Tune in each Tuesday in May for #TellUsAboutIt Tuesday where we will check back in with a few individuals who participated in last year’s Let’s Face It campaign and learn about their experience as well as what they’ve been up to since participating. 

This Tuesday, we’re checking in with Vern Montoute, you can read Vern’s story from last year’s campaign here: https://www.mhconn.org/blog/may23/

When Vern agreed to share her story as an opportunity to connect with MHC, she wasn’t sure what to expect or what direction the story would go. When she started thinking about stereotypes, Vern thought of her journey within the yoga industry. “It was a great experience to be able to tell my story because I feel like a lot of people feel this way but they don’t really speak on it,” she said.

“People really received it well. When it actually came out people said to me that I was addressing a very important topic that people need to be more aware of, so I was just happy to be able to be the person to share a light on it,” she said. Vern’s hope with sharing her story is that more people will be aware of the stereotypes in the wellness and yoga world, “For me, it was like an immediate yes to get more people to be aware and hopefully change that narrative,” she says.

Vern had a lot of support in sharing her story, especially from other yoga instructors of color who reached out to say that it is such an important topic to cover and thanking Vern for representing a larger voice, “So many of us have a similar story of when we got into yoga and being the only Black person in that space and feeling uncomfortable and not knowing if we’ll return and all of that,” she said.

Vern said discussing this topic was almost like carrying a badge of honor, “It’s beautiful to witness the transition and how open people have become to [yoga] over the years and how many more Black people are getting into it,” she said.

A few months after participating in the Let’s Face It campaign last year, Vern got her own studio space, “I was super inspired to make a change and create a space for us to feel comfortable to explore yoga and wellness and not feel like oh this isn’t the space for you. That experienced helped to push me to really get a space to create an environment where people can really flourish and explore wellness in general not just yoga,” she said.

Vern’s new studio Peace of Royalty had its official grand opening in September in the town of Milford. “Milford is predominantly white, and I know that I’m the first black owned yoga studio in Milford, and that in itself is a huge deal,” said Vern, “Creating space and taking up space in a community where you don’t see a lot of people who look like me. I wanted to be here because it’s important for me to take up space.”

Now, Vern is just trying to grow awareness to folks in the area that she’s there.

Vern said she’s happy because people are coming from all different places, and then when asked them how they found her, they said they would look up “Black owned yoga studio in Connecticut,” that’s when Vern realized she was one of the first and only Black owned studios in Connecticut.

Unfortunately, Vern has been met with discrimination from some of the individuals in the building where she opened her studio, “That has been so disheartening for me because not only am I bringing positive diversity within the area, I am literally doing something healing for the community.” she said. “For months I have been accused of doing things that I am not, and this has continued even after winning a hearing back in February. At this point it honestly feels like harassment and frankly even racist. I am just doing my best to stay positive and persistent so that it doesn’t affect my clients. I have to maintain my own peace and calm in order to provide them with peace and calm.”

Everyone is welcomed within my studio, but I recognize the importance of creating a safe space so that Black people can see there’s another Black person doing something that maybe they’re curious about but were nervous to try, because they haven’t seen people who look like them doing it,” she said. Vern says because of this she has to remind herself that this is bigger than her, and not get discouraged, “I definitely feel like okay these people don’t want me here. I’ve felt uncomfortable, and I even felt unsafe,” she said, “Emotionally it was upsetting being accused over and over of doing things I wasn’t doing. It got so bad that I even had to involve the police in an effort to protect myself and my business. Thankfully, I am currently obtaining help from other organizations to put an end to this so that I continue to focus on growing my business Peace of Royalty.”

Vern said she’s trying to focus on the good she’s doing, and she’s exciting to have a physical space for her business. She even started doing monthly workshops called Yoga & Vibes that allow her to collaborate with other holistic wellness practitioners in the community to give them and area to showcase their own skills and talents, “We had a vision board party, we had an esthetician come in and we did facials, I’ve brought an herbalist, and last month they had a cannabis consultant come in to talk.”

Vern is excited for the next steps and for meeting more folks in wellness spaces, “I love collaborating with people and telling them about the goodness that is within the community.”

Learn more about Vern and her studio by checking out Peaceofroyalty.com and follow @peaceofroyalty on social media.