Over the past couple of weeks, I have caught a few minutes of Oprah’s Life Class featuring Iyanla Vanzant as the resident “expert”. Oprah and Iyanla team up to give people advice and tips on how to overcome negative emotions, have difficult conversations and so on; all in an effort to live a more full life, or as Oprah puts it “your best life”.
While I love the idea of two Black women who have worked hard to build their platforms and uplift other women, there is a small nudging voice in the back of my head that is questioning the wisdom in this particular pairing.
First of, all let me say that I have a great deal of love and respect for Oprah Winfrey because of what she has accomplished and because of her ability to continue to raise the bar and hold herself to a high level of conduct. I also have a very deep connection with Iyanla Vanzant because I can still remember reading her book “In The Mean Time”, about 11 or 12 years ago and being so encouraged and inspired by her words at a time when my life was in utter turmoil. I even read her book “Yesterday, I Cried” which was also a very moving and inspirational look into her life.
Around 2001 and 2002, Iyanla’s star was really shining bright. It was around this time that she made regular appearances on the Oprah show as a relationship “expert” and at the time, I believe she herself was married to her third or fourth husband. Soon after that, Iyanla had her own show but sadly, it was over after just one season. This is where it seems Iyanla’s life started on a downward spiral and she seemed to disappear…
Until recently, we did not hear much about Iyanla, with the exception of brief appearances in different places. Iyanla reappeared in 2011 with a new book, “Peace from Broken Pieces” and an onstage conversation with Oprah Winfrey about her sudden departure from the Oprah Show all those years ago.
I read the book and it left me feeling unsettled. Having read prior books by Iyanla, I felt that this latest book did not flow smoothly through Iyanla’s life experiences, with brief stops to impart some wisdom, the way that her other books did. This latest book, to me , felt like she had started to write about her experience before she had fully processed it and reflected on it. Her daughter had died of cancer and her husband had left her and to top it all off, she had lost every penny that she had earned through her books and television appearances.
While watching Iyanla’s “difficult conversation,” as they called it, with Oprah, I could not help but observe that there still appeared to be a lot of denial and justification on both of the women’s sides. I felt that they both wanted to resolve the conflict but also wanted to withhold information about what they were really thinking and feeling when the “drama” went down over ten years ago.
I really love stories of redemption or perseverance and then finally, triumph, so over the years I have been peripherally aware of Iyanla’s challenges, ranging from the dissolution of yet another marriage, her show ending and then her beloved daughter passing away. I waited to see her push through, then re-emerge having picked herself up and dusted herself off and standing up and proclaiming victory, in the famous words of Maya Angelou, “And still I rise”.
Considering how high of a regard I held Iyanla Vanzant in, I am somewhat disappointed in how she has re-emerged. I still feel like she has some soul work to do; I feel she has some healing, processing and evolving to do before she can then sit with the “masters”. It’s actually difficult for me to say that about Iyanla because there is no doubt in my mind that she is anointed with an ability to see beyond what most people can see and she has the God-given ability to encourage, inspire and even teach, also beyond what most people are capable of.
I am however mindful that being on Oprah’s Life Class is a way for Iyanla to feed herself and those that depend on her. I am also aware that when we wait to be “ready”, sometimes we can wait forever, so I applaud Iyanla for her courage to step out and do her “work” even when many are skeptical and doubtful about her. I applaud Oprah Winfrey for graciously giving Iyanla another opportunity and setting aside her ego. What I admire about both women, is that they face their trials and tribulations in the public eye but they continue to live by example, always pushing through and refusing to succumb to failure and negativity.
All things being said, I believe that what Iyanla is doing is helping people to the best of her ability and no one can ever be faulted for that. I believe that her calling is doing the work that she is doing and few people have the courage and strength to operate on just that. Most of us go out and work “safe” jobs and never dare to explore what life would be like if we stepped out on faith and used our unique gifts and talents to serve others.
I wish both Oprah and Iyanla well and I look forward to seeing positive and uplifting work from both of them.
Nomalanga helps Black Women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and the reigning Mrs Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s blog at successfulblackwoman.com