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Celebrities team up to end SE Qns violence with meditation, yoga

Erica Ford (fifth from l.) and other members of LIFE Camp teach at-risk children how to tackle violence in their communities.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Don’t be surprised if you see southeast Queens activist Erica Ford rubbing shoulders with celebrity guru Deepak Chopra and pop-star Cheryl “Salt” James in the next viral YouTube video.

The three teamed up with city public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani at a forum in St. Albans Monday to discuss ways to get at-risk youngsters involved with tackling violence in their communities.

Chopra, who recently appeared in a commercial with rapper 50 Cent touting the benefits of meditation, suggested using the panel’s collective celebrity to spread their message where it is most likely to reach its target audience.

“Let’s do a five-minute PSA that goes viral,” said Chopra, who is teaching a class on cause-driven marketing at Columbia University. “Let’s do it. We have legends here.”

Ford, who has taken up the cause of addressing inner-city violence as a public health issue, advocates practices such as yoga and meditation to teach youngsters how to take a step back when confronted with violence.

Juquille Johnston, a member of Ford’s LIFE Camp, explained how his yoga training has helped him step aside from the violence that comes at him on a nearly daily basis.

“Where I live, South Jamaica, Queens — Baisley to be exact — it’s dangerous,” the 19-year-old said. “You can get robbed. You can get shot if it gets to that point.”

Yoga instructor Eddie Stern “enlightened us you can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water and a few minutes without breath and most of the time you don’t even realize that you’re breathing,” he said. “Yoga helps you combine your breathing with your natural movements.”

The members of Ford’s program are planning on talking to children in southeast Queens schools about violence, and one of the topics discussed at the forum was how to make that message appealing.

James, who rose to stardom in the 1980s and ’90s as part of the hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa, said that in her earlier years she was the one always looking for a fight or an argument before learning to “live above the drama.” She said she was unsure how to encourage young people to learn the lessons she had.

“I want to ask the young people ... how as a young person do we get young people interested in being involved in these community activities that are present for them?” she asked.

One of the few young men in attendance, who was brought to the meeting by his mother, said he would be turned off by a lesson presented as a lesson.

Saujani, who created a nonprofit that teaches young girls in underserved communities the language of computer programming, said she believed it would be important to talk about violence in terms of the education gap.

“As we see what’s happened in the past months and years about violence, I also think the public advocate has got to be a leader on this issue and talking ... about it in a way in terms of prevention, talking about it in a way in terms of public health,” she said.

She added that approximately 30 percent of Twitter users are black, and Ford agreed with the sentiment that new technologies would be effective in spreading their message.

“I met Deepak through Twitter,” Ford said. “Somebody saw my tweets and connected me to Deepak.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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