Changa Bell, founder of the Black Male Yoga Initiative and fellow of the RedBull Amaphiko program, talks about the program's impact on Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)
Changa Bell leads dozens of Baltimoreans through a weeknight meditation exercise at the Shake and Bake Family Fun Center. Then the group, encouraged by CJay Philip of Dance & Bmore, breaks out into a colorful dance party. Roller skating follows.
It feels like a night of carefree fun, but underneath it all, change-makers are hard at work, focused on bettering their community. That's what the U.S. Red Bull Amaphiko Academy is all about.
The multifaceted social entrepreneurship program, which was launched in South Africa in 2014, is holding its first United States program in Baltimore, kicking off with a 10-day celebration that began Aug. 11.
Hosted throughout the city, Red Bull Amaphiko features a series of community events, exhibits, panels and performances open to the public, providing guidance and mentorship for its 15 academy fellows — social entrepreneurs dedicated to uplifting their community through grass-roots-led endeavors. And those fellows' work will continue after the weeklong event.
"The program and platform is all about supporting people and ideas. It's about supporting people in the community that are on the grass-roots level," said A.J. White, U.S. Red Bull Amaphiko program manager.
Out of 250 applicants, White said the program chose 15 fellows, six of whom are from Baltimore: Bell, the founder of Black Male Yoga Initiative; Brittany Young, the founder of dirt bike and STEM community partnership B-360; Cadeatra Harvey, founder of the advocate organization and online marketplace for young black artists Baltimore's Gifted; Walker Marsh, founder of green space initiative Tha Flower Factory; Muhammad Najeeullah, creator of interactive robotic gaming system The Pop Up Robot Gaming Grounds; and Dominic Nell, who runs City Weeds, which works to sell microgreens in corner and liquor stores in the city. Each is working to solve an issue in the community they are from, White said.
The Amaphiko Academy will work with the fellows for the next 18 months, assisting them in various parts of their projects by connecting them with experts and coaches to help with storytelling, outreach and communication, and identifying potential funders.
Hosted three times in South Africa and twice in Brazil, Amaphiko first considered Baltimore as a site after photojournalist Martha Cooper, a Baltimore native, showed organizers a photo essay with images of Southwest Baltimore, urging the program to take a look at the community. Once they did, they weren't disappointed, White said.
Amaphiko organizers were overwhelmed by the many initiatives happening throughout the city and the sense of community, White said, adding that many had a go-getter attitude of "I saw a problem … I'm an individual, I'm going to solve it."
"That's the spirit of the program," White emphasized.
Bell, like other fellows, has been attending and helping with many of the Amaphiko events that are open to the public this week. But he's also been working hard on his Black Male Yoga Initiative, attending closed lectures, panels, coaching clinics, storytelling workshops and business simulations held specifically for the Amaphiko fellows and participants.
"It feels like college, a week before finals. … We're inundated with so much information. It's all positive, but it's a lot. We go from early into the morning and late in the evening, just exchanging ideas," said Bell, 45. He founded the Black Male Yoga Initiative in 2015, a nonprofit that aims to educate, engage and empower black men through ages 16 to 65 through yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Thus far, his program has served more than 150 people, but his goal is to reach even more. In the next year and a half, Bell will work with his Amaphiko mentor to expand his program by certifying more African-Americans as yoga teachers in major cities, especially along the East Coast, who can then train others.
"They're pulling us together to cultivate a cohort, to energize one another and then to help us cultivate how to do narrative structure, how to increase our impact with greater social potential. … It's been a really supportive thing."
Most importantly, Bell said, lecturers and participants from across the globe are congregating in cultural landmarks in Baltimore, including Arena Players, where Red Bull and its participants hosted a night of storytelling and performances Thursday, and the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, which hosted the program's open house and an exhibit featuring various participants.
"I wasn't going to come at first because I was by myself, but I decided why not. It was a great decision," she said. "They're engaging with the community. It's really nice to see everybody together."
Malaika Aminata Clements, 26, a participant of the yoga event, said the program has been bringing people who have long been working to making positive changes in the local community to the forefront with extra support.
Clements, of Charles Village, has been involved with Amaphiko events throughout the week. She helped curate the "What We Learn While Waiting" exhibit at the Eubie Blake center, incorporating works by local photographer Shan Wallace, and organized panels, including conversations about the recent Baltimore Ceasefire initiative. She will also present her short film "The Beauty in the Broken," which highlights the work and community involvement of Baltimore artist and mosaic-maker Loring Cornish, at Amaphiko's culminating festival Sunday.
"Red Bull Amaphiko is building relationships with people, doing work through their brand and people who are leaders and change-makers," Clements added. "They're doing it the right way — supporting with revenue, funding, knowledge, and opportunities that weren't necessarily here before."
If you go
Red Bull Amaphiko Festival's culminating event, a collaboration with Impact Hub Baltimore, will feature a range of entertainment in Station North, with performances by local artists Abdu Ali, Ultra Naté, Bond Street District and more. There will also be discussions and presentations featuring author and Baltimore native D. Watkins, local photographer Devin Allen, and Afropunk Festival co-founder Jocelyn Cooper. 3 p.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. 2 North Ave. Free. amaphiko.redbull.com.