I first heard of Iyanla Vanzant in the ‘90s when I was a college student. Although I hadn’t yet developed my relationship with God, the spiritual message she shared on Oprah, my patron saint at the time, attracted me. Also, Iyanla’s story of ascent from welfare mother to lawyer inspired me. Her books — “Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations for People of Color”; “Faith in the Valley: Lessons for Women on the Journey to Peace”; and “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas” – delivered the self-empowerment messages I craved as I entered adulthood.
However, as my relationship with God deepened in my ‘20s, I realized that Iyanla was a Yoruba priestess and maybe I didn’t need to seek that kind of wisdom from someone who didn’t share my Christian beliefs. Still, I occasionally thumbed through her books to extract the positive messages without being lured into her belief system. And then, suddenly, I stopped hearing about her altogether. Apparently, while Oprah was grooming the self-help guru to have her own talk show – similar to the way she groomed Dr. Phil – Iyanla reportedly gave her an ultimatum: give me a talk show or I’ll secure one with another media outlet. Oprah did not give her a show, but Barbara Walters did. The talk show, however, was short lived, only lasting for one season. The loss of Iyanla’s talk show marked the beginning of her descent: her husband divorced her, she lost her daughter to cancer, and declared bankruptcy.
Once Oprah started the OWN network, the media queen and her protégé eventually mended their relationship. In February 2011, the two held a raw and honest multi-episode conversation and reconciliation that revealed what really transpired just over a decade earlier. After their exchange, Iyanla received an invitation to be an expert on “Oprah’s Lifeclass” show and, ultimately, an offer to host her own show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, on Winfrey’s network. I watched a few of the first season episodes, but this season has set media outlets and social media buzzing. The April 13th season premiere featured DMX, a rap artist who has become as well known for his multiple arrests and erratic behavior as he is for his music, and his estranged teenage son Xavier. The episode made for gripping television: DMX nearly threatened Iyanla; shared tender moments with his son; and spoke in his trademark staccato speech patterns (which sound better in a rap song than an interview). The rapper, whose birth name is Earl Simmons, talked about being sent to a group home as a child, his drug abuse, meeting his now estranged wife Tarshera and cheating on her with multiple women. When the 90-minute show ends, the audience knows a lot about DMX and his family, but it doesn’t seem that DMX’s life has been “fixed.” In fact, he doesn’t want the show to be aired again and is reportedly planning to sue Iyanla.
In the second show, which aired April 20, Iyanla endeavors to fix the life of Sheree Whitfield, the former “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star, and Bob Whitfield, her ex-husband and former Atlanta Falcons football player. From this episode, we learn that their marriage was troubled from the beginning: Mr. Whitfield wed his ex-wife because she was pregnant. Whitfield accused her of creating drama to be used as footage for the hit reality show and obsessing over the construction of her dream mansion Château Sheree. Sheree, on the other hand, accused her former husband of being a deadbeat dad because of his refusal to pay child support and take care of their two children. By the end of the episode, both parties readily admitted they don’t like each other and Iyanla admitted that she had not “fixed” their lives.
Today’s episode will feature popular Atlanta DJ “Sasha the Diva,” her 17-year-old son, and her new husband. Apparently, the son she raised as a single parent is acting out now that his mother has gotten married. I heard Sasha speaking about the episode a couple of weeks ago as she was the host of a seminar at a bridal show I attended. She said before she called Iyanla, she thought she was going to have to either choose her son or her husband, but Iyanla helped her to maintain both relationships. Well, I guess we will have to see for ourselves what transpires because if the past two episodes have been any indication of what is to come, there will be a whole lot of business sharing but not as much fixing.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am a fan of the show. Iyanla has highlighted issues impacting the black community – such as drug abuse, single parenthood and blended family drama – in a way that addresses them without exploiting them. At the same time, I wonder if being on a single episode is helping families resolve issues that will likely take years of counseling to address. And while I haven’t heard Iyanla make any pointed references to her religious beliefs, I wonder if she is promoting them in any way as she counsels her show’s participants. Her new show is entertaining and educational, but Christians may need to be discerning about her advice.