Off the Mat, Into the World’s Empowered Youth Initiative is a weeklong, in-field training, working to reverse the disruptive cycles facing urban and suburban youth in Los Angeles. We bugged Hala Khouri, head of OTM’s Empowered Youth Initiative, about the program she helped craft, the amazing partners she’s collaborating with, and the special event participants will attend this year. (It’s filling up fast. Sign up here.)
Off the Mat, Into the World: What is the Empowered Youth Initiative?
Hala Khouri: This is a 7-day on-the ground training for people who are interested in working with under served communities. We’ve teamed up with innovative and revolutionary LA leaders who are really making a difference in the lives of the youth here. Our leaders will be sharing their work with us and some will take us around to engage with the youth in their programs.
OTM: How does yoga fit into the training?
HK: One of the foundational philosophies at Off the Mat is that the inner work is a vital part of doing conscious service. Yoga is a tool for self reflection, so we will be practicing every morning of this training with the intention of checking in with ourselves and noticing how our experiences are impacting us.
OTM: Is this training just for yoga teachers?
HK: No. It’s for anyone who wants to work with these communities in any capacity. Some of the participants are already engaged in their community and want to deepen their knowledge and self-awareness. Others are searching for their way to engage and come to the training for inspiration.
OTM: If someone is not from Los Angeles, does it make sense to attend this training?
HK: Yes! We find that many of the dynamics that exist here in LA are mirrored in other cities. When kids feel lost and alienated, they turn to drugs, gangs, or crime. More than half of the attendees last year were from another city, and they all went back and did some amazing work in their communities.
OTM: What are you most excited about for the upcoming training?
HK: It’s hard to choose one thing. I feel so blessed to be collaborating with such a diverse and talented group of leaders. One unique experience that we get to have is attending the 20-year anniversary celebration event of the truce between the Bloods and Crips, two of LA’s biggest gangs. Aqeela Sherrills, who negotiated the truce, will take our group on a tour of Watts and talk about his work with gangs. Then we’ll get to attend some fascinating panels and hear stories from community members in Watts.
OTM: Give us an example of the types of programs that participants will be learning about.
HK: Yes. I’d love to. Our partners are incredible. Leila Steinberg uses hip-hop and spoken word with youth so that they can tell their story and start to be liberated from their past. Krishna Kaur brings yoga to juvenile halls and believes that raising self esteem is key towards breaking unhealthy behaviors. Fidel Rodriguez does rites of passage rituals for youth as a way to support their growth and inspire community. Tessa Hicks-Peterson trains her university students in a humble approach towards community engagement that is about empowering community members to lead the change in their area.