Iyanla Vanzant visited Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple.
Inspirational speaker and life coach Iyanla Vanzant visited Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple to lead the first of a three-day “Fix My City” healing service May 26.
The host of OWN’s hit TV show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” in which she helps people to overcome difficult situations in their lives, visited the city at the behest of Empowerment pastor Jamal Bryant to be part of the city’s recovery efforts after recent riots in the wake of 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody. The violent tumult was a manifestation of the Black community’s frustration and pain with decades of social and economic inequities in the city, Bryant and other leaders have said.
“Tonight is a night of healing. It’s not necessarily about cancer, or leukemia or necessarily about tumors, but there is in fact a lot of emotional illness,” Bryant said. “There is a lot of pain that a lot of us are harboring and holding on to….
“It is by no accident that Black people have high blood pressure, it’s by no accident that a whole lot of us have trouble going to sleep at night, it’s by no accident that a lot of us, even in teen years, have had anxiety attacks. But I’m believing that peace is getting ready to hit your lives tonight.”
Taking to the stage as the choir sang the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” Vanzant asked members of the audience to breathe deeply, essentially breathing peace and “wellness” into their spirits.
“Call the thing that is not as though it were and it will be. Every single aspect of your life—your health, your finances, your relationships, your families…it is well,” she said.
Vanzant then asked the congregation to divide into groups of five – or “villages” – comprising people from various age groups. She said Black people had moved too far away from their cultural moorings, which had exacerbated the communal sickness.
“Part of our wellness is being the truth of who are,” Vanzant said. “ tonight, we’re not going to do this like anyone else, we’re going to do it like our elders used to do it…in the village. You see in the village, there was a system, there was structure, there was an order; there was a way of being and speaking; a way of holding one another that resulted in wellness.”
During the exercise, Vanzant asked “village” members to share with each other their pains and fears as it related to their lives, their communities and their city, saying it was only in expressing these hurts could healing begin. And, they were also asked to come with fixes to common concerns.
“One of the things people lost in the process of oppression is the capacity to speak, and the capacity to relieve the soul of its burdens,” she said.
Eventually, some were asked to stand and express those pains, fears which included concerns about economic disadvantages, poor educational opportunities, intra-racial violence, lack of unity and more.
“D-Bone,” who traveled from St. Louis to attend the event, said he was from the “streets” and was troubled by the senseless violence he saw everyday—not just at the hands of law enforcement, but also violence perpetrated by Blacks against each other.
“My pain is I don’t know when my community and my Black race will see what the real issue is. My pain is we can’t even work together without conflict small situations. And my fear is I don’t know how long it’s going to take for us to get the picture,” he said. “The fix now is everyone coming together to share ideas and trying to see where we stand. This is historic. The fix is coming together.”
Others also suggested self-affirmations, seeking the counsel of “old G’s” who have survived the streets and overcame challenges, promoting economic opportunities, putting God first, vocational training, and executing a strategic plan—not just planning.
A self-described gang member, who did not provide his name, said he had just spent almost a decade in prison and fortuitously, his group comprised a number of women whose sons were imprisoned.
“My fix is action. No more talk,” he said. “We’re doing too much talking. I am a gang member I am here…. We can do this.”
As evidence of that action, Rev. Bryant said 200 interfaith ministers had agreed to visit the 10 most troubled high schools in Baltimore and to persuade the students to sign covenants to uphold nonviolence, given the rash of murders the city has already seen for 2015.
The minister also shared how an interfaith group of demonstrators stalled traffic in Baltimore earlier that day. It was the first of several “plagues,” Bryant said – referencing the biblical story of the Israelites’ rescue from Egyptian oppression – to protest Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to slash education funding in favor of building a jail.
“Today, Baltimore saw the first plague. And, I warned the governor, aka Pharaoh, you’ve got nine more times… before we have to raise the ante,” Bryant said, adding, “We’re coming and we’re going to keep coming until they change their minds about this $30 million juvenile detention center. Please don’t think they’re going to spend $30 million and leave it empty…. They plan on filling it with our sons, our husbands and our brothers. And I’d rather see our sons at Morgan than in juvenile jail.”