Faces of Saint Leonard’s Alumni: Entrepreneur and Yoga Instructor Marshawn

This newsletter was sent to our Saint Leonard’s community email subscribers on August 4, 2023. If you would like to receive future news from Saint Leonard’s, join us and subscribe to receive email updates.

Dear Saint Leonard’s Community,

August is National Black Business Month, and today we introduce Saint Leonard’s Ministries alumnus and entrepreneur, Marshawn Feltus. He participated in several programs and is now giving back what he received.

Saint Leonard’s is committed to embracing supplier diversity at every opportunity. Our Board of Directors and leadership team have included supplier diversity as part of our commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. We have set an ambitious goal of over 50% for Black- and women-owned businesses. Whether it is a one-time project or a long-term vendor relationship, Saint Leonard’s will actively seek to employ Black- and women-owned businesses. We know it is more than just a business relationship. It has a lasting, positive impact on our economy, families and communities.

When Marshawn Feltus needs balance in everyday life, he either sits cross-legged in meditation or lays face-down with one leg crossed under his torso and the other leg fully extended.

In yoga, these are the lotus and pigeon poses.

“For me, balance is a huge thing where I want to be centered for as much as I can mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “Now it’s more natural to me to know when I’m off and then do the little corrective things to get back within a reasonable centered-range of balance.”

It’s a practice Feltus learned while incarcerated, and it extends beyond his personal time. Feltus owns ACT Yoga in the Austin neighborhood, the only such studio on the West Side.

The acronym stands for “Awareness Change Triumph,” an apt title given the chronological thought process for success. That same approach also helps Feltus manage the realities of being an entrepreneur with multiple businesses.

Feltus is a Saint Leonard’s participant who never lived on campus – he’s one of the community-based members who attended several programs. The Culinary Skills Training Program in the kitchen at the Michael Barlow Center, in particular, gave him the skills needed for his other two businesses – operating a catering company and an ice cream truck.

“One of the things I enjoy about Saint Leonard’s is the level of resources that are there,” said Feltus, who also welcomes opportunities to talk to current residents and participants about the Saint Leonard’s experience.

“Some guys have never had a real job, so I talk them through their anxieties of what it could be to do an interview and what it can be like to go and apply for a job. That was one thing that was a mishap for me. I didn’t realize that in my crossover from being released, there was not a lot of places doing paper applications. So I had to get really up-to-speed on technology.”

While incarcerated, there was a day outside when Feltus noticed somebody practicing what looked like karate or tai chi.

Upon learning it was yoga, “I was a guy with insecurities to slough off, so I said ‘Nah, that ain’t for me.’ After a little while of him persuading, I took my first yoga class, and it was so good. I oftentimes joke if yoga was a woman, I would have married her on the spot,” Feltus said.

He started attending the class, and when the teacher moved on, Feltus assumed the leadership role. More than 800 people took the yoga class from 2009 to 2011.

“It was our spiritual and mental escape even though, physically, we were confined,” he said. “For that hour we were practicing, it was hard-pressed to feel incarcerated. I didn’t feel bound in any kind of way.”

When he returned to the West Side, Feltus started teaching yoga in the community and churches. He was the first African-American man to be featured on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine in 2018.

In January, he opened ACT Yoga at 5457 W. Madison St. Participants of all experience levels are encouraged to try a class.

“My approach is to do an opening check-in on people and engage them in a way that’s a conversation – and then an experience. For a nice amount of people in this area, this may be their first time practicing. So you want to give a few house rules and then preface what’s going to happen,” he said.

Once people try the exercise, Feltus said, they may start to realize that many mental and physical advancements lie within themselves. Yoga is the key that unlocks the positive results.

“Here’s such a rich pool that you can tap into that costs you so very little, but it gives you so many benefits” for stress and pain, Feltus said.

“I definitely know, firsthand, that yoga is a good tool to help lighten the load.”

Thank you, Marshawn and thank you for being a member of the Saint Leonard’s Community!

Please consider becoming a part of the Saint Leonard’s Community with a one time or reoccurring monthly gift. If you have questions about Saint Leonard’s, our work, how you can get involved, or making a donation, we want to hear from you!

Tom Rath
Manager of development and Communications

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