At a 2017 funeral service for a student at Yeatman-Liddell Preparatory Middle School in north St. Louis, Nate Oatis noticed a young friend of the victim trying not to cry.
“I could feel the gentleman’s energy, [this] 13- to 14-year-old trying to process the death of another 13- to 14-year-old due to gun violence. As he tried to bottle that energy, that intense emotion that really needed to spill, I put my arms around him and embraced him, and he absolutely melted,” Oatis said. “It broke my heart to think that a child doesn’t have the ability to vent those types of frustrations.”
Shortly after, Oatis started the Excelsior Program, a nonprofit aimed at reaching St. Louis youth — particularly those impacted by gun violence. It helps kids overcome trauma by teaching them judo, jiu-jitsu and wrestling.
“Martial arts had always been a large piece of my life,” he said. “I knew what it had done for me. I knew it was an avenue to properly vent, to get a good workout … that I could apply all of this anger and essentially rage that had been bottling inside me in a constructive manner. So I thought, let’s implement this at [Yeatman-Liddell] immediately.”
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sarah Fenske talked with Oatis about his work and why he feels the martial arts are the best way to learn mindfulness, meditation and self defense.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.