Social Justice, Identity & Meditation with Young Yogi Mel
Melina Oliver, Young Yogi Mel, has a truly inspirational story. She grew up on the west Side of St. Louis, but traveled to a private school outside of her normal element growing up. Her upbringing led her on a path of cultural discovery and self-realization later in life. Now she's dedicate her life to helping others find how to be happy and gain peace through Yoga & Meditation. She's fighting against failing school systems by providing hope to students with The Young Yogi Youth Project. She refuses to give up on youth that have faced systematic injustice and provides them with coping and relaxation tools.
Author: Leah Thomas
Q: Who are you?
Growing up, I always walked a precarious line. I lived in the city, where I was saturated in noise and culture but everyday, my mom sent me off to a private school thirty minutes away from my home. I sat next to "Becky with the good hair" everyday in class, and I got asked to dances by kids whose rooms were bigger than my kitchen.
I never felt like I had found my niche. At school, I was always a little too brown or maybe a little too culturally confused to ever really feel I belonged. At home, in my hood, I was way too whitewashed to be cool. So, when I went off to college at Mizzou,
The only thing I knew about myself then was that I loved to write, so all the trials and tribulations down in journals. They all read like bad telenovela scripts. Interesting, but always a tad melodramatic. I was constantly searching to build an identity on the outside and it showed. After a serious, "WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE"-style breakdown, I prayed for guidance. The next morning, I woke up and googled: "How to Be Happy". A self-help site popped up. It suggested a number of things--therapy, charity work, a nap-- but one, in particular, caught my eye: Yoga and Meditation. That night, I watched a youtube home video. I wobbled through the complex moves, sweated throw the flows, and eventual fell into a fitful attempt at meditation at the end. When I finally opened my eyes, I realized I'd had my first taste of peace in years. I've been teaching and sharing the practice of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness ever since.
Q: What Drives You?
What drives my passion is understanding. The world is noisy and complex and crazy, and I am all about finding stillness and peace. I believe that when we find that place inside of ourselves that allows us to be true and authentic, we can allow others to do the same. Peace truly comes from within and starts with you first.
Q: What is the Young Yogi Youth Project?
While constantly learning these tough lessons myself, I am attempting to help others. I started a program at Vashon High School in St. Louis city called Young Yogi Youth Project. Young Yogi Youth Project seeks to teach teens kindness, healthy coping mechanisms, self-discipline, and respect for themselves and others. Through the practice of yoga, meditation, and mindful activities, we encourage young people to commit themselves to their own self-betterment and to be kind to others while they work towards theirs. It's been going six months strong, meets 2-3 times a week, and works with 50+ students.
I love my city and where I'm from, but my mom sent me out to private school because she knew that St. Louis City Public Schools often times fall short. There's a lack of funding, lack of resources, and low faculty retention rates. Not to mention, that St. Louis is a city with extremely high poverty and crime rates. I know high school is hard enough without these issues, and I wanted to offer students in the city positive outlets for stress, anxiety, and personal troubles. I'm also working on a lifestyle blog for the modern/urban yogi that premiered January 2nd. It will feature updates on my program, reviews, blog posts, event listing, yoga videos, and yoga/meditation tips.
Q: What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism takes nothing from men, but takes the limit off women. It demands mutual respect, freedom of movement, and opportunity for both sexes. It encourages sisterhood over separation and opens doors that were once wrongfully shut. It reveals all the ways sexism has hurt not only women, but society, as a whole and attempts to put a stop to that. It respects the intersectionality and differences among all people. I can't tell you how grateful I am for all the women, past and present, who have broken down barriers. I'm thankful there are women "audacious" enough to believe that they can do any and everything. To me, feminism is essential and takes care of all of us. It just makes sense.
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