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Mindful : April 2013
Atman Smith teaches Eric Denully, left, and Keon Burnett. The Quiet Place cookout is a big hit, despite the 100-degree heat of a Baltimore summer. More than 30 people from the neighborhood, including gradu- ates of the HLF program, lounge on the benches, eating barbecued hamburgers, hotdogs, a nd veggie burgers provided by Ali, Atma n, a nd Andy. Ali’s girlfriend, Nora, and his two boys are there, hanging out. Ali and Atman’s mom, Cassie, is there. As Ali bends over to lift a bag of ice out of the back of the Trailblazer, a boy jumps on his broad back. That ’s Ca meron Jefferies, “Killer Cam,” the boy Ali was joking with on the phone a few days ago. Cam is a very active fifth grader who’s been in the program for a year. “At first it felt boring,” he says. “ But then I sta rted seeing everybody else doing it. I started kinda liking it.” And then he adds with a smirk, when Atman is in ea rshot, “I went through a rough start with Atman. He was so correctional!” As twilight settles on the park, fireflies come out, turning the dark green shadows into a minia- ture galaxy. A couple of the boys chase the insects through the tall grass. Ali and Atman’s father, Mert, joins them at the cookout. He speaks slowly, thoughtfully, proud of the legacy his children are building in the community. “ I think they’re so well- equipped to do what they do, where they are,” he says. “Their background in yoga, they went to the Friends school, they grew up in the ’hood. And their program is universally effective.” In the foundation’s first 10 years, grants the non-profit received barely paid for Ali, Atman, and Andy’s gas money and Y memberships for the kids. The three have done some fee-for-service work and continue to hold part-time jobs on the weekend to help finance HLF. “I’ve seen a lot of sacrifices,” says Cassie, who calls them “my three sons.” “They decided it was worth more to give of themselves instead of getting a corporate job. Mert and I were in a position to support them fina ncially, to help them through. Sometimes it was ca rs, housing, food. Whatever it was they needed. They weren’t able to do a lot of the things they wanted to do, but they were happy.” Whatever the obstacles, Ali doesn’t see them ever doing anything other than this. “It’s definitely just been the three of us since the beginning, a nd we’ll all be here—doing this a nd working with these kids in this city—until the grave. There are certain things in life where the universe is pushing you in a certain direction. You kinda accept it, roll with it. It takes on a life of its own.” ● April 2013 mindful 51