Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
Rachelle Pean thought she wanted to get as far away from upstate New York as possible when she left Schenectady for college. She studied psychology at SUNY Purchase, finished her masters in social work at CUNY Hunter and was living in the city but something didn’t feel right. “When I got older I discovered that community is really important to me and that community was really hard for me to find in the city.”
Pean, a trained yoga instructor, began offering pay-what-you-can classes at the African American Cultural Center in Albany as a means to reach people who did not regularly have access to or could afford yoga classes. Word of mouth built and those classes regularly reached capacity. “I had to kind of go away to find the different tools I needed to get in touch with myself, to heal myself. So I know how important it is for people who may not necessarily be able to get away, so now it can be here for them,” says Pean, who sits next to her partner Jamel Mosely in their newly opened storefront on South Pearl Street in Albany.
Root3d offers yoga sessions, therapy, crystal healing, poetry, acting, dance and drumming classes provided by some of the area’s most well-regarded practitioners and artists including Aaron Moore, Jordan Taylor Hill, Karyn Dyer, Jammella Anderson, Amani O, Damaris Miller and Gordon Collier. Many of the classes are free or donation based. One-on-one sessions are also offered.
Yoga studios in the Capital Region—and around the country—are generally concentrated in majority white neighborhoods like in Latham, Clifton Park, Saratoga Springs. The covers of yoga magazines are dominated by white women.
“Why Your Yoga Class Is So White,” a 2014 piece in The Atlantic focused on Green Tea, a yoga studio in South Los Angeles in a predominantly black neighborhood. “You go to classes and you’re the only black person, or there are very few,” Robin Rollan, publisher of Black Yogis blog, told The Atlantic. “People who find my blog say, ‘I thought I was the only one.’”
Motivated by the obvious need for a space for people of color to get involved in the healing arts, Pean found the storefront at 165 South Pearl and quickly secured it with Mosely. “We know that not only are these communities often out of touch with the conversation (about healing arts) but location wise they are out of touch. They can’t reach these places because yoga studios aren’t located anywhere near them,” says Mosely.
Opening in May, Pean and Mosely have seen South End residents take interest and then utilize the space. One man who lives across the street stopped by to watch classes.
“He had this look on his face like, ‘What am I getting myself into,” recalls Pean. “The next day he returned with his grandmother who just had a lot going on in her life and really needed it,” recalls Mosely.
Pean recalls a woman who had just gotten out of rehab came to Root3d looking to center herself after a long ordeal. “It was her first couple of days back and she came to do yoga. People come up and tell each other their stories and what an honor that she came to this space. It’s become a community.”
Jordan Taylor Hill, a local African dance and drum performer and instructor, says he was really interested in Root3d because he knows Pean and Mosely, and because as a gym instructor in his native Long Island, he says he often wondered, “Where are the people who look like me?”
“I went to the opening and saw that my initial thoughts were correct,” says Taylor Hill. “There were so many people of color in one space celebrating wellness, holistic health, healing. It was great because it is not something we get to be so open about a lot of the time. And there are so many ways we can do that at Root3d.” Taylor-Hill is now offering a class on Monday nights at the studio.
The South End has been a particularly beleaguered, beset and ignored neighborhood in Albany. Residents complain of pollution from the nearby port and trainyard; they face heightened crime and a concentration of abandoned properties. If Mosely and Pean have their way, Root3d will become a linchpin in the neighborhood’s recovery. The nearby Coliseum now houses a number of black-owned businesses and Mosely hopes to use his expertise as a community builder, which he developed through Power Breakfast and Collectiveffort, to build more partnerships in the neighborhood.
“We would really like to see people from this community open up businesses, have this strip right here be an exemplar of what a black business district could look like. I think people would see a lot of power in that. These neighborhoods have been getting a lot of flack but I know a lot of outstanding people who came up here,” says Mosely.