Today we’d like to introduce you to Indigo Monae.
Indigo, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The idea for Yoga Gardens began when my best friend and I moved into the neighborhood on Lexington Street and discovered there were no grocery stores nearby. It was a depressed area with a lot of drug activity and violence. We found a few vacant lots, formed a nonprofit organization, and got the city to donate the use of the lots to a community garden run by our nonprofit.
The lots were initially filled with construction waste. We cleaned them up, build a yoga deck, and planted flowers and trees. But more importantly, we became familiar with the community.
People have to trust you. They want to make sure you are there to truly help, that you are not going to run at the first sign of trouble–trouble the community lives with every day and cannot escape. We lived in the community and felt a strong need to give back. By creating a safe space for kids to be kids and adults to relax, we hoped we would ultimately reduce stress and lower the crime rate in the neighborhood. We decided, “Why not? Let’s grow all of our vegetables here and give them away. We’ll teach yoga, arts, cooking classes, take the kids on field trips, and host educational events.” Eight years have gone by and this has been a beautiful adventure.
Has it been a smooth road?
Starting Yoga Gardens was a challenging task. When you are working in a community with shared and individual trauma that most Chicagoans cannot even begin to understand, it can be difficult to build trust. We’ve lost kids and friends and loved ones to gun violence. It is heartbreaking, and we try to create a healing space. The residents in this neighborhood live in an area comparable to a war zone, where violence is constant and life often short.
We are trying to change that, and it is happening gradually. It was a journey getting where we are today. This week I am sending off several of my former tiny yogis to college after watching them grow into young adults. We have helped women and mothers in the community get free yoga teacher trainings. We are making changes; as always, there is still a lot we can do.
The advice I would give other women on this journey is to make sure to lead with their hearts, to find out what the community needs and listen, and to make sure they are doing this work purely from a space of love.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Yoga Gardens story. Tell us more about the business.
The one thing of which I’m most proud is how grassroots we are. The community is a big part of Yoga Gardens growth. People in this neighborhood have really taken an ownership in their space of peace. It’s a really beautiful thing.
Our Mission (from our website): Yoga Gardens NFP is a women founded not-for -profit organization which began in Chicago. Our goal is to aid and uplift communities in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods by teaching & practicing peace, and by making healthy and nutritious foods available. Through yoga, meditation, healthier food options, and beautifying the neighborhood, we relieve stress and disease in areas where these difficulties are most prevalent. Yoga Gardens NFP board members and Trustees are professionals in various fields, but are all yogis at heart. As yogis we collectivity believe that it is our responsibility to give back to our community, and Yoga Gardens makes it our mission to do so.
What We Do (from our website): We revitalize vacant lots in developing residential areas, which often accumulate garbage, attract criminal activity, and ultimately become a burden on the residents. Yoga Gardens transforms each lot into a thriving yoga & gardening community space. Our board members assemble groups of local volunteers to participate in constructing and maintaining the lot. Hundreds of native plants such as bee and butterfly attracting flowers, trees and large shrubs are embedded, and encompass the lot. Raised beds are constructed for a fruit and vegetable garden, as well as a wooden deck for the teaching and practice of yoga. Together and through a true grass roots effort, we transform a lot into a garden and yoga center for residents to use throughout the spring, summer and early fall.
Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
Yes, I do! I lived the first eleven years of my life with my teenage mother in the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project on the South Side of Chicago. But I got lucky because my mother and stepfather were able to move my siblings and me to a safer place. I moved to a place that allowed me to open up my mind, a place where I could play and feel safe. Having this experience has brought me closer to the community because I can see myself in these kids. I want to give them the safe space that can make a difference in their lives–in the garden, but also through working with residents to create change on their streets, schools, and homes.
- Address: 2722 w Lexington, Chicago IL
- Website: www.yogagardens.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @yogagardens
- Facebook: yogagardens
Indigo Monae yoga Gardens photos