Spirits Up | photo by Steven C. W. Taylor | via @spiritsup215
Meditation and Liberation: Sudan Green on the return of his Spirits Up! yoga series and its Juneteenth weekend event Spirit Wake
Sudan Green is a Philadelphia musician, activist, and community organizer whose Spirits Up! series returns this weekend with Spirit Wake, a Juneteenth special with yoga and mediation events featuring music, poetry, dance, and more. Green, along with the folks at All Birds Collective, will spread out in different public spaces around Philadelphia including Rittenhouse Square, Malcolm X Park, Clark Park, Lemon Hill, and Fairmount Park.
Green’s Spirits Up! is a locally-based organization that blends yoga, meditation, music, arts, and alternative wellness to support Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives. The organization launched last summer, sprouting from the unrest that spiraled after each senseless murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Through public spaces in the Philadelphia area, Spirits Up! provides resources these communities often lack. Spirits Up! paves space for liberation, wellness, and safety for those who’ve lived through injustice after injustice.
Wellness and health come in many layers. Systematically and physically, the two interweave into one other. Health resources are often invisible in communities predominantly populated with Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks, so maintaining and improving physical health is the first mission. There’s also a long way to go in health justice, rooted in years of systematic racism against Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. It takes support to build and rebuild each layer. Through socially-distant events, Green leads the way, introducing people to the vitality of a life meant to be lived through the arts and meditation.
This summer, Green plans to continue the arts and meditation programs in Philadelphia with Ars Nova Jazz and Contemporary music workshops scheduled every other Wednesday starting July 7th to September 22nd at The Woodlands Cemetery and Arboretum, a National Historic Landmark and community backyard. All events are free.
In addition to these events, Spirits Up! is “raising funds to bring a permanent Black-centered healing space to Germantown. The brick and mortar will provide a safe place for practitioners of all fields to come and speak to our community, from herbalists to doulas,” as noted on the organization’s website. “We aim to be the glue that connects the larger wellness community to our black and brown communities.”
Green was generous enough to talk with The Key on his purpose behind the organization, the roots of how Spirits Up came to fruition, and share the exciting growth of what’s in store.
The Key: Can you tell me a bit about the events for this weekend?
Sudan Green: Spirits Up events are a reiteration of what we did last year, holding space for Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, and all other people as well. These events hold space for them to practice yoga, meditation, breathwork, and introduced those who don’t know to it. When I went to yoga classes in the past, I was usually the only Black person. I’ve never had a Black instructor. These spaces at Spirits Up help Black, Brown, and Indigenous people get well since they’re so many systems against them. You go into a neighborhood in Philadelphia and it’s predominantly Black and Brown and you can’t find good community health centers or even good individual practices. So I definitely want to provide that alternative wellness for the community.
TK: Can you elaborate more on that power of community and community healing you introduced?
SG: Spirits Up essentially started as protesting for Black wellness and health. But we realized how dope the community was, and everyone else did too, which is why they keep coming out. I feel really nurtured and hugged and at home when I practice with all these different faces as opposed to walking into a yoga studio. I pretty much only see white women and some white men, but it’s usually white people, in studios. And hopefully, that changes. I haven’t been back in the studio since last summer. This community that we hold is really really strong. There are so many people out there for the first time. You see how attractive yoga is when it’s in a park and mad bodies are practicing. People just sit down, you know. And you don’t always see that— even when there are concerts or dancing. Yoga and alternative wellness invite people in. It’s a “I need this” as your body is called to it when it’s been depleted.
TK: Why specifically did you choose yoga as a means of liberation?
SG: It started as just yoga, but it’s all about alternative wellness. And I want to highlight all the practitioners across the board as well. But I find yoga to be highly healing and therapeutic. I’ve dealt with a lot of things. Spirits Up was a song before it was an event and a community. It was a song for my friend who was murdered about two years ago due to gun violence. It’s also a seed of his ambition and his love. I took him and I went into a yoga class and that was the moment where I could talk to him and see him in meditation, see him in savasana [a resting pose].
TK: Accessibility comes in many forms. And I’m wondering: what types do you have at your events? Are you always trying to grow?
SG: I tend to work with teachers who are very caring and aware of access and access to yoga and different body types. In terms of where these events take place, we practice in public spaces. As of right now, we’re only as good as our access to those spaces. So it also tells the city that we do have to make these more accessible. Most of the yoga teachers we work with, and sometimes we work with new ones to give them a platform as a new teacher, are very attuned to safety whenever there’s an injury or if someone is disabled. They’re so inclusive, and that’s also why I love Black, Brown, and Indigenous teachers. They’re very much reflective of their cultures, and what the culture brings. And to me, that’s also a staple of accessibility.
TK: As people of color like you and I, it’s almost as if we have to be more aware of how to exist in this world. Often, it’s repeatedly catering to other types of people, constantly.
SG: Yes, exactly.
TK: I wanted to jump to your relationship to music for a bit. I do know of your work as a rapper, but can you tell me about how music and wellness interweave into one another?
SG: The mission of Spirits Up is collaborating music with healing. We provide creative spaces for people to practice alternative wellness in a multitude of ways. That usually looks like music, poetry, or storytelling with a class, either before or after. And I definitely still make music. I still keep my rapping and poetry real, but I’m trying to tap into the mediation aspect of it. Luckily, I’ve been around artists who have already been tapping into that as DJs or as producers. They’re tapping into the meditative sound waves. It’s in their music. I want to work with people and learn meditative music because that’s in my blood, the music side of things. For instance, today we did a breathwork class and there was a Brazilian guitarist as well.
TK: What do you think Spirits up has in store for the future? Will there be more music, pop-ups, and DIY arts?
SG: I’m training to become an instructor by August. I’m going to be teaching some classes. And I want to bring in the creative world of arts as well. It’ll be a really big touchpoint for kids to find mediation and yoga in cool ways. I want to get on my two feet regularly, be welcoming and withstanding, and really be able to explore the world of mediation and music.
The Spirit Wake continues with events on June 18th, June 19th, and June 20th, culminating in a Woodlands Cemetary event with Ars Nova on the 20th with saxophone player Dahi Divine. All events are free, more information can be found here.