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Teen Girls Connect With Yoga, Literature and Art at Spelman College Summer Camp

June 2015

Yoga, Art and Literature in the Museum Camp at Spelman CollegeThis summer, 17-year-old Safiya Abdul-Ali is learning how to connect with herself and remain calm in different situations - and she’s having a great time doing it at camp, of all places.

So is Aysia McGhee.

“It’s so much fun,” said McGhee, a 10th-grader at Columbus High School in Columbus, Georgia. “The teachers are great and so helpful. I’ve learned how to share my feelings to help others know who I am.”

Abdul-Ali and McGhee are participating in the Yoga, Literature and Art Camp for Teen Girls. Held June 15-25 at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the program aims to create a powerful educational experience for girls ages 13-17 to connect to themselves and others through daily yoga practice. Throughout the camp, teen girls study culturally relevant literature from writers ranging from Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou to Audre Lorde and Sandra Cisneros, and create art that honors their personal journeys.  

Ultimately, the camp  provides girls the opportunity to engage with both literature and art through an embodied means, connecting content and experience kinetically through the practice of yoga.

Finding Their Voice

Founded in 2013 by director Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., C’2001, the camp began as a case study that fed into Roberts’ research within educational studies involving women of color, youth, embodied practices and literature. A well-known Atlanta yoga instructor and former public school teacher, Roberts invited fellow yoga teacher-friends like co-director Octavia Raheem to assist her with starting a camp that would incorporate yoga, literature and art to help girls connect with their personal voice and lived experiences throughout the two-week session.
Yoga, Art and Literature Camp at Spelman College

“The goal of this camp is to provide a space that is intentional and celebrates creativity while facilitating a space to celebrate oneness,” Roberts said. “We’re creating a space for agency and autonomy. I see a growth in creativity so much more than I did as a public school teacher. The girls are learning to cultivate their voice through words and yoga.”

In addition to practicing yoga twice daily, all 15 participants spend their day studying literature, writing poetry, taking photographs, and making books – also known as “hand binding” - that illustrates their poetry, yoga poses, photography and collages. The girls also learn from other guest instructors who introduce them to new themes, yoga postures, poetry and more.

‘Freedom School’ at the Museum

Yoga in the Museum Summer Camp at Spelman CollegeRaheem likens the camp to a “freedom school.”

“They’re learning how to connect and read and listen to their own body,” she said. “Yoga is about connecting inside, and the girls learn to connect with literature and art, which has always been a pathway to freedom and self-expression for a woman of color.”

Students like Abdul-Ali are having a great time.

“I’m learning how to let things go,” said Adbul-Ali, a senior at Southwest DeKalb High School. “I really enjoy the discussions, yoga techniques and breathing exercises. It’s really fun.”

Mu’Nisah Ujima, 14, enjoys doing yoga, writing poems and creating a book about her work.

“I like the diversity of ages, and the instructors are nice, sweet and kind,” said Ujima, a sophomore at W.D. Mohammad High School who fell in love with yoga while in sixth grade. “It’s a great program.”

A Perfect Partner

Makeba Dixon-Hill, C’2003, curator of education at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, said YLA’s mission is a perfect fit because it affirms the creative female voice.

“The camp is a perfect program partner for us,” she said Dixon-Hill, who is looking forward to the camp's culminating event on Thursday, June 25.  “It enables the Museum to be more than just a building. It allows people to have transformative experiences around art. Opportunities like YLA make that happen.”

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