LEAD joins inaugural Meditation Mentor training program

Newark, New Jersey — Laila Shipman, a student at LEAD Charter School,  wanted to change her attitude. 

“I was stressing a lot and anybody I saw, I was just giving them attitude, and I felt like that wasn’t me,” she said. “It just didn’t feel right, so I wanted to make a change.”

The few times she felt happy and peaceful was after yoga class at LEAD, where her yoga teacher, Jennifer Kohl of Lotus Yoga Newark/Bloomfield, would lead them in yoga, mediation and mindfulness practices.

“Every time I left yoga class, I walked around with a smile on my face – good morning to everybody. It just made me feel like I was happy and a stress-relief,” Laila said. 

Now, she hopes to bring that same relief to the LEAD community as a meditation instructor.  Laila is one of nine young people from LEAD Charter, Weequahic High School and Eastside High School  who gather each morning at Weequahic, the inaugural host-site for Mediation Mentors. During the 8-week intensive,  students meditate each morning at 7 a.m. and 2-hours on Saturday mornings as they pursue 100-hours of training to be certified meditation instructors. 

Kohl, director of Lotus Yoga Newark/Bloomfield, partnered with Thomas Owens, executive director of MENTOR Newark and the Hanini Group to bring the Meditation Mentor program to Newark, and reach her ultimate goal “to train myself out of a job.”

“The only way for mindfulness to be sustainable or infiltrated into the world is for it to be spread wide and deep,” she said, through families, friends and communities.

And as much as yoga and meditation can impact lives, this certification also opens access to potential career pathways. By equipping young people of color with these skills, Kohl said she hopes to empower her students personally and professionally, as they embark on their future. 

“If there are hundreds of thousands of dollars to be made teaching yoga and meditation, who’s teaching it and who’s making that money?” Kohl said. “So for me, when I say I want to train myself out of a job — there’s no reason why Laila or Ms. G can’t go in and teach and make that same $100 an hour. And they should.”

Laila isn’t the only LEADer a part of Meditation Mentors. Tia Jannah, office manager at LEAD, said she joined the training course after studying manifestation and discovering mediation was the key to achieve her goals.

“Mediation will help you to control your emotions and having control over your emotions is a super power. In order to get those super powers, you have to meditate,” Jannah said. 

Admittedly, meditation was a struggle in the beginning, she said, but in a few short months, she’s already noticed a difference in how much control and restraint she has on her emotions.

“If I’m feeling bad or uneasy or annoyed, I don’t allow that to fester in me. I acknowledge it and release it and know that it’s temporary,” she said. 

Both Tia and Laila have goals to lead meditation classes at LEAD once the course is complete. Laila has already started leading her younger brothers and sisters in mediation, so she’ll be ready for LEAD.

Kohl said she has complete faith that Laila could take her place one day, which brought a smile to Laila’s face. 

“It makes me feel special. It makes me feel like I want to believe in myself and be confident in what I do,” Laila said.