How Yoga And Meditation Transformed This Underserved Elementary School

Photograph by Tara Donne

“Yoga?! Puerto Ricans don’t do yoga.”

Sonia Vazquez, the principal of Donegan Elementary School on the South Side of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was incredulous when yoga instructor Kira Willey first proposed to teach Donegan students yoga and meditation. Willey thought she could help Donegan’s students develop crucial mindfulness skills that would help them cope with stress, and learn young how to self-regulate their emotions and reactions.

Donegan United Way Community School is housed in a brick building a short walk away from the monolithic relic of the Bethlehem’s old Steel Stacks, a reminder of the eastern Pennsylvanian city’s former industrial might as a center of steel production—and of its subsequent decline. Ninety-eight percent of the 479 children at Donegan come from families at or below the poverty level and qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Vazquez, an immaculately dressed, no-nonsense Puerto Rican woman wearing heels and a short brown bob, grew up two blocks down the street from the school, and spent her career in the Bethlehem school district, working for eight years as a disciplinarian. She became Donegan’s principal in 2012, and was fiercely dedicated to her students and passionate about improving the school—and willing to try new things to do so.

“These kids come from a high rate of poverty,” she says, “They deal with stress and difficulties and getting yelled at that all the time—I don’t want them to deal with that in school. I want them to have a safe place, a quiet place, more than anything, a positive place.”

Though she didn’t really think yoga had a snowflake’s chance in hell at Donegan, she gave Willey—and yoga—a shot.

Read the whole story here


I Do Not Deserve This President


By: Gina Tomaine

The day after Donald Trump won the Electoral College, I went to work, climbed the stairs to my office, shut the door, crawled under my desk, and cried into my knees.

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”

Most people were upset at my office. But I was despondent. I was taken by surprise by the scope of my own despair. It was a depth of feeling I didn’t know I was capable of.

 “I did try and fuck her. She was married.”

The realization of Trump’s electoral victory came slowly, but then all at once, not like falling in love, more like the scene where they fall into the garbage chute in A New Hope, and realize they are surrounded by putrid waste, and about to be smooshed.

“Just kiss. I don’t even wait.

And when you’re a star, they let you do it.

You can do anything.”

I had been ensconced, I realized, in a rosy worldview born of my privilege and success in my life so far, an ignorance of what was right in front of me. Now, I looked around at the world with a simple and finite understanding of its lack of concern for me.

I felt adrift in my own female body as the truth dawned.

The truth: a man had bragged about sexual assault, and we had elected him president.

 “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

The next day, at noon I ran hard on a trail through the woods to clear my head. I tried to not think of anything at all, except my breaths in and out, my steps on the path.

When I came back to our open cafeteria during lunch, a friend wanted to see my Spibelt running pack, in case she wanted to buy one. She unzipped it, revealing my office key card, and a canister of pepper spray.

“What do you need that for?” a male friend at the table laughed.

“Because every time I go out for a run, guys harass me,” I said.

“No way,” he said, “Like what do they say?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“You really want examples?”

He nodded.

“Okay…. They say things like: Hey mommy; Hey baby; Move that ass; Aw yeah keep working it girl; Looking good in that outfit; Why don’t you slow down and come over here…”

He looked shocked.

“People actually say that to you?”

“Every. Time.”

“Plus,” nodding to our Pennsylvania surroundings, “this place is full of Trump voters, who apparently support sexual assault,” I said with arched eyebrows.

“No, they don’t!” he said, laughing a little.

“Trump literally said it’s OK to grab women by “their pussies.” And people still actually voted for him.”

I knew the direct equation wasn’t true and it was just a factor of me being upset that day. I knew the many people who voted for Trump, including those close to me, had their own reasons for overlooking the candidate’s various warning signs and character flaws, and voting in spite of, and not because of, his bigotry and sexism. I also knew it wasn’t my friend’s fault that this had happened. It was actually impressive that he asked. Most men don’t want to know.

In that exchange, though, a broader truth dawned on me: most men actually didn’t know, couldn’t even comprehend, what is so obvious to every woman: how much we are harassed, in tiny ways, day in and day out.

In a recent Runner’s World article on “Running While Female,” even the men who work at the title admitted that they also had no idea how much harassment and verbal abuse we face on the road, and how those smaller, bearable abuses always comes with the terror-inducing side dish of the chance of physical attack or rape.

That shocked me, too, until I realized, as women, we don’t talk about it. We accept so much of these verbal abuses as a fact of life, something we shrug off, or laugh about, or just keep quiet and hope it goes away because it makes us more uncomfortable to admit it happened, and it makes others uncomfortable when we admit it.

That silence has somehow led to many people I know thinking it is okay, and normal, for a man to disparage women and still be a public role model for our country.

I knew from how I handled the rest of my life that I was supposed to just accept things like Trump’s comments about sexual harassment, because I was a woman.

That I was supposed to be nice, and peaceful, and accommodating. That we were all supposed to just shush about this and move on, because, of course, he “didn’t mean it.”

I am an unmarried, white, Italian-American 29-year-old woman. I have a Master’s degree and a good job. I have a loving, middle-class family who supports me, and I am safe and insulated from most of Trump’s threats.

But I can’t say the same for women and men of color who are discriminated against in terrible, tiny ways every day, for my many LGBTQ friends and family members who, after hard-won victories for equality under Obama, still have to worry about walking in public holding hands with a person of the same sex, or for those who could be losing their healthcare, which could mean bankruptcy or death.

I can’t say the same when I walk down the street with my boyfriend, who has brown skin and a beard, and random old white men give us the middle finger—shout obscenities at us from a truck, tell him to “go back to his country.”

They don’t know that he’s a cancer researcher who might one day help to save someone they love, or that he volunteers at an animal shelter and runs charity races and knows how to make risotto. They also don’t know what country he’s from.

In my life I am luckier than many. Even if I endure it with my boyfriend, with my friends, I still don’t personally endure abuse on account of my skin color, religion or sexual orientation.


But I am a woman. And that means I am in danger of being sexually harassed every time I walk outside of my door. I am, as every woman is, intensely and quietly aware of this fact, even when we don’t talk about it.

I wear a jacket or a shawl to cover my shoulders if I know I’ll be walking somewhere on my own at night. I try to have a hat to cover my long blonde hair, or carry a hair-tie to pull it up. I cross deserted streets when I see men coming towards me on my walk home.

I take short, intentional, furious steps while I glare and push ahead, chin up, keys jingling, pepper spray near, projecting that I am always only twenty feet from my destination. This is how I get home on my own at night.

If this seems dramatic or overly cautious, try being a woman walking through the city and deal with the constant catcalls. Or try being a woman going for a run on your own, and see if you feel safe. Three women were murdered this past year, just for running during the afternoon, just because they were outside in a secluded area, alone, and female.

As women, we do what we can—we try to walk one another as far home as we can manage, and solve the rest with an urgent “text me when you get home” plea.

And society teaches me that that is normal. That I shouldn’t talk too much about it, or how it affects me. That my only recourse is to act vigilantly—that if I get caught running on my own, walking on a dark road, or if I have too much to drink at a party, whatever happens to me is my fault.

I am tired of this charade that sexual violence is normal, and that the women who are less lucky than me were somehow at fault. I am tired of people being accepting of men who brutalize young women and blame it on drinking.

I am tired of people explaining away a sixty year-old man saying he has a right to grab women between the legs, whether they are married or not, because he has power.

I am tired of seeing Lauren Duca criticized by Tucker Carlson for caring about both Arianna Grande’s thigh-high boots and the societal implications of a Trump presidency.

I am tired of Duca having to tell him that she has a right to be here and also be a woman. I am tired of her being immediately and widely sexually harassed online as “punishment,” (Read her eloquent response to the harassment here).

I am tired of being silent. I am tired of putting my feelings aside to make sure everyone else is comfortable. Of being the peacemaker. Of being the nurturing woman.

I am tired of keeping quiet when someone is stomping all over my right to exist, and my right to be a woman, and my right to object to rape and sexual assault being glorified by the person ascending to the highest office in our country.

At sixty, Trump said you could commit sexual assault as long as you could get away with it.

At seventy, Trump suggested that the women who came forward about him sexually assaulting them were too ugly for him to rape.

Today, he will become the President of the United States of America.

I am tired, tired, tired of it.

I am smart, hard working, and driven. I paint my nails and I go to work. I try not to berate myself when I skip a workout and I have real, rational opinions about the state of the world. And I do not deserve to be raped.

I do not deserve to hear from anyone, let alone a man in the highest power, that it is okay for me to be raped.

I do not deserve to be told that joking about rape is normal.

I do not deserve this president.

And on Saturday, I will be marching in the Women’s March.

Because I’ve never deserved this—

But this time, I’m finally saying so.


Repealing the Affordable Care Act Is Immoral

Through the Affordable Care Act, I was able to stay on my parents’ healthcare until I was 26, and then buy healthcare for myself and pay it every month as I worked full-time building my business and career as an adjunct professor of English and a freelance magazine writer. My brother was able to buy his insurance through the ACA to work full time at a job that does not offer health insurance, while still writing and creating comics and recording and selling music, building his own career and business rather than being forced to work for an employer to get healthcare. Millions of others were able to afford payments for care through the ACA even though they suffer from cancer or another terrible disease, because of the provision not to deny healthcare based on a pre-existing condition. Repealing the ACA harshly punishes people who put everything into their own small businesses and dreams, and sentences others to bankruptcy and death. The ACA is imperfect and should be revised and improved in many ways, but that does not mean repealing it. In my opinion, repealing the ACA with no replacement is not only irresponsible but also completely immoral.


Esquire article on the repeal here:

Why You Should Try Meditating While Running (and How to Do It)

meditationrunningginaI’m running down Kelly Drive in Philadelphia on an unseasonably warm fall day, my purple sneakers softly thudding against the ground. As I run, I notice a young boy skateboarding on the street, and the way his red hat flops to the side. I pass dry-looking trees and plump geese gathered in the grass next to the trail, and a couple kissing on a rock overlook. I notice the way the water ripples as a racing shell cuts cleanly through the center of the Schuylkill River and glides away from me.

Would you guess that I’ve been meditating this whole time?

Read the rest of my article in Runner’s World.

5 Things I Learned From Taking Yoga In A Foreign Language For A Month

It was filled with shots like a stunning aerial view of Vatican City from the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral; plates of spaghetti and glasses of red wine resting on a classic checked tablecloth on a candlelit Trastevere evening; me laughing behind Ray-bans on a boat off Capri Island in glimmering sunlight.

Of course, it’s Instagram. So what it didn’t show was the truth: that I was feeling a little sick and sluggish. I was wiped out from the constant travel, daily planning, organizing itineraries, and sightseeing—combined with eating heaps of mozzarella and an ungodly amount of prosciutto.

Read the rest here.

“Death of a Goat” in Whirlwind Magazine’s Paralysis issue

The Death of a Goat

            “My brother was killed like a goat,” Boi said, leaning up against the crumbling concrete wall of the old campsite.

“What?” I said.

“That’s why I didn’t watch when they killed the goat today. My brother was killed like a goat.”

“That’s awful, Boi. I’m so sorry.”

I leaned against the wall next to him, my mind racing with doubts—about if I could begin to understand his situation, if I could appropriately respond, and then, just as quickly, if Boi was telling the truth, if his brother really was beheaded with a knife.

I had not noticed that Boi hadn’t watched the slaughter of the goat with the rest of us that day. Yet he felt as if he should explain himself, as if the absence of his presence was abnormal and required justification.

“Did you watch?” He asked me inquisitively, but with no judgment behind the question.


Read the rest of the story at Whirlwind Magazine.



“Bastille Day, Philadelphia” published in Painted Bride Quarterly

“Lips and your beard and dark doorways
and the sense that I didn’t quite understand how the stars hung that way,
or the way we’d partied and drank Coronas
at a prison where men had languished and died in
feverish, dreamless solitude,
where they had locked up Al Capone until
time slipped on and on enough,
and suddenly we were drunk and shouting “Vive la France,”
eating cake a woman tossed to us from a mossy stone tower
in a pink Victorian dress.”

Read the full poem online in Painted Bride Quarterly.