Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Joanna Brooks, Embody Yoga owner and Jrue Holiday grant recipient
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- On the heels of the Milwaukee Bucks' championship win, we have an everyday hero who knows how great the team's players can be off the court, too.
Joanna Brooks, owner of Embody Yoga, recently got a grant from the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund. She's using that money to expand her business and continue her mission of bringing yoga to more people of color.
"On your inhale, circle arms overhead," Brooks said into a microphone as she led an outdoor yoga class recently at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
It was a beautiful summer Saturday on Milwaukee's lakefront, and dozens of people came to take part in the free class.
"Look forward, see me," she instructed.
What Brooks wants people to see, is that yoga is for everyone.
"Because a lot of people, they may not be familiar with the process of a yoga class. What does it mean, what does it look like, what do you do when you come into a studio," she said of questions she frequently hears from new students.
Brooks started Embody Yoga in 2015, holding classes in church gyms. Her current studio is inside Sherman Phoenix on Milwaukee's north side, but yoga is a practice she started long ago.
"I love telling this story," she said with a big smile. "So, I actually started when I was in middle school."
Each morning, Brooks woke up when her older siblings went off to school, and she practiced yoga with Priscilla Patrick on PBS.
"Went in the living room, turned on the TV, and there was this woman on channel 10 doing yoga," she said. "And I sat on the carpet and just followed along and I really liked it. So, I just kept doing it."
She kept at it, and realized at the end of a class one day that she wanted to be a yoga instructor herself.
"I had this moment of clarity, where I thought and knew at the same time that I would become a yoga teacher, because I wanted to help people feel the exact same way that I felt in that particular moment," she said.
As her practice deepened, she also noticed something.
"Like when you think about yoga studios, wellness centers, things like that, you don't really find any in the heart of the city. You don't find them on the north side of Milwaukee," Brooks said.
Her mission became sharing yoga with people of color.
"I think having representation in the yoga field makes it more approachable," she explained.
Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Brooks decided to start a scholarship program for yoga teacher training, which can cost up to $4,000 and take six months to a year to complete.
"We had so much support from the community, and so much support from the Embody Yoga family, that we were actually able to send, I think it was a total of six women that we pretty much were able to provide full scholarships for," she said with pride.
Jamila Carney has been with friends with Brooks since the beginning.
"Joanna and I are like yoga bff's," Carney said with a big laugh.
Carney has watched Brooks' business grow over the years, so she also shared in Brooks' joy when she recently got some big news.
"I screamed at the top of my lungs," Carney said.
Brooks had applied for a grant from the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund. She got a call that she was a finalist and thought there would be another round of interviews, but when she got on the zoom call, Lauren Holiday announced the good news.
"Her and Jrue just wanted to tell us themselves, and be able to see our reaction," Brooks said.
The Bucks star and his wife, Lauren, an Olympic gold medalist, are donating a million dollars to Black-owned businesses and nonprofits.
"I think it's really great they went out of their way to create, not just the grant fund, but also the incubator program, where we receive additional training, mentoring and coaching," Brooks said.
Carney, who is also a yoga teacher, is proud of Brooks' accomplishments.
"When Joanna wins, the entire Embody Yoga family wins," Carney said.
Brooks already has plans in the works to expand her business and provide scholarships for training more teachers.
"It needs to be more than my 4-5 teachers on staff, right? We need to have more representation and more studios around the city," she said.
When the program is all said and done, Brooks could get a total of $50,000 to grow Embody Yoga.
"Joanna is like an angel here on earth," Carney said. "She is the sweetest, kindest, most giving person that I know."
To find out more about Embody Yoga, just visit www.embodyyogamke.com, or find them on Facebook and Instagram at @embodyyogamke.
If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.