Home People Profile Bham People Kim Richardson Uses Yoga to Promote Peace in Birmingham

Kim Richardson Uses Yoga to Promote Peace in Birmingham

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Last month, Richardson was named among the nation’s leaders in providing service through yoga as she received recognition as a finalist for the 2023 John Kepner Seva Award for service to under-resourced communities. (Tosha Gaines Photography)
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

When she began practicing yoga about 10 years ago, it was a very “lonely experience,” Kim Richardson said.

She picked up a DVD from Walmart enabling her to practice along with a celebrity she can’t remember and occasionally went to a class at the now-closed YMCA in downtown Birmingham. The other venues she knew of just didn’t feel right, Richardson said.

The practice of yoga, however, promised peace, and Richardson said she found that even in her early experiences. “I did feel that by the end of the practice, that I felt calmer, I felt more relaxed … less tense, all of the things that I was looking for,” she said.

Today, Richardson, a certified yoga teacher since 2017, has found a way to practice without being so alone, bringing yoga to communities across the city of Birmingham.

Last month, Richardson was named among the nation’s leaders in providing service through yoga as she received recognition as a finalist for the 2023 John Kepner Seva Award for service to under-resourced communities. She accepted the honor at the 2023 Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), in Reston, Virginia.

“My whole goal when I became first a yoga teacher…was that I wanted to create a community-based yoga model, that instead of expecting people to come into yoga studios, you can take yoga into communities and meet people where they are,” she said.

Richardson, founder of Yes You, Yoga, which works to encourage yoga as a vital community resource, first hosted weekly yoga classes at the downtown branch of the Birmingham Public Library where she was a board member from 2013 through 2022.

The classes began in 2018. At the first class, there were about 15 people, which Richardson found inspiring.

“Honestly, it was primarily a group of African American people doing yoga, which I had never seen before in Birmingham, so to have people be receptive … to create inclusive yoga spaces I felt like I had achieved that.”

In 2019, Richardson worked with the Prison Yoga Project, an international nonprofit that seeks to promote and teach yoga to incarcerated people and was part of a team that sought to establish a pilot project in Alabama.

She taught in William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County, while another teacher taught at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. “I had never been inside a prison before,” Richardson said. She was taken aback by the dedication of those in her class.

“I have the convenience of going in my room at home and sitting on my yoga mat and making everything quiet and peaceful and sitting down…But it’s very hard to say you’re going to be committed to a yoga practice if you are set up in a space with bunk beds, [where if] you reach your arm out, you’re nearly touching the person next to you,” Richardson said.

“It was very inspiring to see that there were people who were willing and wanted to practice yoga, even in those conditions,” she added.

In 2021, Richardson was among a number of Black yoga instructors who presented a proposal to Birmingham City Schools to create a yoga pilot project.

That project began last year in West End Academy, as well as Oxmoor Valley and Richard Arrington Jr. Elementary Schools.

Richardson teaches a free yoga program at the Don Hawkins Park Recreation Center in Birmingham’s Roebuck neighborhood and teaches yoga to kids who are admitted to Children’s of Alabama for mental health concerns.

Richardson’s next step is to become a certified yoga therapist who works one-on-one with clients to determine how best they can accomplish goals related to physical, mental, or emotional challenges that impact health.

A Life in Service

Raised by her grandparents Ralph and Henrietta Carter, Richardson, 51, grew up in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood with her older sister Marian. In Richardson’s youth, Mrs. Carter cleaned houses in the Cleveland suburbs and Mr. Carter was a retired Pullman porter who assisted passengers on sleeper train cars.

“It was definitely a lower-income community but a very tight-knit community, where you knew everyone in the neighborhood. Everyone knew me, and everyone knew us. The school I went to was at the end of our street. We walked together with my friends to school every day, so it was very much a positive upbringing,” Richardson recalled.

After Richardson graduated from Glenville High School in 1990, she spent two years at the College of Wooster in Ohio, before transferring to Baldwin-College, now Baldwin Wallace University, in Berea, Ohio.

Her first plan was to be an accountant, but she found the general economics and business classes boring, she said.

She decided to test out a course in the school’s urban studies program, which combines economics, sociology, and political science. The course sparked her interest in understanding what she had seen around her, growing up in a low-income neighborhood.

“All of our needs were met…There was food on the table. Our lights were on. The heat was on … so in a child’s mind, that’s wealth. You don’t really sort of begin to see the inequities until you get outside,” Richardson said.

Taking the urban studies course motivated her academic interest, as well as her desire to do work around social justice. In 1994, she graduated from Baldwin-Wallace with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies, and in the fall, began a master’s program at Cleveland State University, which she completed in 1996.

After finishing up her master’s, Richardson moved into a role with the Cleveland Department of Public Health, working on the evaluation team for a program called “Healthy Start,” which worked to reduce infant mortality rates.

“It didn’t even cross my mind that babies weren’t surviving birth, that babies weren’t surviving their first year of life. It’s something that no one was talking about,” Richardson said.

That job “opened my eyes” to the health-related issues that urban populations, particularly African Americans, experience, she said.

“All of that has sort of informed the work that I do today around saying that these things continue to plague our communities, and yoga can be just one tool for helping us address that, that can be accessible if we remove the barriers…” Richardson said.

In 2003 that Richardson moved to Birmingham. Her mother, Patricia Wilson, who grew up in the Magic City, moved back previously, and Richardson followed and got a job as the grants management coordinator for the Birmingham Department of Community Development.

Richardson left her job with the city and started her own firm, Kimberly Richardson Consulting which she paused in 2022.

Meaningful Practice

As she studies to become a certified yoga therapist, Richardson said she’s worked one-on-one with a client who uses a wheelchair for several months. In their time working together, he has become more confident in other health care environments, Richardson said.

“I’ve seen him become empowered, not just in a physical practice, but in a way, he’s addressing his own health issues, the way he’s able to better advocate for himself in medical settings,” Richardson said.

As for her practice of yoga, Richardson said her favorite poses are the warrior poses. Some of the most recognizable yoga poses, Richardson said the warrior poses hold significant meaning for her.

“You’ve got your arms spread out, one arm stretching forward, one arm stretching backward, and the story behind that is that it’s representative of letting go of what’s in our past. It’s us stretching forward, looking forward to our future but also standing in the middle and being present in the present moment, so it’s really a great metaphor for life,” Richardson said.

Richardson hosts free yoga classes at Don Hawkins Recreation Center, located at 8920 Roebuck Blvd. every Wednesday, starting at 6:30 p.m. Follow Richardson on Instagram @yesyouyoga_wellness.