How I Created a Movement in the Black Community While Going Broke

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A few years ago, I was experiencing severe anxiety. It would choke me, to the point where I was having to remind myself, breathe. I decided to get help, and my first step was visiting a Chinese herbalist. She told me that I had many “energetic blockages”, and recommended yoga for me. I took her advice, started taking yoga classes, and eventually, I was hooked. This was the start of an upward trajectory that changed my life.

I decided to get my yoga teaching certification - I completed this just last year, in 2018. I soon found my first teaching role at a studio that was owned by a black woman, in historic Oakhurst in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a small studio called Yellow Mat Yoga, and that’s where the vision for the community I dreamed of creating really took form.

One day, they were holding a meditation workshop for men, Men Who Meditate. I was asked to lead everyone in yoga - it was a group of about 14 men, all of whom were black. So, I was around, observing the other parts of the workshops. I watched as the studio owner shared breathwork techniques, and paused. She looked around, and stated, “It’s not lost on me, that in this room, all the men are black.” She then dove into and nurtured a conversation around black male trauma, lived experiences, and mental health. 

As I looked around that sunlit room, full of black men meditating, I decided to pursue my idea - Black Boys Om. It was the first time in my life I’d seen this specific community come together in this way - I felt passionate about it, recalling my first yoga instructor,   a black man. Later on in my yoga journey, I would also find my yoga mentor, a man whose work with black boys and black men in his community would further inspire me. I realized that having a network of these wellness practitioners would positively impact our community. 

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I wanted to bring together black male wellness leaders, with the goal of positively impacting local communities. This idea caught on, with several individuals taking up the mantle, as I began to share my vision and connect with who I could. During that time, I was able to connect with black wellness practitioners who were already doing impactful work in their own communities.

While I was putting together Black Boys Om, I was also teaching yoga. I took on other part-time jobs, but soon found this to be unsustainable, with all of the conflicting schedules. I came to a decision that I had to stop teaching yoga, and I took on a contract job that took me all around the country. An interesting experience, in many ways, but it wasn’t long before the end of the year arrived, and my contract was over. I returned home to Atlanta, and put my energy into growing Black Boys Om. After being away for so long, I had a strong intent to nurture it within my own local community. 

Money hasn’t come easily. I had started teaching yoga again, and took on some part-time jobs (sometimes as many as three). My financial burden has been crippling at times. I always somehow found a way to keep going, but it’s an overwhelming feeling that exists in parallel with the waves of ‘functional depression’ that I tend to experience. This type of depression allows me to keep going, stay busy, but I sometimes feel that lingering sadness, bordering on despair. Approaching wellness, for me, in this difficult time has meant focusing on the things that keep me healthy - yoga, meditation, working out, sex, and rest. It’s a balancing act.

Things are going well, though. I’ve now transitioned this organization from a grassroots communal effort into an actual nonprofit, with the help of a law firm that a dear friend connected me with. This whole year has been stressful, with my financial burden - sometimes just having enough to eat and commute. I’ve had medical bills and personal loans fall behind. I’ve had my car repossessed. But my work with Black Boys Om has been a bright light and a beacon, and I’ve been able to show up and serve others in these wellness spaces, as a leader. Black Boys OM at present has 140 Yogis in 70 Locations both nationally and internationally. I’ve always served from a place of genuine joy and fulfillment, and I look forward to continuing this work.

Building this organization, for me, has been more than fulfilling, so I know it’s worth the struggle. I keep my focus on the bigger picture - I want the practice of wellness and mindfulness to be accessible to the black community. I want black men and black boys doing yoga to not be a foreign idea. I want intergenerational impact. Seeing our collective grow, and the work being done in our community brings me joy. Having this network of wellness practitioners in my life has impacted how I live my life, because I get to draw from a wide net of experience of my brothers. It encourages me to keep going and I know it’s worth it. I’m fortunate to have friends and family who’ve believed in me and my vision, supporting me along the way. I’m deeply grateful.

I’m always going, going, going. I’m so proud that we were able to officially become a nonprofit. I wanted to share this story, because I realize my experience with balance and financial struggle is not unique; there are so many out there that are just trying to survive. I try everyday to learn from my mistakes, approach things differently, and mainly, to just keep breathing and keep on going. That’s all anyone of us can do. Life is abundant, and so are we, deep down. 

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Danny Fluke Jr. is the Founder of Black Boys Om, a yoga community for black men. He is a certified yoga instructor, entrepreneur, and wellness practitioner. Check out Black Boys Om here.