Jotina Buck has been curating Yoga in the 5th—a space for healing through yoga in Houston’s Fifth Ward—for the last two and a half years. This past December was her last iteration of what has become a celebration of community and the practice of wellness in Houston. Almost half of Fifth Ward residents are Black, and most of the other half Hispanic. In a Greater Fifth Ward Community Assessment, the Houston Health Department reports that a staggering 43% of Fifth Ward households report a cancer diagnosis and 50% of respondents say their self-reported health is fair or poor.
Once an unfathomable idea, Jotina and Fifth Ward community leaders decided to bring yoga, a wellness practice usually associated with the affluent, into a community plagued with health and wealth disparities. Her determination to expand the horizons of those most marginalized has been a driving force in her healing work. Through her vision—and by listening to her call and the community’s needs—she has forged a path and created facilities and activities that fill the needs of the people she serves.
Jotina is the leader and founder of Root+Yoke Wellness, the first and only Black queer female-led integrative mental healthcare practice in Houston. The journey to becoming a healing guide was a winding path that initially forced her to heal herself. Born near Fifth Ward on Laura Koppe and Lockwood to two entrepreneurs, she would find herself having to pass drug dealers and liquor stores just to get to the local fruit stand. She was raised by a mother who functioned as a healer through meals that were not only intended to enhance her palate but also provide sustenance and wellness. Her father worked with the earth and with animals to ensure his family was taken care of. Jotina knew early on that one could find power in the community while seeking to enhance the environment in which the community existed. In her early childhood, she knew that some day she would want her own children to experience the same type of upbringing in a society of promise.
“In this moment, I had to recognize my feelings because, many times, we divorce our bodies and forfeit feelings. Cutting off reservoirs to feel cuts off pathways to heal. I have learned to stay connected to feeling.” —Jotina Buck
The path may have been difficult, but she showed herself to be resilient—even after failing ninth grade and taking a remedial math class in her first year of college. Her breaking point was reached in her senior year at Houston Baptist University. She had become a proud mother to her daughter, Lauren, her mother and father had transitioned to be with the ancestors, and she was in her car in the Houston Baptist parking lot having a panic attack, unable to move. In between tears, Jotina tells me, “It’s a personal journey to healing. In this moment I had to recognize my feelings because, many times, we divorce our bodies and forfeit feelings. Cutting off reservoirs to feel cuts off pathways to heal. I have learned to stay connected to feeling.”
After working through those deep feelings of grief and fear, she began her journey on the other side of healing. Before long, she was working in education and was the first of her siblings to become a homeowner, all while raising a brilliant daughter who was at the top of her class. Fully realizing she had created the life she desired as a young woman, she decided to leave the public education system and begin her full-time journey into being a mental-health practitioner.
In just a few years, Jotina has amassed a quarter of a million dollars in revenue from her business, while working with communities worldwide to enhance their wellness. Through her work, she has been able to generate a local spirit with a global impact, working in partnership with names such as Lululemon, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Immigrant Children’s Rights, and ViiV Healthcare, among others.
Sitting in her office while peering out the window, she remembers how she buried her mother’s Bible and a letter to her dad under the foundation of her Zen room where she now sat. Quietly but profoundly, she exclaims, “This next moment is doing what I said I would do, whether I know if that is possible or not. That is the continued path toward healing.”
Jotina has decided that this new year will be spent creating a significant addition to her healing practice: the Root+Yoke Wellness Retreat Center in Mexico. In this space, she will be tapping into the powers of her mother and father as she provides farming, gardening, and meals with meaning and mindfulness. This hosting space for retreats will be a place where Black and queer bodies can experience all their identities and be held, while also providing healing and wellness modalities such as yoga and breathwork. Though she has not fully envisioned what it will entail, she is audacious enough to accept the mystery and know that it is a part of her journey to fulfill this need.
So Jotina is leaving Houston with a wealth of community backing and a renewed vision for the locals here in Fifth Ward and the world at large. Creating a space for people to be guided into their healing is her life’s work, and it is steeped in the memories of her younger self walking past people with substance-use issues into rooms filled with people who had access to yoga, meals, meditation, and compassion. “It is my prayer that they know we’ve been co-builders in what we have. It is not me; this is an ‘us’ thing. I hope that it will continue to grow and thrive.”
Keep up with Jotina Buck on Instagram @jotinabuck