2020 produced a global pandemic, a racial reckoning, and an economic crisis — all of which confronted communities of color like a three-headed monster. Staring back at that monster is Imani Olear.
Her weapon of choice: Yoga.
September 23rd. A portion of Rochester’s black community gathers in Highland Park. A wave of silent anger is in the air, and all eyes are on a yoga instructor.
“There was an overwhelming sense of collective grief,” said Olear, the founder of “Yoga 4 A Good Hood,” a non-profit that aims to bring yoga to people of color.
“Can we just get this one win?”
The win Olear is referring to is justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American woman fatally shot after Louisville Metro Police served a no-knock warrant on her apartment. Along with the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and Daniel Prude, Rochester, like many other American cities, spent a summer in protest with young activists voicing their anger at racial inequity.
On that fall night in September, the crowd in Highland Park learned the three cops involved in Taylor’s death would not be charged with her murder. At an event hosted by the activist group “Free The People Rochester,” Olear, fearing resistance, found herself tasked with balancing the community’s rage.
“What I believe happens in our community is when we are authentic, and we’re not trying to force something, there is acceptance,” she said. “I see you, and you see me.”
Without spiritually trying to bypass the reality of the moment, Olear led a yoga session, and for that evening at least — a community began to heal.
‘I always felt like I wasn’t good enough’
Olear came to Rochester in 2005, a single mother of two kids. Purpose called Olear to the city to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but her sense of community was developed in her birthplace: Columbus, Ohio.
Olear’s parents divorced when she was 2. Her mother suffered through a revolving door of mental health issues, including schizophrenia and manic depression. Still, to Olear, her mom was the best person she knew because of those hurdles and remains a driving force for her work today. Her father was in school for his doctorate — but grandparents primarily raised Olear.
At the age of 11, Olear dealt with a myriad of health issues, including asthma. Disconnected from her body, relief came in the form of a book— “Light on Yoga” by B. K. S. Iyengar.
“I turned the pages and just looked at it. I didn’t understand the words, but the postures pulled me in. Even if I wasn’t doing it right, something about doing those postures made me feel more connected to my body than ever before,” she said.
“At 11, I didn’t have words for that — and all my grandmother said was, ‘we ain’t doing that devil stuff in here, you’re going to get that book out of here.’”
Suddenly, yoga was taboo, but the feeling lingered — causing Olear to weave in and out of practice for years.
Olear, the youngest of four, experienced a modest working-class…