The room was filled with teachers and administrators from Newark Public Schools. Yoga instructor, Debby Kaminsky of Newark Yoga Movement, lead the class on breathing. Her voice echoed in the gymnasium, “This is an experience for you. You’re also going to be getting some tools you can be using with your students in the classroom.”
One of the participants of the class was West Side High School Principal Larry Ramkissoon. Sitting in a meditative posture, he said, “I think the teachers will become much more self-aware, or begin on the path of self-awareness and self-recognition because the literature suggests that teachers who are more aware have greater influence on their kids.”
“When we talk about our students, the population and the place we’re in right now — we we’re just written up, sadly, as the most stressed out city in America,” continued Kaminsky.
For school operations assistant Al-Hakim McLaurin, these issues hit close to home.
“I see myself in these students because I come from the same city, same environment, same neighborhood, so I understand their struggle. I relate to them and I see myself in them because I was once a high-risk student who didn’t grasp the concept of education right away,” he said.
The man who put Al-Hakim McLaurin on a different course was actually in the room. The man: Ramkissoon.
When asked where he would be if he didn’t have a mentor like Ramkissoon, McLaurin replied, “I lost countless family members and friends to senseless violence in the streets of Newark, New Jersey, so thinking the worst may be dead, end up incarcerated or just any negative statistic of the city. But God put that man in my life. He lead me on the right path and now I’m a positive statistic: 26 years old, born and raised in North New Jersey, with two degrees.”
On being one of the influences that led McLaurin down the right path, Ramkissoon said, “I think of myself as a mentor, an uncle, a big brother, and all of that. So he’s my kid.”
McLaurin, inspired by his mentors, says he feels like paying it forward by giving back. He and other district employees say yoga is an extra way to get to that goal.
“To help them, see them succeed, really make a change,” elaborated Lidia Dos Santos, the district’s operations manager.
“You might not be able to get through to all of them, but if you can just get through to one of them. It just takes that one person to get through to you, change your life, I’m living proof,” added McLaurin.