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Let Your Light Shine

How Mindfulness Can Empower Children and Rebuild Communities

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This story of three men's work helping traumatized kids in one of America’s most underserved cities reveals how mindfulness tools can help children and communities not only survive but thrive

 In this inspiring book, founders of The Holistic Life Foundation Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez describe how they have spent the past twenty years teaching yoga, meditation, and breathwork to thousands of at-risk kids in Baltimore schools helping them to develop deep reserves of patience, empathy, resolve, and—when needed—the righteous anger that fuels deep structural change. Their work has received wide national attention due to their remarkable results: The schools that have participated in their programs have seen suspension rates plummet and graduation rates go through the roof.
 
Ali and Atman discovered as young children the power of mindfulness practices to sustain them through the challenges of growing up in a neighborhood in Baltimore that was struggling with poverty and violence—a community they now serve. The Holistic Life Foundation’s mission is to empower kids to find this same stillness and light within themselves and to let it shine out to help change the world. In this book, Ali, Atman and Andres share hands-on mindfulness and meditation tools readers can teach kids that will empower them to do this same work in their own communities. Let Your Light Shine is essential reading for parents, educators, activists, and anyone looking to make a difference in the lives of young people.
 
Ali Smith is a teacher and author, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Ali’s life-long study of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness has served as the impetus for his pioneering work bringing trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness to underserved youth–and influencing education curriculum worldwide. He is the longtime Executive Director of the Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2001 that brings yoga and mindfulness to schools and is the Co-Owner of The Involution Group, founded in 2019. Let Your Light Shine is his second book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Ali Smith
Atman Smith is a teacher and author, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A lifelong student of yoga and meditation, his teaching focuses on empowering marginalized communities through yoga and meditation, transforming the minds and hearts of individuals who face racism, poverty, drugs, and oppression. For fifteen years, Atman has served as Director of Programming and Development for the Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2001 that brings yoga and mindfulness to schools. He is also the Co-Owner of The Involution Group, founded in 2019. His lifework centers around reclaiming black masculinity as a path of peace, justice, freedom, and joy. Let Your Light Shine is his first book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Atman Smith
Andrés González is a Puerto-Rican American teacher, author, and musician. He has taught yoga and meditation to diverse populations worldwide for twenty years and is a Co-Founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, founded in 2001. Andrés is a certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and maintains a B.S. in Marketing and an MBA from the University of Maryland. His teaching and music center around the liberation of marginalized individuals and communities through personal empowerment, healing, and joy. Let Your Light Shine is his first book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Andres Gonzalez
We travel a lot. We regularly jump on planes to visit schools or private companies, where we give keynotes, hold workshops, teach, or simply share ideas. As we do every summer, at the beginning of June 2021, the three of us flew up to the Akwesasne territory, part of the Mohawk Nation, on the border of the United States and Canada, west of Montreal. This is an intensive program: over a five-week period fourteen young Mohawks participate in over eighty hours of intensive yoga and mindfulness training. When they graduate, they are fully trained in our Mindful Leader program-and ready to share this knowledge with other young Mohawks. That's not all: We also partnered with local community educators to provide mental health awareness training, guidance in managing a classroom, and traditional Haudenosaunee cultural education. We also teach basic skills essential for any future career path: managing finances, becoming confident at public speaking, building a strong rŽsumŽ, and resolving conflicts. These newly minted young leaders get a weekly stipend too, which helped many of them financially over the pandemic. Now these young people are employed and earning as well as learning, providing relief during the unexpected challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and allowing trainees to fully prioritize their training. There are multiple reasons we do this, but the primary one is our belief that struggling communities all over America-and the world-need to learn from each other, support each other, and work collaboratively together to design new ways of living to elevate their kids' prospects and uplift their communities in a joyful, hopeful way. At the end of the book you'll read about how we encourage our students in Baltimore to become teachers themselves or, at the very least, actively share what they've learned with their family and friends. This is very purposeful. There's only three of us, and if we had to teach every class, or mentor every kid, our program would have run out of gas years ago. Our goal is to seed communities all over the country, and eventually the world, with the techniques that will empower them to thrive and blossom in a way that conventional society, education, policing, and government policies actively squash.

Our Uncle Will always told us that you have to "wipe the dust off, and let your inner light shine out." On an individual level this is easy to understand: If you've ever had a deep meditation, you've experienced that sensation of clarity, calm, acceptance. But it has bigger implications too: We interpret this as a light that has the potential to sweep across the world, like a lighthouse illuminating a rough sea. This light is less about us swooping in and doing the work than it is about highlighting the talent and energy and potential already in these local communities. We share our knowledge, and support-but once these groups are up and running, they need us less and less.

This trip to the Akwesasne would probably be one of our last-at least in a formal capacity-as the program was rapidly evolving into a self-sustaining model. It was primarily a working trip, but frankly after a solid year of negotiating COVID, we needed a break. It was a relief to fly north over the vast, unbroken forests of upstate New York and look down on land that-in appearance at least-comes as close as you can to uncolonized in the continental United States. Our hosts, of course, have a different perspective.

Our hosts in the Akwesasne territory are members of the Mohawk Nation. The name Akwesasne means "land where the partridge drums." And in their language they call themselves Kanien'keh‡:ka, or "people of the flint."

Like most First Nations or Native Americans, the Mohawk had a complex relationship with the early European settlers. In the 1500s, the Dutch arrived. Initially relations were good. The Dutch suggested they were the "fathers" and the Mohawk were the "sons." Unsurprisingly, the Mohawk objected to this, and said the two groups were instead "brothers." The Mohawk created a wampum belt, with two rows of purple beads that represented the Mohawk canoes and the Dutch ships sailing through the world in kinship. However, as the Dutch expanded into Mohawk territory, their relationship frayed. In the seventeenth century, Christian missionaries began to convert some of the Native tribespeople. Later, the Roman Catholics did the same. The French and English alternated between allying themselves with and fighting against the tribes. During the American Civil War, the tribes allied themselves with the British against the American settlers. When the British lost, the tribes were forced to give up most of their land, and they relocated to the land they live on now.

In the nineteenth century, Richard Pratt founded the first off-reservation boarding school for Native American children in Pennsylvania. He thought himself a good man. After all, popular opinion often called for genocide against the tribes. He merely believed that you needed to "kill the Indian, and save the man." Thousands of children disappeared, and for over a hundred years these schools insisted that the children had run away. Shortly after our visit, sonar and excavations revealed the horrific truth these schools had hidden for a hundred-plus years.
Is it surprising that we see some parallels between our world and theirs?
Throughout the twentieth century, the Mohawk had to fight to preserve what was theirs: In the 1990s things got heated when White Canadian developers tried to build a golf course on tribal lands. The mother of one of our Mindful Leaders-while pregnant with him-almost died in a shootout over it. The Canadian Army sent thousands of troops, but the Mohawk blocked off a bridge into Montreal, protesting the incursion and refusing to back down. For a minute it looked like the blood was going to flow (and two people did die). In the end, the land was purchased by the government but never actually returned to the Mohawk people.

This protest was both good and bad: It caused even worse strife and division in the tribe, and divided many people against each other, yet it also literally gave birth to the young activists we work with today. When we sit down on that green Mohawk grass with our students it's inspiring as hell: The residential schools might have tried to destroy their language and culture, even erased it from their grandparents' and parents' lives. But the young people are embracing being Mohawk fearlessly. They are learning their language, renaming themselves with Mohawk names, re-creating lost traditions, and relearning lost ceremonial practices, piece by piece. One of our teachers, Steven, moved off the reservation when he was six, with his family. He was unable to process the aftereffects of generational trauma (it was his mother who almost died at the protest) and lost years of his life to opiates. Eventually he returned to Akwesasne and struggled to get clean.

The Bear Clan Mother (Wakerakas:te, also known as Louise Herne) encouraged him to complete the six-week ceremonial Ohero:kon, or rites of passage, along with seventy other young people, eventually fasting silently and alone in the forest for four days. He told us, "Being out there you don't have your partner, parents, there is no one out there. No cell phone, no video game, no food, no water, no distractions, just you and yourself. You get inside yourself. Inside your own thoughts, your own mind and heart. You come out of this ancient ceremony with a lot of gratitude for all that you have in your life. It was a pivotal moment in my life filled with so much healing."
Steven's grandfather, even into his eighties, can't help saying the Hail Mary he was forced to learn and recite, over and over again, in the residential school, even as his soul rejects the colonizers' religion and yearns to spiritually rejoin the Longhouse, where his true ancestors are. Knowing yourself, and being free of the voice of your oppressor, is a gift no one should take for granted. Today Steven and his grandfather are learning the traditional opening address of the Mohawk culture, reclaiming their true selves word by word.

You might be wondering why a book that is mostly set in Baltimore is taking a swerve into upstate New York. Well, here's one reason: We've learned over the last twenty years that we have to roam far and dig deep to find the resources to help our kids. And equally, we've been drawn to spread what we know to other communities. Once you've seen young people's lives dramatically improved in your backyard . . . well, it's hard to keep that news to yourself. This kind of learning is always a two-way street, however. We've learned even more about how to rebuild a struggling community from the Mohawk than they've learned from us-especially in the ways that the tribe has embraced its matriarchal structure.

It's not an easy matter to travel to upstate New York in the middle of a global pandemic, but it's not an easy matter to get help from close at hand either. Sometimes you have to step outside of your world to see what is broken in it. And once you've reached a place of insight, you need to share what you've figured out. Look at our world today: We are all in varying states of crisis, all struggling to find answers to similar problems. Think how much faster we would find solutions if we shared our discoveries. We believe there's no point in solving your problems if you can't also help other people solve theirs. It's a holistic approach, and one that we've embraced for twenty years. We don't have all the answers, but we have some of them. Same with the Mohawk: they don't know everything, but what they know is valuable, and applicable to every struggling community.

The Akwesasne territory isn't some perfect place. The Mohawk deal with a ton of racism and resentment from both America and Canada. (The reservation crosses the border.) They are still recovering from their own version of Jim Crow, when Indigenous peoples were banned from places like bars and bowling alleys and discriminated against when it came to voting or getting good jobs. They are-still-confronting prejudice and discrimination when they deal with the world outside of the reservation. They had to fight two hundred years for compensation from the last time land was stolen from them and as late as 2009 Canadian border guards moderating a customs dispute interrogated every member of the tribe who left their home or attempted to return to it.
The Mohawk also have the trauma of not being heard and believed. Everyone knew that something happened to their children, but it took decades of fighting and protesting to get permission to bring ground-penetrating sonar onto church property. That generational trauma keeps on hurting: grandparents who were whipped and beaten and worse at residential schools pass on that trauma, that lack of love, to their kids and grandkids. There's sometimes too much alcohol, too many opiates, and too little affection. Yet things are changing.

The tribe are fighting like hell for their children. Sure, their youth struggle with the same existential despair of any kid growing up in an isolated or impoverished area with low wages and limited prospects. And yet the tribe has rallied together as a people. They have a deep connection to family and community, and a shared identity as a tribe and a culture. They are Mohawk first, everything else second. Within the common identity as Mohawk they have reemphasized the clan structure, giving their children an added layer of identity and belonging.
They have a connection to their heritage and their ancestors that is missing in American culture in general, but especially in Baltimore. You'll read about how Baltimore has lost all the social structures, like mentors, weak ties, social networks, and rites of passage, that are being reinvigorated in the Akwesasne territory. What's more, the Mohawk have held on to a core truth about themselves that many Americans have forgotten: at the very core of the tribe they are fully realized citizens.

The word sovereign is something we'll refer to throughout this book, but let's get something out of the way right now: We reject the way various right-wing cults or other questionable groups use the term. We don't use the word in the sketchy, fake-license-plate, "sovereign citizen" kind of way,but in a way that suggests a path forward for other struggling communities. Nor is sovereign a code for beliefs in various conspiracies or an excuse for antisocial behavior.
Our definition of sovereignty is more aligned with the kind of practices we've seen on the Mohawk reservation. They have the right to govern themselves and determine their own way of life, their own traditions and rituals, and in many cases, their own laws. They teach, feed, heal, police, and judge themselves. They often feel unloved, unwanted, and unprotected by the American and Canadian cultures that surround them. Because of this they fight every day to preserve the right to determine the ethos under which their community lives. This feels familiar to us: Our dad, Smitty, often talked about how the segregated Baltimore he grew up in was "self-contained," and how much better this version of the city was. 

Part of the difference between the Akwesasne territory and society outside of the reservation is that the Mohawk embody a more matriarchal social structure. The clan leaders are women. They oversee the community and select the male members of the Haudenosaunee Council (the group of tribes more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy). The tribe's lineage carries on through the women. Steven is only Bear Clan because his mom was Bear Clan. The clan mothers control who leads the community in each clan. They give names out too. Steven's Mohawk name was given to him by a clan mother. When a man and woman marry, the man moves into the woman's family's longhouse; their children become members of her clan. This emphasis on the matriarchy has ebbed and flowed, but now, as the Mohawk embrace it as the means of organizing their community, their community is stronger than ever.
“[Let Your Light Shine] shares the strategies that have given thousands of kids that edge that allows them to survive and succeed: be it love, support, self-confidence, or simply a friendly ear at a moment when no one else is listening.”
from the foreword by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, New York Times bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score

Let Your Light Shine captures the originality, insight and most importantly, the brother-love that make Ali, Andy, and Atman’s work so vital and effective. Blending wisdom from their own Baltimore-based Black community and family with 2,500-year-old teachings originally offered in India, this trauma-sensitive, engaging book is just the contribution to the mindfulness movement that we need right now.”
—Rhonda V. Magee, MA, JD, author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice

"These guys are my heroes. For years, they have brought meditation and yoga to the children of struggling communities in Baltimore — work that repeated rounds of scientific research have shown to be immensely beneficial. Now, in this book, they show you how to work with your own mind, with the minds of the kids in your life, and with a world that can be both beautiful and cruel. Check it out." 
—Dan Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of 10% Happier

"How to change a world so challenged by mistrust, trauma and systematic racism? Let your Light Shine is a primer written with heart, honesty and truth. It is written for all who take the time to really care. It reveals how a difference can be made if we look within and change ourselves first. Then we can help the next generation with love, listening and learned skills.  Ali, Altman and Andres speak with profound experience and give us the very tools we need."
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Change

“Honesty, raw and inspiring wisdom, a powerful blend of deep insights into the real world we live in and the practical tools to build individuals and communities—these are brilliantly woven into the  narrative tapestry that fills Let Your Light Shine with a compelling invitation to dig deep and love broadly. Written by three co-authors and illuminated throughout by Uncle Will as mentor and spiritual guide, this book is not organized with the typical topic, discussion, and application structure. Instead, it is, like life itself, an open conversation between these gifted mindfulness teachers, with their long history creating and running the Holistic Life Foundation, and us, the readers who will so powerfully benefit from these visionaries’ courage, tenacity, and wisdom that shines through every one of these real pages of a story that we are so fortunate they took the time to create—in this book and in our world. We will all be better for the brilliance of Ali, Andres, and Atman that shines through in this wonderful contribution to our collective lives.”
—Daniel J. Siegel, MD, executive director, Mindsight Institute; founding co-director, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center; and New York Times bestselling author of IntraConnected: MWe (Me + We) as the Integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging

“When we think about the most oppressed and marginalized group in the world, most of us would never guess that this could be young people 18 and under. Young people struggle with a range of obstacles, from the stress of a fast-moving technology age to the trauma of surviving various forms of violence in schools, in their communities, and at home. It is no easy feat making it out of early adolescence into adulthood. The Holistic Life Foundation, with its founders Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez, have offered young people a path of healing and resilience founded in deep care, love, and a commitment to understanding that young people are not the violence they survive. Let Your Light Shine is an important contribution toward building a society that centers the healing of young people so that they are able to enter into their adulthood offering the same healing back to others around them.”
—Lama Rod Owens, teacher and author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger

“Ali, Atman, and Andres, with so much heart and in the true spirit of collective care, have written a book that teaches us the important practice of healing and loving our whole self, and that in doing so, we cannot help but extend that healing and love to ALL. This, they express, is how we mend collectively, and move toward a more connected, self-realized, and compassionate society that benefits and supports everyone equally and with grace. Through personal narratives, social insights, and mindfulness practices, they explore how the deep complexities of trauma—developmental, generational, ancestral, cultural, and systemic—impact our body and consciousness, inform our reality, and perpetuate the belief systems that keep us feeling separate, rather than interdependent. This separation is the fractured foundation that births racism, injustice, and all forms of oppression; the true sickness in our society. Let Your Light Shine is the medicine we can all use right now as it not only shares the essential insights and practices necessary to aid in individual healing but also invites us to pass on all that we learn to others, especially children. As a student and teacher of yoga, I found this book an excellent, informative, and inspirational resource that I know I will turn to again and again.”
—Seane Corn, author of Revolution of the Soul and co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World

“Simply put, this is one of the most important books on yoga that has been written in many years. It captures the absolute, true spirit of yoga, which is the removal of suffering and the experience of knowledge within. There are not too many places in America with greater levels of suffering than the streets of Baltimore, the home of Atman, Ali, and Andres. They have taken their spiritual practices, taken their learnings, and put them to the test on those very streets. To combat intergenerational trauma, systemic racism, and lack of opportunity and resources, they bring a message of hope and practical tools to awaken the sense of sovereignty in the hearts and minds of young people. Yoga in America has all too often been overtaken by consumerism. These brothers, though, without a doubt are restoring the essence of equitable power of yoga through their brilliant work, and this book will take you on a journey through a side of America that much of the yoga world rarely talks about or experiences. It will inspire you, sadden you, turn your head upside down, encourage and empower you. It puts the spiritual burden of racism front and center and shows how we can use ancient tools to transform and remake ourselves and society. Please read this book. It’s the future of yoga in America.”
—Eddie Stern, ashtanga yoga teacher and author of One Simple Thing

About

This story of three men's work helping traumatized kids in one of America’s most underserved cities reveals how mindfulness tools can help children and communities not only survive but thrive

 In this inspiring book, founders of The Holistic Life Foundation Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez describe how they have spent the past twenty years teaching yoga, meditation, and breathwork to thousands of at-risk kids in Baltimore schools helping them to develop deep reserves of patience, empathy, resolve, and—when needed—the righteous anger that fuels deep structural change. Their work has received wide national attention due to their remarkable results: The schools that have participated in their programs have seen suspension rates plummet and graduation rates go through the roof.
 
Ali and Atman discovered as young children the power of mindfulness practices to sustain them through the challenges of growing up in a neighborhood in Baltimore that was struggling with poverty and violence—a community they now serve. The Holistic Life Foundation’s mission is to empower kids to find this same stillness and light within themselves and to let it shine out to help change the world. In this book, Ali, Atman and Andres share hands-on mindfulness and meditation tools readers can teach kids that will empower them to do this same work in their own communities. Let Your Light Shine is essential reading for parents, educators, activists, and anyone looking to make a difference in the lives of young people.
 

Author

Ali Smith is a teacher and author, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Ali’s life-long study of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness has served as the impetus for his pioneering work bringing trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness to underserved youth–and influencing education curriculum worldwide. He is the longtime Executive Director of the Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2001 that brings yoga and mindfulness to schools and is the Co-Owner of The Involution Group, founded in 2019. Let Your Light Shine is his second book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Ali Smith
Atman Smith is a teacher and author, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A lifelong student of yoga and meditation, his teaching focuses on empowering marginalized communities through yoga and meditation, transforming the minds and hearts of individuals who face racism, poverty, drugs, and oppression. For fifteen years, Atman has served as Director of Programming and Development for the Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2001 that brings yoga and mindfulness to schools. He is also the Co-Owner of The Involution Group, founded in 2019. His lifework centers around reclaiming black masculinity as a path of peace, justice, freedom, and joy. Let Your Light Shine is his first book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Atman Smith
Andrés González is a Puerto-Rican American teacher, author, and musician. He has taught yoga and meditation to diverse populations worldwide for twenty years and is a Co-Founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, founded in 2001. Andrés is a certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and maintains a B.S. in Marketing and an MBA from the University of Maryland. His teaching and music center around the liberation of marginalized individuals and communities through personal empowerment, healing, and joy. Let Your Light Shine is his first book. Learn more at www.LetYourLightShineBook.com View titles by Andres Gonzalez

Excerpt

We travel a lot. We regularly jump on planes to visit schools or private companies, where we give keynotes, hold workshops, teach, or simply share ideas. As we do every summer, at the beginning of June 2021, the three of us flew up to the Akwesasne territory, part of the Mohawk Nation, on the border of the United States and Canada, west of Montreal. This is an intensive program: over a five-week period fourteen young Mohawks participate in over eighty hours of intensive yoga and mindfulness training. When they graduate, they are fully trained in our Mindful Leader program-and ready to share this knowledge with other young Mohawks. That's not all: We also partnered with local community educators to provide mental health awareness training, guidance in managing a classroom, and traditional Haudenosaunee cultural education. We also teach basic skills essential for any future career path: managing finances, becoming confident at public speaking, building a strong rŽsumŽ, and resolving conflicts. These newly minted young leaders get a weekly stipend too, which helped many of them financially over the pandemic. Now these young people are employed and earning as well as learning, providing relief during the unexpected challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and allowing trainees to fully prioritize their training. There are multiple reasons we do this, but the primary one is our belief that struggling communities all over America-and the world-need to learn from each other, support each other, and work collaboratively together to design new ways of living to elevate their kids' prospects and uplift their communities in a joyful, hopeful way. At the end of the book you'll read about how we encourage our students in Baltimore to become teachers themselves or, at the very least, actively share what they've learned with their family and friends. This is very purposeful. There's only three of us, and if we had to teach every class, or mentor every kid, our program would have run out of gas years ago. Our goal is to seed communities all over the country, and eventually the world, with the techniques that will empower them to thrive and blossom in a way that conventional society, education, policing, and government policies actively squash.

Our Uncle Will always told us that you have to "wipe the dust off, and let your inner light shine out." On an individual level this is easy to understand: If you've ever had a deep meditation, you've experienced that sensation of clarity, calm, acceptance. But it has bigger implications too: We interpret this as a light that has the potential to sweep across the world, like a lighthouse illuminating a rough sea. This light is less about us swooping in and doing the work than it is about highlighting the talent and energy and potential already in these local communities. We share our knowledge, and support-but once these groups are up and running, they need us less and less.

This trip to the Akwesasne would probably be one of our last-at least in a formal capacity-as the program was rapidly evolving into a self-sustaining model. It was primarily a working trip, but frankly after a solid year of negotiating COVID, we needed a break. It was a relief to fly north over the vast, unbroken forests of upstate New York and look down on land that-in appearance at least-comes as close as you can to uncolonized in the continental United States. Our hosts, of course, have a different perspective.

Our hosts in the Akwesasne territory are members of the Mohawk Nation. The name Akwesasne means "land where the partridge drums." And in their language they call themselves Kanien'keh‡:ka, or "people of the flint."

Like most First Nations or Native Americans, the Mohawk had a complex relationship with the early European settlers. In the 1500s, the Dutch arrived. Initially relations were good. The Dutch suggested they were the "fathers" and the Mohawk were the "sons." Unsurprisingly, the Mohawk objected to this, and said the two groups were instead "brothers." The Mohawk created a wampum belt, with two rows of purple beads that represented the Mohawk canoes and the Dutch ships sailing through the world in kinship. However, as the Dutch expanded into Mohawk territory, their relationship frayed. In the seventeenth century, Christian missionaries began to convert some of the Native tribespeople. Later, the Roman Catholics did the same. The French and English alternated between allying themselves with and fighting against the tribes. During the American Civil War, the tribes allied themselves with the British against the American settlers. When the British lost, the tribes were forced to give up most of their land, and they relocated to the land they live on now.

In the nineteenth century, Richard Pratt founded the first off-reservation boarding school for Native American children in Pennsylvania. He thought himself a good man. After all, popular opinion often called for genocide against the tribes. He merely believed that you needed to "kill the Indian, and save the man." Thousands of children disappeared, and for over a hundred years these schools insisted that the children had run away. Shortly after our visit, sonar and excavations revealed the horrific truth these schools had hidden for a hundred-plus years.
Is it surprising that we see some parallels between our world and theirs?
Throughout the twentieth century, the Mohawk had to fight to preserve what was theirs: In the 1990s things got heated when White Canadian developers tried to build a golf course on tribal lands. The mother of one of our Mindful Leaders-while pregnant with him-almost died in a shootout over it. The Canadian Army sent thousands of troops, but the Mohawk blocked off a bridge into Montreal, protesting the incursion and refusing to back down. For a minute it looked like the blood was going to flow (and two people did die). In the end, the land was purchased by the government but never actually returned to the Mohawk people.

This protest was both good and bad: It caused even worse strife and division in the tribe, and divided many people against each other, yet it also literally gave birth to the young activists we work with today. When we sit down on that green Mohawk grass with our students it's inspiring as hell: The residential schools might have tried to destroy their language and culture, even erased it from their grandparents' and parents' lives. But the young people are embracing being Mohawk fearlessly. They are learning their language, renaming themselves with Mohawk names, re-creating lost traditions, and relearning lost ceremonial practices, piece by piece. One of our teachers, Steven, moved off the reservation when he was six, with his family. He was unable to process the aftereffects of generational trauma (it was his mother who almost died at the protest) and lost years of his life to opiates. Eventually he returned to Akwesasne and struggled to get clean.

The Bear Clan Mother (Wakerakas:te, also known as Louise Herne) encouraged him to complete the six-week ceremonial Ohero:kon, or rites of passage, along with seventy other young people, eventually fasting silently and alone in the forest for four days. He told us, "Being out there you don't have your partner, parents, there is no one out there. No cell phone, no video game, no food, no water, no distractions, just you and yourself. You get inside yourself. Inside your own thoughts, your own mind and heart. You come out of this ancient ceremony with a lot of gratitude for all that you have in your life. It was a pivotal moment in my life filled with so much healing."
Steven's grandfather, even into his eighties, can't help saying the Hail Mary he was forced to learn and recite, over and over again, in the residential school, even as his soul rejects the colonizers' religion and yearns to spiritually rejoin the Longhouse, where his true ancestors are. Knowing yourself, and being free of the voice of your oppressor, is a gift no one should take for granted. Today Steven and his grandfather are learning the traditional opening address of the Mohawk culture, reclaiming their true selves word by word.

You might be wondering why a book that is mostly set in Baltimore is taking a swerve into upstate New York. Well, here's one reason: We've learned over the last twenty years that we have to roam far and dig deep to find the resources to help our kids. And equally, we've been drawn to spread what we know to other communities. Once you've seen young people's lives dramatically improved in your backyard . . . well, it's hard to keep that news to yourself. This kind of learning is always a two-way street, however. We've learned even more about how to rebuild a struggling community from the Mohawk than they've learned from us-especially in the ways that the tribe has embraced its matriarchal structure.

It's not an easy matter to travel to upstate New York in the middle of a global pandemic, but it's not an easy matter to get help from close at hand either. Sometimes you have to step outside of your world to see what is broken in it. And once you've reached a place of insight, you need to share what you've figured out. Look at our world today: We are all in varying states of crisis, all struggling to find answers to similar problems. Think how much faster we would find solutions if we shared our discoveries. We believe there's no point in solving your problems if you can't also help other people solve theirs. It's a holistic approach, and one that we've embraced for twenty years. We don't have all the answers, but we have some of them. Same with the Mohawk: they don't know everything, but what they know is valuable, and applicable to every struggling community.

The Akwesasne territory isn't some perfect place. The Mohawk deal with a ton of racism and resentment from both America and Canada. (The reservation crosses the border.) They are still recovering from their own version of Jim Crow, when Indigenous peoples were banned from places like bars and bowling alleys and discriminated against when it came to voting or getting good jobs. They are-still-confronting prejudice and discrimination when they deal with the world outside of the reservation. They had to fight two hundred years for compensation from the last time land was stolen from them and as late as 2009 Canadian border guards moderating a customs dispute interrogated every member of the tribe who left their home or attempted to return to it.
The Mohawk also have the trauma of not being heard and believed. Everyone knew that something happened to their children, but it took decades of fighting and protesting to get permission to bring ground-penetrating sonar onto church property. That generational trauma keeps on hurting: grandparents who were whipped and beaten and worse at residential schools pass on that trauma, that lack of love, to their kids and grandkids. There's sometimes too much alcohol, too many opiates, and too little affection. Yet things are changing.

The tribe are fighting like hell for their children. Sure, their youth struggle with the same existential despair of any kid growing up in an isolated or impoverished area with low wages and limited prospects. And yet the tribe has rallied together as a people. They have a deep connection to family and community, and a shared identity as a tribe and a culture. They are Mohawk first, everything else second. Within the common identity as Mohawk they have reemphasized the clan structure, giving their children an added layer of identity and belonging.
They have a connection to their heritage and their ancestors that is missing in American culture in general, but especially in Baltimore. You'll read about how Baltimore has lost all the social structures, like mentors, weak ties, social networks, and rites of passage, that are being reinvigorated in the Akwesasne territory. What's more, the Mohawk have held on to a core truth about themselves that many Americans have forgotten: at the very core of the tribe they are fully realized citizens.

The word sovereign is something we'll refer to throughout this book, but let's get something out of the way right now: We reject the way various right-wing cults or other questionable groups use the term. We don't use the word in the sketchy, fake-license-plate, "sovereign citizen" kind of way,but in a way that suggests a path forward for other struggling communities. Nor is sovereign a code for beliefs in various conspiracies or an excuse for antisocial behavior.
Our definition of sovereignty is more aligned with the kind of practices we've seen on the Mohawk reservation. They have the right to govern themselves and determine their own way of life, their own traditions and rituals, and in many cases, their own laws. They teach, feed, heal, police, and judge themselves. They often feel unloved, unwanted, and unprotected by the American and Canadian cultures that surround them. Because of this they fight every day to preserve the right to determine the ethos under which their community lives. This feels familiar to us: Our dad, Smitty, often talked about how the segregated Baltimore he grew up in was "self-contained," and how much better this version of the city was. 

Part of the difference between the Akwesasne territory and society outside of the reservation is that the Mohawk embody a more matriarchal social structure. The clan leaders are women. They oversee the community and select the male members of the Haudenosaunee Council (the group of tribes more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy). The tribe's lineage carries on through the women. Steven is only Bear Clan because his mom was Bear Clan. The clan mothers control who leads the community in each clan. They give names out too. Steven's Mohawk name was given to him by a clan mother. When a man and woman marry, the man moves into the woman's family's longhouse; their children become members of her clan. This emphasis on the matriarchy has ebbed and flowed, but now, as the Mohawk embrace it as the means of organizing their community, their community is stronger than ever.

Praise

“[Let Your Light Shine] shares the strategies that have given thousands of kids that edge that allows them to survive and succeed: be it love, support, self-confidence, or simply a friendly ear at a moment when no one else is listening.”
from the foreword by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, New York Times bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score

Let Your Light Shine captures the originality, insight and most importantly, the brother-love that make Ali, Andy, and Atman’s work so vital and effective. Blending wisdom from their own Baltimore-based Black community and family with 2,500-year-old teachings originally offered in India, this trauma-sensitive, engaging book is just the contribution to the mindfulness movement that we need right now.”
—Rhonda V. Magee, MA, JD, author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice

"These guys are my heroes. For years, they have brought meditation and yoga to the children of struggling communities in Baltimore — work that repeated rounds of scientific research have shown to be immensely beneficial. Now, in this book, they show you how to work with your own mind, with the minds of the kids in your life, and with a world that can be both beautiful and cruel. Check it out." 
—Dan Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of 10% Happier

"How to change a world so challenged by mistrust, trauma and systematic racism? Let your Light Shine is a primer written with heart, honesty and truth. It is written for all who take the time to really care. It reveals how a difference can be made if we look within and change ourselves first. Then we can help the next generation with love, listening and learned skills.  Ali, Altman and Andres speak with profound experience and give us the very tools we need."
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Change

“Honesty, raw and inspiring wisdom, a powerful blend of deep insights into the real world we live in and the practical tools to build individuals and communities—these are brilliantly woven into the  narrative tapestry that fills Let Your Light Shine with a compelling invitation to dig deep and love broadly. Written by three co-authors and illuminated throughout by Uncle Will as mentor and spiritual guide, this book is not organized with the typical topic, discussion, and application structure. Instead, it is, like life itself, an open conversation between these gifted mindfulness teachers, with their long history creating and running the Holistic Life Foundation, and us, the readers who will so powerfully benefit from these visionaries’ courage, tenacity, and wisdom that shines through every one of these real pages of a story that we are so fortunate they took the time to create—in this book and in our world. We will all be better for the brilliance of Ali, Andres, and Atman that shines through in this wonderful contribution to our collective lives.”
—Daniel J. Siegel, MD, executive director, Mindsight Institute; founding co-director, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center; and New York Times bestselling author of IntraConnected: MWe (Me + We) as the Integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging

“When we think about the most oppressed and marginalized group in the world, most of us would never guess that this could be young people 18 and under. Young people struggle with a range of obstacles, from the stress of a fast-moving technology age to the trauma of surviving various forms of violence in schools, in their communities, and at home. It is no easy feat making it out of early adolescence into adulthood. The Holistic Life Foundation, with its founders Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez, have offered young people a path of healing and resilience founded in deep care, love, and a commitment to understanding that young people are not the violence they survive. Let Your Light Shine is an important contribution toward building a society that centers the healing of young people so that they are able to enter into their adulthood offering the same healing back to others around them.”
—Lama Rod Owens, teacher and author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger

“Ali, Atman, and Andres, with so much heart and in the true spirit of collective care, have written a book that teaches us the important practice of healing and loving our whole self, and that in doing so, we cannot help but extend that healing and love to ALL. This, they express, is how we mend collectively, and move toward a more connected, self-realized, and compassionate society that benefits and supports everyone equally and with grace. Through personal narratives, social insights, and mindfulness practices, they explore how the deep complexities of trauma—developmental, generational, ancestral, cultural, and systemic—impact our body and consciousness, inform our reality, and perpetuate the belief systems that keep us feeling separate, rather than interdependent. This separation is the fractured foundation that births racism, injustice, and all forms of oppression; the true sickness in our society. Let Your Light Shine is the medicine we can all use right now as it not only shares the essential insights and practices necessary to aid in individual healing but also invites us to pass on all that we learn to others, especially children. As a student and teacher of yoga, I found this book an excellent, informative, and inspirational resource that I know I will turn to again and again.”
—Seane Corn, author of Revolution of the Soul and co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World

“Simply put, this is one of the most important books on yoga that has been written in many years. It captures the absolute, true spirit of yoga, which is the removal of suffering and the experience of knowledge within. There are not too many places in America with greater levels of suffering than the streets of Baltimore, the home of Atman, Ali, and Andres. They have taken their spiritual practices, taken their learnings, and put them to the test on those very streets. To combat intergenerational trauma, systemic racism, and lack of opportunity and resources, they bring a message of hope and practical tools to awaken the sense of sovereignty in the hearts and minds of young people. Yoga in America has all too often been overtaken by consumerism. These brothers, though, without a doubt are restoring the essence of equitable power of yoga through their brilliant work, and this book will take you on a journey through a side of America that much of the yoga world rarely talks about or experiences. It will inspire you, sadden you, turn your head upside down, encourage and empower you. It puts the spiritual burden of racism front and center and shows how we can use ancient tools to transform and remake ourselves and society. Please read this book. It’s the future of yoga in America.”
—Eddie Stern, ashtanga yoga teacher and author of One Simple Thing

Books for Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Every May we celebrate the rich history and culture of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Browse a curated selection of fiction and nonfiction books by AANHPI creators that we think your students will love. Find our collections of titles here: Middle School High School

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PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

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PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

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PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

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FREE WEBINAR! The Power of Mindfulness in Education: Let Your Light Shine

Join Penguin Random House Education and Alliant International University for a free webinar about the transformative power of mindfulness in education on Thursday, May 18th from 3:00pm-4:00pm EDT. The panel will feature Ali Smith, co-author of Let Your Light Shine: How Mindfulness Can Empower Children and Rebuild Communities (TarcherPerigee) in conversation with AIU’s Dr. Carlton W. Parks, Professor;

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Excerpt from Let Your Light Shine: How Mindfulness Can Empower Children and Rebuild Communities

In this inspiring book, founders of The Holistic Life Foundation Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez describe how they have spent the past twenty years teaching yoga, meditation, and breathwork to thousands of at-risk kids in Baltimore schools helping them to develop deep reserves of patience, empathy, resolve, and—when needed—the righteous anger that fuels

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