the first chance at getting into the progra m. “ Violence and substance abuse—some live with it and some Changing Lives Since its program started in 2002, the Holistic Life Foundation has made a difference in hundreds of inner- city lives. Three participants tell their stories. “I guess I could say I was one of the ones with the behavior problems,” says Darrius Douglas, 22, who was in the first program and now teaches as a volunteer. “But once I got into it, I understood how the breath controls the body. I wasn’t getting into arguments so much. I definitely thought more before I reacted.” Later, when he failed out of school, HLF founders Ali and Atman Smith and Andy Gonzalez helped him write the letter to get him accepted back. “These guys helped me more than anyone else in my life.” Ramon Brown, 19, joined the after-school program at the YMCA in second grade. The program changed his life, he says, after his father was shot and killed. “I took that very hard because I only saw him for a year, because he was locked up before that,” says Brown. “But he was the best father ever for that year. I used to be so angry all the time. But once I started doin’ the deep breathing, I saw myself calming down and getting less mad.” Brown especially enjoyed anything to do with getting outside and getting his hands in the soil. Interested in environmental issues, he eventually spoke in front of the Baltimore City Council in support of a sustainability plan. He recalls a conversation he had with HLF’s Andy Gonzalez: “He said, ‘You’ll always be you, no matter what. No one can change you but yourself.’ He made me think a lot about that.” Devontay Spivey, 19, joined the HLF program in 2007. “I got a lot out of the program,” he says. “How to act right. How to carry yourself right. How to not just be in the streets, for real. You can learn other things by being around people. Basically, love.” Now with his pharmacy technician certification, he says, “At first I didn’t really think I’d be in the medical field, but I’m doing that to help people.” A place of peace in the inner city: HLF’s The Quiet Place. 50 mindful April 2013 community PHOTOGRAPHBYGAILBURTON