Roots: A Snapshot of Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teenage Girls
On June 15th, fourteen young women ranging between the ages of 13 and 17 gathered together at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art to practice yoga, read and write poetry, and engage art through photography and book binding. Founder and Co-director Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., created the program as a response to her literacy research that began when she was a classroom teacher and later developed within the Division of Educational Studies at Emory University where she received her doctorate. In 2013, Chelsea held the first Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp at Spelman and invited a diverse array of skilled yoga teachers daily to teach over the course of two weeks.
After taking a year off to develop curriculum and recruit additional teachers, Chelsea invited colleague and friend, Octavia Raheem (a former middle school language arts teacher) to serve as Co-director. Together and with the support of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, a host of veteran and first year YLA teachers & eight volunteers; the duo facilitated a two week camp in partnership with the museum, working closely with the curator of education, Ms. Makeba Dixon-Hill.
Why the Small Numbers?
During the most recent term, Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp received over 60 applications from girls across Georgia and Florida; however, the amount of participants is capped at 14 girls per session in order to maintain the integrity of the program and the ability to realistically provide the support each YLA participant needs. It is not our vision to increase the amount of participants per session, but the amount of sessions per term.
Branches: A Glimpse Inside YLA Camp 2015
Over the course of the two weeks, participants explored the work of Women of Color throughout the diaspora including: Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, and even contemporary artists like Janelle Monaé. On the first day, participants created their own poems grounded in, “Where I’m from”:
Where I Am From written by a rising 9th grader
I am from the flicker and buzz of streetlamps, the squeal of pop music at two in the morning and multilingual chatter.
I am from glistening brown faces, sun-bleached hair, and long woven braids.
I am from the smell of freshly mowed grass, cayenne pepper and sticks of incense
I am from rough sand crunching under my feet, the boiling sun surrounding my face and the thread of homemade quilts rubbing against my legs as I sleep.
I am from the savory taste of rice and beans, with every meal ice cold lemonade and perfectly made macaroni and cheese.
I am from knowledge is power, always do your best Mija, and no matter if it makes other uncomfortable, you have to love yourself.
I am from faith, loyalty and compassion.
In addition to literature and art, YLA camp participants experienced yoga practices grounded in Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Kemetic Yoga, Classical Yoga, and Yoga Nidra. By the end of the two weeks, participants were able to provide instruction poetically and many even expressed interest in becoming a 200 hour certified yoga teacher.
The following is an excerpt written by a rising 9th grader:
I squat, I bend, I place my elbow
under my knees, lift one foot lift two balance, I try
I am in control
I feel my arms trying their best
I feel like I can accomplish this pose
I am calm
I am relaxed
I am finding myself
I am finding my balance
Written by a rising 12th grader
I lay, then turn on one side
Knees meeting chest and head tucked
My mind is at ease,
I feel safe, secure, and one with myself,
I hear nothing but my heartbeat, steady.
I can just escape.
I am calm.
I am balanced.
I am free
Restorative Justice and Healthy Dialogue
Another component important to Chelsea during the early stages and development of YLA was a dedication to mutual respect within the YLA community. Grounded in a practice of healthy dialogue, Chelsea borrows from Indigenous communities and the field of Restorative Justice by intentionally making space for all voices to be heard during discussions and the sharing of literature. Both Chelsea and Octavia teach from a pedagogy that encourages agency and autonomy for both adults and youth within the YLA community.
Cultivating Community Through Yoga
In the summer of 2015, Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp added a community component to the program and invited family, friends, the Spelman community, and multiple yoga communities across Atlanta to observe and interact with our YLA space on the final day.
Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp has been featured in the June issue of Yoga Journal, Inside Spelman, the Spelman Connection, and featured on the home page of the official Spelman College website. Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp will continue to provide this service at no charge for participants (minus a minimal fee for materials) as long as we receive support from our communities. Learn how to support Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp here.