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Mindfulness room at Richmond school aims to give students tools to be 'successful and resilient'

Dr. Ram Bhagat: 'I’m on a mission to help MLK become a national model for urban trauma and healing and restorative justice practices'
Sankofa Mindfulness Room
Posted at 5:51 PM, Mar 15, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — Inside the Sankofa Mindfulness Room at Martin Luther King Middle School, students are learning something that historically isn’t taught in schools. It’s in this bright and cheerful room, that students learn about focusing on one’s own awareness, building copings skills and strong relationships with others.

“Sankofa comes from the African proverb that means ‘go back and fetch it,’” says Ashley Williams, one of the program’s directors at MLK.

Sankofa Mindfulness Room
Sankofa Mindfulness Room

“We prioritize restorative climate and culture to help our students create healthy relationships, to learn tools to take care of themselves, understand who they are; their identities, but to also be successful and resilient in the school environment and in the community.”

Creators of the Sankofa Room, who also helped build a restorative urban garden at the school, say the locations are safe places for students to get curious and reach outside their own comfort zone, to try and identify with people who don’t look, act or think like they do.

Ashley Williams
Ashley Williams

Dr. Ram Bhagat, a former Richmond educator, helped create the Sankofa Room at MLK and is now hoping to spread the practice of mindfulness to other schools around the country, especially in areas where poverty is present. Bhagat also runs the “Drums No Guns” cultural arts program to help children across the country who are exposed to violence in their communities. Bhagat lost his own brother in the 1980’s to gun violence.

“Because of where MLK is located, right in the epicenter of five housing projects where the social determinate of health are ever present and where a person’s zip code can determine their life expectancy, I’m on a mission to help MLK become a national model for urban trauma and healing and restorative justice practices,” Bhagat says.

Dr. Ram Bhagat, former Richmond educator, who helped create the Sankofa Room.
Dr. Ram Bhagat, former Richmond educator, who helped create the Sankofa Room.

In a partnership with The Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation, Bhagat is sharing his knowledge of cultural sensitivity, along with other mental health advocates in a video tool kit that’s available to schools, resource centers, and individual families. The videos, produced by the CKG Foundation, explore powerful ways students can connect with others.

Chase Herbert, a researcher who contributed to the tool kit program, says the kit is especially powerful in helping students empathize and have compassion for one another, especially in the curated world of social media.

“I think really focusing on active listening, hearing what the other person is trying to communicate and being able to mindfully reflect on that, is really important to dialogue between two people,” Herbert says.

Clair Norman, Cameron K. Gallagher Foundatio marketing director, and Chase Herbert, a researcher who contributed to the tool kit program.
Clair Norman, Cameron K. Gallagher Foundatio marketing director, and Chase Herbert, a researcher who contributed to the tool kit program.

Clair Norman, marketing director for CKG, says the tool kit also helps students explore ways in which they are more alike than different, while also creating an environment where people can still embrace, celebrate, and share their diverse backgrounds and cultures.

“That’s a goal for all of us to know that we can learn from each other, we can recognize things in ourselves that we didn’t know before,” Norman says. “The effect on mental health is tremendous. When it comes to human connection, there’s statistics from the CDC that will support that human connection is a necessary component to a healthy life and that’s why this tool kit was built, to help that process.”

Sankofa Mindfulness Room
Sankofa Mindfulness Room

Just like the Sankofa Mindfulness Room, it’s just one more resource that’s giving kids the chance to understand their Impact in the world. Ashley Williams says she enjoys seeing students light up from the connections that they’re making every day.

“We have to realize that impact comes from working together and that’s a beautiful thing,” Williams says.

For more information on the Cultural Sensitivity Tool Kit, visit www.ckgfoundation.org.

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