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Jun 17, 2021

One Year Ago: How Three Simple Words Can Carry So Much Weight

One year ago, a racial reckoning began to unfold in our country. That now-viral video capturing the last moments of George Floyd’s life sent shockwaves around the country and the world. People of all races marched in cities worldwide to protest the callous, senseless murder.

One year ago this month, Kristen Brunello, owner of The Yoga Ground, noticed three women on the corner opposite her studio while walking home from an errand one day. She could see the women, two black and one white, holding signs protesting George Floyd’s murder. Exhausted, Kristen could have made a beeline to her apartment, closed the door, and plopped down on the sofa to relax. She worked tirelessly since the pandemic forced her to close the door to her studio on March 15. Instead, Kristen made a conscious decision to join the protestors. When asked why she chose to stand in solidarity with these women, Kristen said, “I could have crossed at another part of the intersection and avoided the corner altogether, but if I did that, I was making a deliberate choice not to participate. I’m a white woman walking by a Black Lives Matter protest. I either choose to keep walking, or I choose to stand with them.”

On that first night, it was just the four women. The grassroots group would meet nightly at 7:00 p.m. On the next night, Kristen held a sign she’d made earlier in the day. The sign read, “WHITE SILENCE IS VIOLENCE.”  Now teaching yoga outdoors, Kristen extended an invitation to students to join her during these nightly demonstrations. She even rearranged her class schedule, pushing her 7:00 p.m. class back an hour so the car and people traffic from her classes wouldn’t detract from the protests. After her 6:00 p.m. class, she would grab her sign, cross the street, and stand in solidarity with members of the community in which she worked and lived. Kristen went back across the street at 8:00 p.m. to teach her last outdoor class of the evening. Her sign rested each night just inside the main entrance to her studio.

The Yoga Ground is in the Tory Corner section of West Orange, New Jersey, a predominately black and brown community. It is rooted in inclusivity and diversity. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, straight, and LBGTQ+ yogis of all sizes and abilities walk through the door at this small but serene space. It’s been a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.

I visited the studio recently. It was the first time I’d been inside the actual studio in over a year. I asked Kristen how she was doing since locking her doors almost 15 months ago. “I’m tired,” she said without hesitation. “I worked harder before the pandemic, for sure, but there is just something exhausting about working in survival mode during a global pandemic.” Kristen believes it will take a full year for her business to recover. “People stopped coming, and it’s going to take a while for people to feel comfortable coming back.”

The protests from one year ago seen from the windows of the yoga studio have stopped. I asked Kristen about this. She sighs before responding.  “I hope people don’t become complacent. Everything that happened after George Floyd was murdered was so intense. It needed to happen, and while a lot has changed, a lot stayed the same.”  Kristen believes things will continue to change with the new presidential administration, the most diverse administration in history. “I remain hopeful, and I think change is happening even though we can’t see it or hear it.”

By: Danielle Barnes – @dannibsays (IG) @dannib413 (Twitter)

Danielle Barnes is a freelance writer based in Montclair, NJ. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations from Wayne State University. Her superpower is her ability to captivate audiences with her words whether it’s in person or on paper. Danielle enjoys devouring a good book, volunteering for causes she’s passionate about, staying active, and traveling the globe to see the world in all its glory.