Jamar Peete understands the anger driving the riots in Baltimore. He grew up in West Baltimore, went to the now-defunct Walbrook High, about a mile or so from the spot where the riots began Monday. Many of those involved in throwing rocks and bottles at police are the same age as the students he tries to reach every day at Patterson High in Baltimore.
“It’s been very nerve-racking to see the people of the City of Baltimore act the way they are,” Peete says. “The message they’re trying to put out doesn’t equal to the actions they’re putting out. We’re not protecting our communities. You’re supposed to take care of what’s yours. I’m a big believer in change and we really need to come together and take care of what is ours and help rebuild this city.”
Lacrosse, mentors and yoga helped Peete see a life beyond some of the tougher streets of the Charm City. He hopes he can help other youths see beyond their current frustrations. Peete, as a senior defensive midfielder last season, helped Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C., win a Division II national championship. Now he helps run a Mindful Moment program at Patterson that uses yoga techniques, including two daily 15-minute periods of mindfulness practice and a special Mindful Moment room where stressed-out teens can go or disruptive teens can be sent. He’s also in the process of developing a sports-related Mindful Moment program.
Peete was in the fourth grade at Windsor Hills Elementary School in West Baltimore when he was introduced to yoga and meditation through the Holistic Life Foundation.
“My only thoughts about yoga back then involved females and Spandex,” Peete says. “When they came to our school, everything was put at a halt. We were given a reward for paying attention. After participating in a couple of sessions, I saw a change in myself. My focus was enhanced. The guys running the program became my best friends along with other teens. As I continued to grow, I stuck around.”
A natural athlete, Peete excelled at baseball, football and basketball. Ray Harcum, an assistant football coach and JV lacrosse coach at Walbrook, saw that Peete could even go further in lacrosse. In his fourth year of playing lacrosse, he was one of the city leaders in scoring and earned a scholarship to Limestone.
Away from home, playing for a nearly all-white team at a small college in the deep South, he had to make some adjustments.
“I caught myself being stressed out for tests,” Peete says. “I found myself trying to figure out how to react to certain situations. I was able to use certain yoga techniques to help me.”
On the field, he was moved from attacker to defensive midfielder, the better to use his speed.
“Physically, he was developing really well,” Limestone coach J.B. Clarke says. “Emotionally, he was a work in progress. Somewhere in his sophomore year, he really started to figure it out. He learned to not just BS people and become genuine. As much as I enjoyed watching him develop as an athlete, it was more gratifying to see him grow as a person, a leader and to see people gravitate toward him.”
His senior year, he was named a team captain and his senior season culminated in Limestone defeating LIU Post for the national Division II title at MT&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. He was also named a National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American for lacrosse.
“He’s a total success story for us,” says Ali Smith, the co-founder of the Holistic Life Foundation that had helped introduce Peete to yoga when he was in grade school. “The changes in him at Limestone were very easy to see. Jamar realized the only limitations to him were the ones he put on himself. I remember talking with him a couple of years ago and his saying Limestone would win a national championship. To win it in Baltimore, where the Ravens play, was a dream. It was like a family and friends reunion for him there.”
Last summer, Peete helped to put together a Mindful Moment program in Charlotte through the Boys and Girls Clubs. He went back to Limestone in the fall to finish up his degree in sports management and business administration and played for the Saints’ first varsity football team, scoring the team’s first defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery. After graduating in December, he went to work for the Holistic Life Foundation.
“Every time I came back to visit Baltimore, I didn’t see any changes except that there were more vacant houses appearing every day,” Peete says. “Coming back to Baltimore, it hurt my heart to see this place as it continued to deteriorate. I couldn’t let that go on without trying to do something. Where I live now is only a short distance from where I grew up. Last night, I just watched as some areas, stores that I once went to, go up in flames. It was just crazy, all the chaos.”
As an a former college athlete, the 6-foot, 190-pound Peete is able to help students get past any stigma yoga might have of being too girly, too hippie for inner-city teens.
“There are some kids who don’t even want to be in the building, let alone me trying to help them,” Peete says. “Our demeanor as instructors and the way they we carry ourselves can show them that the world is bigger than just their neighborhood.”