Whether it’s yoga, professional football, or another path, many organizations work toward criminal justice reform.

Transformation Yoga Project uses its trauma-sensitive yoga programs to serve those who are incarcerated, in reentry, in communities disproportionately affected by incarceration and those working within the justice system. The yoga and mindfulness programs give the organization a platform to speak about criminal justice with research and its impacts.

Working around the Philadelphia area, 35,000 people have gone through the TYP programs, and 50 trauma-informed teachers go into facilities every week. Working with the participants, the organization hopes to address the high rate of psychological stress and reduced well-being experiences by those affected by the prison system.

Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long, along with many other NFL football players, tackle the same issues off the field in a different way: using their platform as NFL players to raise discussion about social injustice.

In an interview with CBS News, Jenkins spoke about “learning the ins and outs of our justice system” and using that to change minds:

“It’s really not that tough of a change. When you look at politics, it really comes down to priority. And we’ve talked to lawmakers all over the place that would agree that a lot of these reforms need to change, would agree that things are unfair, are just a little unjust. But if voters aren’t clamoring about it, then it’s not high enough on the priority to change things.”

In 2010, the Eagles safety launched The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to bring positive change in the lives of youth in underserved communities. The foundation’s various programs emphasize mentorship, character development, leadership, education, life skills health and recreation.

Also using his platform to enact change, Long donated his entire 2017 contract to increase educational equality. His first six game checks were donated to fund scholarships in his hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia. Then he launched the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign, which contributed more than $1.3 million for education equity and opportunity programs.

“Football provides a livelihood for not only us, but the other 2,000 players that are in the league and those to come and those who came before us,” Jenkins said in the interview with CBS News. “So we never want to do anything that's going to damage the game… but at the end of the day lives of everyday Americans are more important than my ability to make a living."

This vision and voice for those who may not be given such also spreads through the actions of the Players Coalition, an alliance formed by NFL players two years ago to achieve social and racial equality and impact systemic social and civic change. The Coalition successfully lobbied for three criminal justice reform bills this past off-season:

  • Massachusetts raised the juvenile detention age from 7 to 12

  • Louisiana restored voting rights to people convicted of a felony who’ve been on probation or parole for five years

  • Pennsylvania passed the Clean Slate Act, which seals the records of those with misdemeanors after 10 years, along with those arrested but not convicted of a crime

Malcolm Jenkins co-founded the alliance in 2015 with former NFL-player Anquan Boldin, and they added a Task Force Board of 12 voting members, including Chris Long, Doug Baldwin, Kelvin Beachum, Demario Davis, Devin McCourty, Josh McCown, Josh Norman, Rodney McLeod, Torrey Smith and Benjamin Watson.

In August, the NFL backed the Players Coalition with a social justice partnership, pledging $89 million in support of their programs and activism. The Coalition’s latest focuses are to End Cash Bail, Rock the Vote and support other social issues to end social injustices and racial inequality.

“Once we were able to lend our platform, our voices and be able to sit down with legislators, it made a big difference,” Jenkins said in the CBS News interview. “That's why we laugh when people say, 'stick to the sports,' because we see firsthand how much impact we can have.”

Jenkins led a discussion on the first Sunday of the NFL season called a “listen and learn” session in Philadelphia with business, community and government leaders about bail reform and jobs.

Last year, the Eagles player visited Graterford Prison to learn more about the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. There he met Kempis Songster, who spent 30 years incarcerated. In 2004, Songster picked up yoga fully and went on to graduate from TYP’s 200-hour trauma-sensitive yoga teacher training. Since then, he’s helped with the organization’s special events, providing his insights and knowledge to the yoga teachers.

And after his release in January, Songster was invited to Super Bowl LII by Jenkins. In an interview with the NY Daily News, Jenkins said he wanted to do something special for him after learning about him getting out.

"I didn't know what, but I knew I wanted to do something to celebrate him coming home because I understood he really dedicated himself to a life of service and he's trying to repay what he's taken from society,” Jenkins told the Daily News. “I know he has some great ideas and we're trying to accomplish the same thing when we talk about reform and healing our communities."

TYP admires the commitment Jenkins, Long and the Players Coalition have to the community and is happy to be doing work alongside them. As members of the City of Brother Love, we are glad to offer our programs and positively impact lives.

This blog post was written and researched by Connor Fogel. For more information or to contact Connor about the blog, you can reach him at connor@transformationyogaproject.org.

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