Bolstering Community with Rachelle Knowles of Cultivate Union
“I think there's this interesting idea that like, ‘oh, you're teaching yoga, [it must be] super chill.’ But really, folks are working hard to figure out how to be professional and they don't have the support they need. When we're not fueling our teachers, what are we doing?”
Rachelle Knowles understands the arduous, tangled, and complicated road students must navigate if they want to travel from tree pose practicing novice to expert yoga practitioner. As the founder of Cultivate Union, a community non-profit organization that promotes sustainability, access, and equity across the yoga community, Knowles has not only seen the challenges her students face once they decide to take on yoga as a career, but as someone who has practiced since she was just 12-years-old and has taught yoga for nearly a decade, she understands those trials and tribulations first-hand.
“I've been teaching yoga for seven years, and in 2016, a little more than two years ago, I founded [Cultivate Union], a nonprofit of my own, that had two main programs. The biggest one we’ve done is a financial assistance fund for Yoga instructors. Essentially, we function as a grant-making organization,” shared Knowles. “So we've given close to 30 students, if not more, financial assistance to complete advanced and specialized training with the idea of supporting yoga instructors from diverse backgrounds to make the yoga community look more like the real world.”
Not only does Cultivate Union use grants to give yoga access to a diverse group of students, but they work as a partner, helping them to not only take classes that further their careers but ensuring they have equitable careers once their classes are completed.
“Seeing instructors take something like a trauma-informed workshop and receiving the funding to do that when it’s something they’ve been wanting to do for quite some time and then also being able to go full circle and provide them with a sustainable job opportunity where you know those teaching opportunities are typically volunteer-based, so we pay all of our instructors, and we pay them that very equitable rate.”
Cultivate Union once polled their community, asking if they would’ve been able to afford the necessary classes to pursue their yoga career if they hadn’t received financial assistance. Three out of for people surveyed said no. Knowing their impact has pushed them to do even more for potential yoga practitioners, giving opportunities where before there were none, and the stories they hear from the individuals that make up their community validate the fruit of Culture Union’s labor.
“Last year we provided assistance for someone to complete their initial training. What was really exciting about it is, this person is a young queer black man and he is working on a spiritual workbook that integrates practices from the African Diaspora for queer men. It’s so exciting to see what he creates after completing this 200 hours worth of training.”
Much like Cultivate Union’s mission to spread well-being in communities, the Dream Warriors Foundation’s Community Impact Spark Grant supports projects led by an individual or group of individuals that seek to foster change within a specific neighborhood or community in Metro Atlanta. That’s why Knowles was excited to partner with Dream Warriors Foundation and sponsor this year’s grant. For her, it was a chance to take a mission that started with yoga and open it up to a larger audience while still focusing on the main goal of fostering well-being and community.
“What excites me most is how strategic our application process is. Asking questions like, how do you identify? Are you a part of this community that you wish to serve? Then, giving and supporting people with the resources they will need to make an impact in their community.”
So, what projects does Knowles think of when she imagines the best use of the grant? Maybe someone who wants to create a community garden but needs funding for tools. Or, maybe empowering someone who wants to create a nutrition class at their community center but needs funds to print booklets. When it comes to the grant the opportunities to positively impact a community are endless, and it all started with that desire.
“I want to create a resource to bolster the local community. That’s what’s happening with Cultivate Union.”