BeautifulRVA Community Storytelling: Ram Bhagat of Drums No Guns
by Lauren Francis
Ram Bhagat was retired when he got a phone call from Richmond Public Schools. They wanted him on board as they moved towards a restorative justice and trauma informed care approach to working with students, families and the community.
“Most people, I think, want to resolve their conflicts in a healthy way,” he says, “Some people might not know how.”
He taught in Richmond schools for 30 years. After his first retirement, he took a sabbatical to India, then he returned to Richmond working with youth across the city through the Richmond Peace Educational Center. Then, he taught in D.C. before returning to Armstrong High School where he worked with freshmen on yoga and peacemaking circles, which he’s been curating since before they had a name.
Now, as the Director of School Climate and Culture, he’s implementing mindfulness practices in schools across the city. He’s piloted the program at Albert Hill Middle School, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Boushall Middle School. The three schools now feature mindfulness rooms, where students can decompress, do yoga or otherwise just take a moment for themselves in stressful moments. It creates new pathways for responses to recurring issues.
More still, Bhagat has collaborated with the Richmond Food Justice Alliance to establish raised bed gardens at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. The ultimate goal is for students to sustain and care for the garden in perpetuity.
“I think a lot of times when students act out,” Bhagat says, “it’s because they’re feeling disconnected. So the garden or the earth is a way to reconnect with self, and to connect with something that’s larger like an ecosystem or an energy system.”
Prior to taking on the job, Bhagat had applied for the first cohort of Lewis Ginter’s Urban Gardener Program. The twelve-week program teaches sustainable horticulture, urban greening and community building, to provide citizens with the skills necessary to increase community-supported urban green spaces. As a part of the program, participants also propose their own project.
Bhagat proposed transforming his own backyard, right down the street from Boushall Middle School, into a yoga garden with labyrinth, herbs and meditation spaces. Then when he got the job, he started to see a connection between gardening and restorative justice, which sparked his idea for what he calls “RUGS” — restorative urban garden spaces.
His daughter Kiran and wife Traci participated in later cohorts and are actively working to bring the vision to life. The Bhagats’ envision the front and backyard gardens as an opportunity to help students reconnect with the earth and themselves. More still, in a school district where over two-hundred students were shot just this past school year, they see it as a space for family’s affected by gun violence to heal.
“It’s the work,” he says, “that’s why we use the motto ‘I am the work’. It’s a solution. It’s like, I am because we are.”
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