In December 2014, yoga teachers Mychal Mills and Rodney Salomon began leading monthly open mic nights at Kula Cafe in central Asbury Park, New Jersey. Salomon, a youth development specialist, and Mills, who was then working at a local food bank, wanted to bring together all generations of their inner-city community. At their first event, 15 people performed for 70 of their neighbors, sharing poetry, music, and other creative forms of spoken word. “The theme of empowerment kept arising,” Mills says. “Open mic is a platform for openness, vulnerability, and healing—connecting all walks of life from 6 to 70 years old.”
Encouraged by the success of the open mics, Mills and Salomon founded the nonprofit Konscious Youth Development & Service (KYDS) to reach more kids. That summer, they hosted a free eight-week youth series called Journey Summer Program for elementary and middle schoolers. It included yoga and mindfulness practices, talks about healthy eating, and art workshops. The goal: to help kids better manage their emotions and give them a solid foundation to become mindful leaders of tomorrow. Then in 2016, Salomon and Mills added meditation and sound-healing events at the café.
The following year, KYDS received a contract to be in the Asbury Park School District full time. KYDS now offers three tiers of programs, all of which are available at elementary, middle, and high schools. All teachers receive Konscious Classroom training to develop their own mindfulness practice and to learn how to bring those techniques to students. The second tier is a Mindful Moment room where children can meet with KYDS staff if they are stressed or anxious. The room is designed to help students decompress through relaxing sights (positive quotes, a Himalayan salt lamp), sounds (water and beach noises), and the smell of lavender from a diffuser. Lastly, KYDS offers an Alternative Learning Lab for students facing challenges in or out of school and those with a history of suspensions. The lab works with the kids twice a week to help increase their self and social awareness. Students journal, paint, or write poems using guided prompts and participate in group activities, such as building bridges, which help them shift from “me, me, me” thinking to “we” thinking, Mills explains.
On top of these school programs, KYDS still holds a free meditation every Monday, free yoga twice a month, and an open-mic night once a month. “Although we focus on kids, we realize it can’t just be the youth, because they are going home to their parents,” Mills says. “We find it more effective when adults are learning the same techniques and tools to embody change.”
Founders: Mychal Mills & Rodney Salomon
At a Glance:
- 3,000+ youths reached in the 2017-2018 school year
- 13 school districts served in 2017-2018