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Holistic Life Foundation Visits, Celebrating MLK’s Commitment to Nonviolent Healing

Brothers Ali and Atman Smith with co-founder Andy Gonzalez of the Holistic Life Foundation.

Middlebury College

Brothers Ali and Atman Smith with co-founder Andy Gonzalez of the Holistic Life Foundation.

By EMMA PATCH

While other colleges and universities close offices and cancel classes in honor of Martin Luther King Day, the college chose to host a series of events to commemorate his legacy, ultimately presenting the student body as well as the community with a unique opportunity to learn about the important practices and beliefs Dr. King championed throughout his life.

One of the MLK featured events this past weekend attracted a substantial crowd in Wilson Hall at the McCullough Student center, as the event held honored Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence. Through the support of various departments, the founders of the Holistic Life Foundation from Baltimore came to speak to students, faculty, staff and community members Sunday afternoon. Opening remarks made by a representative from the Scott Center for Religious and Spiritual life placed the talk within the context of spirituality and history by sharing a moving quote of Dr. King’s.

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality,” said Laurie Jordan, quoting one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s letters from a Birmingham Alabama prison.

On that note, Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andy Gonzalez began their discussion. Their work teaching contemplative practice in underserved schools in Baltimore is reducing disciplinary problems among students. Before delving into the founding of the Holistic Life Foundation the speakers set the tone of their talk with a group meditation.

“This is a love and kindness practice,” Smith said. According to Smith, the meditation practice was  inspired by human nature’s penchant for loving other people before serving oneself.

In guiding the crowd through a ten-minute-long meditation in which audience members were encouraged to focus on breathing and expelling all negative energies, Smith united the audience and established a space conducive to conversation.

Following the group meditation, the leaders reflected on the path that led to their roles as facilitators of mindfulness through mediation and yoga, sharing personal stories that connected with students on a very real level.

“Our love of hip hop and beer was what brought us together to form the holistic life foundation” said Smith, jokingly recalling the early days of their journey into the realm of philosophical exploration and mindful practices when they studied together at the University of Maryland.

But it was when the Smith brothers and Gonzalez were in Baltimore together post-graduation that the evolution of their personal relationships into one of mutually encouraged intellectual exploration ultimately took place.

“We saw a lot of suffering. We saw a lot of pain” Ali Smith said, on a more serious note. The Holistic Life Foundation founders felt that despite being college-educated adults, their lessons and degrees fell short of answering the questions that really plagued them. The more research into contemplative practices and various schools of philosophical thought that their curiosities led them to, the more questions they felt they had.

Wrestling with dilemmas testing the limits of the human experience, and living in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore then granted the soon to be founders of the Holistic Life Foundation with a rare opportunity, the chance to transform inner-city America through contemplative practice.

Today, they have achieved great success. A feature in Mindful Magazine revealed how their work is reducing disciplinary problems among students in underserved schools in Baltimore. The foundation is delivering an assortment of after school, mentoring, environmental education, and leadership training programs. The talk was extremely well received and speaks to the value of pursuing paths to community healing via contemplative practice.

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Holistic Life Foundation Visits, Celebrating MLK’s Commitment to Nonviolent Healing