Educator and yogi Chelsea Jackson Roberts looks to empower young women of color.

By Betsy Cribb
October 03, 2019
Credit: Ross Oscar Knight

When Chelsea Jackson Roberts first began practicing yoga, it didn't take long for her to realize that none of her instructors looked like her. So the former public school teacher decided to change that for teenage girls in Atlanta.

"Yoga means to unite, or yoke," says Roberts, who earned her Ph.D. from Emory University's Division of Educational Studies and studied yoga as a tool to develop critical literacy in teens ages 13 through 17. "The practice of yoga is about connection, so we thought, what better way to build community [than through yoga]?"

She founded Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp, where teenage girls who identify as young women of color are given a space to learn, stretch, and grow together. "My co-director, Octavia Raheem, always says that we've created what we knew we needed when we were this age," says Roberts, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, before moving south for college. "I knew it was essential for us to have a space for young women and to give them tools to make their voices heard."

The camp is hosted in the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (the only museum in the country with an emphasis on art created by and about women of the African Diaspora), and the teachers are also self-identified women of color. "It was important for [the leadership] to be reflective of the girls who are participating. We want them to experience teachers of all different backgrounds and recognize that there are so many different variations of who a yogi is," says Roberts.

WATCH: 5 Forgotten Skills Kids Can (and Should!) Learn From Their Grandparents

But the camp is more than an exploration of art and yoga, she notes. "My hope is that the girls see that they already have the tools within themselves [to find success]. We're just giving them an opportunity to share and explore those gifts and talents."