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Do Yoga

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They’ll be holding free classes at the Allbirds store at 1709 Walnut Street on October 17th and 31st at 10am and November 7th and 14th at 9am with Jean-Jacques Gabriel and Gabbi Jane. Plus, stay tuned for their December dates, at which Sudan will be teaching! 

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Cheat Sheet

What is Generation Change Philly?

For the past several months, we’ve been working on building a list of Philly changemakers. The reporting began simply by asking people—business, nonprofit and community leaders, disruptor types, founders and funders and regular old citizens across the city—the same questions:

Who has good ideas we could learn from? Who is tackling our problems in new ways? Who is positively impacting this city, shaking up the status quo, disrupting the predictable old ways of doing things? Whose ideas are giving you new hope for Philly?

There were more than 100 names offered up, more than 100 stories to tell about the people whose perspectives and work are changing this city for the better. We set about the difficult task of whittling that list down to the 30 people who best represent the focus, creativity and ingenuity that this particular moment in Philadelphia cries out for.

Over the next several months, we’re spotlighting each of these members of Generation Change Philly, one by one, one ripple at a time.

There’s more: We partnered with Keepers of the Commons to provide opportunities throughout the year for the changemakers to connect with one another, with other changemakers in the city and with a broader audience.

For more, read the full story by Christy Speer Lejeune.

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Generation Change Philly: The Wellness Crusader

Sudan Green’s Spirits Up! brings community-based yoga, mindfulness and peace to Black Philadelphians, who are still underserved by the wellness community. It is a revolutionary act for our times

Generation Change Philly: The Wellness Crusader

Sudan Green’s Spirits Up! brings community-based yoga, mindfulness and peace to Black Philadelphians, who are still underserved by the wellness community. It is a revolutionary act for our times

It is a Friday morning in September and Sudan Green is driving one of his three younger brothers to school.

“See ya, dude,” he says as his sibling climbs out of the car. “Be safe.”

Be safe? I ask. Is that your parting note to everyone? Just him? For any particular reason?

He pauses; through the phone, I hear him put on his turn signal. “When people close to you have been taken away,” he says, the signal clicking off, “you have a certain caution about those you hold close.”

See Green, like most of the people he has known all his life growing up in Philly, is no stranger to loss. One of his earliest memories as a toddler? Witnessing someone getting shot in West Philly, near 47th and Kingsessing, where his family was living at the time.

“The fact that I had mentors around me and people changing my life was probably the reason why I didn’t go pick up a gun or go pick up drugs,” Green says.

It would be years later, in late 2018, when he’d experience one of the most painful tragedies of his life: the murder of his best friend, Nantambu, right in Germantown, where Green had grown up.

But Green is no stranger to the role of Big Brother, either. It’s a badge of honor he’s worn for as long as he can remember. The oldest son of poet/musician/goddess Ursula Rucker—he has an older half-brother, too—Green grew up leading his sibling pack. Tayyib Smith, who executive-produced two of Rucker’s albums, remembers Green as a little boy hanging out at Larry Gold’s music studio while mom was working.

“Sudan was always put in a position of leader, whether he wanted to be or not,” Smith says. “I remember he and his brother had the code to a particular door at the studio, and it was like an adult honor for them, because they were able to maneuver themselves through the studio without adult assistance. And I remember seeing that they took pride in that.”

A loss—and then a different path

Moving in the artistic and creative circles forged by his mother, Green had exposure early on to the power of community, the glitz of entertainment, the sheer force of music and language and words. He went to the private, progressive Philadelphia School for a time, which, he says, changed his life, allowed him to get out from under the toxic masculinity that often pervaded his neighborhood.

He didn’t realize it yet, but those worlds were showing him the full range of masculinity, humanity.

“The fact that I had mentors around me and people changing my life was probably the reason why I didn’t go pick up a gun or go pick up drugs and go pick up this and that, or have unhealthy relationships with these things,” he says. “Because I’ve seen a lot of those things in front of me, as have most people of all races, but it’s about what you do with them.”

Of course, he was also a kid who wanted the same things so many Philly kids want: to work at Ubiq on Walnut Street, with its cool sneakers and streetwear. To hang with his friends, even when that meant getting involved with shadiness, violence or “jumping people,” immature activities Green says he grew from.

I just believe in being strong in your morals and coming back to your principles daily,” Green says. “Asking yourself who are you showing up for, and why?”

He got older and started making his own music; he lived in New York for a handful of years, tapping into the yoga community through the now-defunct, pay-what-you-want Yoga For The People studio; he expanded his worldview further. He took part in Smith’s Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship.

Then, in 2018, Nantambu was murdered.

“I fell into a depression. I lost 15 pounds in two weeks. It was crazy,” he says, his voice starting to break. To cope, he turned to music, writing a song called “Spirits Up!”

The earth continued to circle around the sun and, lo, it was 2020, with all of its unrest, the tensions that had always been a part of Green’s Philadelphia rising to the nation’s surface. White people—not enough, but more—started paying attention.

Green leaned into the protests, sure, but he also listened closely to what they were revealing about the pain, a pain he recognized in his bones; he decided to do something about it.

That something? It encompassed the influences that have shaped Green his whole life: music, community, love. He organized Spirits Up!, a nonprofit movement that invites Black and Brown people to come together through free community yoga, mindfulness, and wellness events.

RELATED: Free yoga series for black Philadelphians after George Floyd protests

Over the last 18 months, Spirits Up! has organized nearly 50 events that have touched the lives of more than a thousand people. At one point on Juneteenth 2020, there were more than 400 people, mostly people of color, doing yoga at Malcolm X Park.

“Having the foresight, wisdom, and the maturity to gather people from a centered space that is welcoming and safe for Black people, that’s revolutionary,” says Smith. “I think Sudan is a brilliant man with tremendous potential. And I think that the issues Spirits Up! addresses are top of mind for everyone who’s talking about the health and wellness of the city.”

Because let’s be honest: Seeing a bunch of white women or suburban kids doing yoga, talking about wellness or sharing the names of their therapists? That’s important, but it’s not revolutionary. But among Black and Brown men, the stigma around mental health issues and obstacles to getting care persist: only 26.4 percent of Black and Hispanic men ages 18 to 44 who experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression were likely to have used mental health services, compared with 45.4 percent of non-Hispanic White men with the same feelings. And when Black men do seek help and would prefer a same-race provider? Well, they make up only about 4 percent (though climbing) of the doctoral-level psychology workforce.

“You go into white wellness spaces, and they’re super nice. They get a lot of backing, and that’s my goal. I don’t want to do it if it’s not going to be really nice. We have to take people out of the usual. You can’t just do the rec center all the time,” Green says.

And so bringing wellness into the open, and getting people of color to embrace it? That is groundbreaking. That’s what makes Green a natural fit for Generation Change Philly, The Citizen’s new series in partnership with Keepers of the Commons to spotlight and support Philly’s next generation of change agents.

Since launching Spirits Up!, Green also got his yoga teacher certification and the group received fiscal sponsorship from BlackStar, the nonprofit that produces the BlackStar Film Festival and serves as a platform for artists and creators of color. He’s been tapped by sneaker brand Allbirds and LuLuLemon as a brand ambassador, has worked with Ars Nova and artist Hank Willis Thomas on events.

Looking ahead

For all he’s accomplished over the last 18 months, Green’s work is just getting started: He’s committed to opening a brick-and-mortar space, a cool recreational spot for yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and workshops, ideally one in Germantown and West Philly. But he doesn’t want to rush it; he wants it to be nice. Really nice.

“You go into white wellness spaces, and they’re super nice. They get a lot of backing, and that’s my goal. I don’t want to do it if it’s not going to be really nice. We have to take people out of the usual. You can’t just do the rec center all the time.” He’s also moving ahead with plans to offer a virtual platform. “I want to be able to reach everybody.”

Smith admires the path Green has been taking, and recognizes the traps that abound.

“Often the people who are most connected to community are expected to do everything from a space of sweat equity, and then jump through a white gaze to qualify for a nonprofit system that’s not really about investing in you, but tax benefits make it look like they invested in you,” he says. “I think that’s the struggle that Sudan and his advisors have to maneuver through. And it’s a challenge. I mean, for as much as I’m reading about Build Back Better money…I do not see very much capital, energy, or empathy flowing to organizations like Sudan’s, or a host of people who are bringing innovation and passion to the space.”

Sudan Green cross legged in park
Sudan Green | By Sabina Louise Pierce

Green knows this, is not naive. And he’s mature enough to have a firm understanding of the difference between being exploited, and being supported on his journey: Oh, he’d happily work with Penn, with IBX, with Comcast, do the work to bring his work to more people.

He wants to do the work in an inclusive way, for Black men (and all people), including those who want to embrace wellness while still staying part of pop culture, if they so choose; in other words, you can be into yoga and healing and still like nice things. You don’t have to be some, say, bearded ascetic: It doesn’t have to be an either/or, because wellness is deeper than the clothes or sneakers you wear.

On the Spirits Up! homepage, there is text that describes the group’s mission as “Collectively working to heal the black community through yoga & meditation. By any means necessary.”

Having just re-read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I ask Green about the latter phrase, famously adapted from Fanon and Sartre. Green says that as much as that quote inspires him, he’s even more motivated by another quote widely attributed to the revolutionary leader.

“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

“I just believe in being strong in your morals and coming back to your principles daily,” Green says. “Asking yourself who are you showing up for, and why?”

Showing up. It may be what Green is doing most meaningfully: He’s showing up in the name of the community that raised him; the brothers who look up to him; the best friend he lost; and the city who needs him more than ever.

This is the logo for Generation Change Philly, a joint project between The Philadelphia Citizen and Keepers of the Commons that spotlights changemakers in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Citizen is partnering with the nonprofit Keepers of the Commons on the “Generation Change Philly” series to provide educational and networking opportunities to the city’s most dynamic change-makers.

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