I penned this piece for UPTOWN magazine in September 2012. I thought it would be appropriate to cross-publish it here in light of the season two premiere of “Iyanla, Fix My Life.” Iyanla Vanzant is who she says she is. I am a living testament to the power of doing my work in order to reap the harvest.
This past weekend we watched spiritual life coach and teacher, Iyanla Vanzant help repair Evelyn Lozada’s life. The fiery “Basketball Wives” star – who is notorious for throwing drinks on her adversaries – was brought to tears as she recalled past hurts. Dr. Vanzant stripped her of the glitz, glam and studded stilettos and forced her to stand in the truth of who she is and how unhealed wounds have impacted her life. That is the power of Iyanla Vanzant. Even the untouchables are humbled by her limitless knowledge.
Dr. Vanzant was a healer long before her triumphant return to television. She was born Ronda Harris to an alcoholic mother who died before she was three and raised by an abusive grandmother who spent as much time ruining her self-esteem as fueling her future. Harris was a broken woman with no understanding of her own power. She buried Ronda Harris in her twenties and resurrected herself as Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational speaker and author. It was her destined calling.
I was first introduced to Dr. Vanzant’s work when I was a teen in the throes of Agoraphobia. I escaped into talk shows where the issues discussed trumped mine. Their extreme problems allowed me to escape my minor ones.
I stumbled on “Starting Over” in 2004 and was instantly riveted by Dr. Vanzant. It was amazing to watch her work miracles on the lives of women, including Towanda Braxton. Watching “Starting Over” empowered me when I thought my life was the epitome of a downward spiral. The show, along with intensive counseling, a loving family and Zora Neale Hurston’s work helped me overcome that hurdle.
But it was more than my love for talk shows that kept me engaged. There was something about this chocolate woman with a TWA (teeny weeny Afro) that transfixed me. She was powerful. These women came into this house with tears streaming down their faces and left with smiles and energies that radiated. Iyanla fixed their lives.
Suddenly she was gone. Iyanla disappeared from the television landscape altogether. I had no inkling of her reign on Oprah, since that wasn’t my cup of talk show latte, but I knew there was something special about her. Though Iyanla was no longer on my television in the afternoons, she remained somewhere deep in my subconscious. I never forgot how inspired I was watching her as I battled and conquered my mental illness.
So, I immediately enrolled in when a classmate excitedly informed me that the Iyanla Vanzant was coming to Bennett College to teach a course on spiritual psychology. There were only 15 students permitted in the course and the community had to pay upwards of $300 to attend for the semester. So I was grateful to be included in this exclusive class of women. I was a junior in college and learning the art of spiritual psychology from one of the definitive gurus of our generation.
I trekked to her course for the first time on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 6 p.m. It was the beginning of a rare, brittle North Carolina winter, but my numb fingers and toes didn’t bother me. I was anxious to soak up as much knowledge from Iyanla as I could in four months. I could feel the positivity and wisdom radiating off of her demure frame from the moment she entered the room.
Dr. Vanzant forced us to stand in our truths over the course of a semester. She gave us the tools to mend our hearts and spirits. There were tons of tears shed and hugs given as she used the space to teach us the fundamentals of spiritual psychology through sisterhood and lectures. We watched films. We asked questions. We were asked about our own lives.
Dr. Vanzant was in the process of fixing her relationship with Oprah during this time. She was emotionally-exhausted when she returned to class, fresh off that two-day special. But she was transparent and authentic even in her weariness. Dr. Vanzant used her experience to teach us the importance of forgiveness. She was witty, brutally-honest and full of an affirmative energy that emanated in the small auditorium.
With Dr. Vanzant’s encouragement and teachings, I faced the demons that had been plaguing me since I first encountered her on “Starting Over.” I finally let that 14-year-old Agoraphobic free. She was given permission to weep, something I had denied her the chance to do in the past. I sat in a garden of sorrow and cried bitter, painful tears for the teenage girl I had long ago buried.
On the final day of class, Dr. Vanzant told us we were entitled to success, happiness and love because our foremothers had laid the foundation for us already. Now, we had to accept the greatness within us. I took on that challenge with fervor. I left “Spiritual Psychology” with an A and a renewed consciousness about my spirituality. I was at peace.
Dr. Vanzant’s lessons were quick to manifest. I began speaking proclamations about the future into existence. Everything I had ever envisioned and desired was spoken into the universe and the Creator answered me. New doors opened where all old doors were closed. Opportunities flowed in. I began ascertaining my wildest dreams. I’ve been in that prosperous season for more than a year now.
Dr. Vanzant’s nuggets of wisdom are subconscious. Sometimes, when I initiate or repeat a pattern, I can recall on one of her teachings and it will assist me with navigating through it.
Dr. Vanzant has been heralded as a spiritual guru throughout the world. However, she’s still human.
In a March 2012 piece for Madame Noire, Charing Ball, a fellow intellectual instigator, questions whether we should accept advice from a blemished being:
“I’m wondering if I could watch a show of Vanzant playing the archetypal all-knowing Earth Mother fixing other people’s lives when clearly she hasn’t done working on her own?
And maybe it is not an indictment of Vanzant as is it is on the whole self-help and life coaching industry in general. So many of us, particularly women, soak up a lot of this feel good, self-empowerment gobbledygook from folks, who aren’t too good at following their own advice.”
Though Ball’s concerns are worth noting, Dr. Vanzant has never proclaimed to be anything more than human. In a recent interview with EBONY, she said:
“The ‘Fix My Life’ is not what I do; the ‘Fix My Life’ is what [my guests] do based on skills, tools and information I provide. We identify the problem, identify the solution then provide people with the opportunity to implement the solution on their own. I don’t do the fixing, I do the identification. I interrupt the story, I provide them with a new perspective and that is the distinction.”
That is the mark of a spiritual woman. She has moved herself aside and allowed her gifts to be used as a vessel for God to speak to others.
Iyanla Vanzant didn’t belong to the world during that harsh winter at Bennett College. She wasn’t Oprah’s spiritual guru sister-friend. She was ours, unconditionally. She let us do our work. She gave our 21 and 22-year-old spirits wisdom that will take us decades of experience to appreciate. She made us accountable for ourselves and our actions. She broke the continuum of our detrimental patterns.
Mama Iya, as we called her, helped restore peace from my broken pieces. Iyanla fixed my life.
Original published at UPTOWN Magazine.