As a high school basketball player, Shane Roberts’s entire personality and purpose had been a ready-made product of hyper-masculine athletic culture: Act tough and perform on the court. When he dislocated both of his knees and his career plans were shattered, it was time to figure out who he really was. What he discovered, with the help of yoga, was that his strength could give way to something softer. He could see the world as it was and decide how he wanted to walk through it.
It’s a lesson Roberts has poured into his innovative new program, Yoga, Art, & Movement Camp, which empowers teen boys, ages 13–15, with the tools to think critically about who they are, who they want to be, and how they can effect change in their communities. Roberts was inspired by his wife, renowned yoga educator Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD, who, seven years ago, launched Yoga, Literature, & Art Camp—a successful tuition-free program for teen girls. In 2014, the pair co-founded Red Clay Yoga, a nonprofit that shares yoga as a tool for critical engagement.
“I want to offer boys permission to mature,” Roberts says. “Yoga helped me put down some immature behaviors from my past and define my manhood for myself.”
See also Male in The Modern World.
The program, which launched in October, will begin with weekend-long sessions throughout the city’s historic neighborhoods and combine yoga, self-reflection, and discussions of history and culture. Students will also participate in a socially conscious walking tour through downtown Atlanta, led by Red Clay Yoga co-director Jemar Raheem, a certified wilderness guide.
“Every weekend will begin with an asana practice as a way to open up and experience what it feels like to move in a conscious, fun way,” says Roberts. “We’re also excited to teach Restorative Yoga and show them how much power there is in stillness.” (See his sequence for finding strength in softness on the next page.)
From there, the boys will dive into self-exploration through writing and group discussions that encourage them to pause, identify their feelings, and find healthy ways to process and articulate the breadth of their emotions—from frustration to happiness.
“Black boys can be scared to get angry because it may have consequences,” says Roberts, nodding to the fact that in 2015, black children were five times as likely to be incarcerated as their white peers, according to a report from the Sentencing Project, a criminal-justice advocacy group. “On the other hand, they may be afraid to feel joy because they don’t want to be disappointed or feel like it’s going to be taken away,” he adds.
Once they start to build an understanding of themselves and a sense of acceptance, Roberts will introduce conversations that dive into race and culture in an effort to raise levels of critical awareness and to help the boys engage with their communities and enact change.
The weekend culminates in a three-mile urban expedition across Atlanta from Morehouse College (which admitted Martin Luther King Jr. when he was only 15) to the King Center. They’ll wind through historically black neighborhoods, observe landmarks where King Jr. once walked, and notice where gentrification is unfolding.
“Particularly for the black teens in the program, we want them to walk down Martin Luther King Boulevard and not feel ashamed of the poverty they see. It isn’t their fault, and it isn’t because of a dysfunctional black culture,” says Roberts, who will instruct conscious walking and root-chakra grounding throughout the journey. “If a drug dealer is the most powerful person in the neighborhood, I want them to ask why without judgment.”
Roberts emphasizes that the solutions are always going to be political. By the time kids turn 18, they should know who their national and state senators and representatives are, as well as their city council reps. “Politics is a euphemism for power, and power concedes nothing without a demand,” he says. “I want them to see that Martin Luther King Jr. was young when he did what he did—and that they share that same fire.”