As Oprah continues to write her next chapter, her protege Iyanla Vanzant is carving out a niche of her "OWN."
On Saturday, the life coach, minister and one-time "Oprah" show regular is slated to return to TV for a residency that aims to help families and individuals fix their lives this fall.
"I think what 'Life Class' did was give us a bird's eye view of where people are stuck, where people are suffering, what is causing the pain. As folks wrote in, as they sent tweets, as they participated in the audience, we kind of heard common challenges that people were having," Vanzant told the Huffington Post, explaining how her guest appearances on Oprah's "Life Class" evolved into her own weekly program.
"What we do on "Iyanla: Fix My Life" is zero in on the communication breakdowns, on the disfunction in relationships, on the issues people have. And I think what we’re doing that no one has ever done is we’re looking at what I call a 'kitchen table conversation.' We’re looking at them upfront and close," she said.
Unlike Oprah's A-list roster of guests, Vanzant is hitting the road and heading into the homes of everyday Americans (though she kicks off the season helping reality star Evelyn Lozada through her recent domestic dispute), tackling a trifecta of issues at their core -- telling the truth, forgiving others and embracing the change ahead.
Before doing so, Vanzant sat down with the Huffington Post to discuss what transpired after her now-famous reconciliation with Oprah, why it's difficult for African Americans to seek therapy and how she's tackling that on her upcoming show.
How did this show come about following your reunion with Oprah?
After we did our reunion show -- I think that was February of 2011 -- I was invited to do the series of Life Classes with Ms. Winfrey on OWN. That was so successful, they took that to the network and one day she just looked at me and said “You really need your own show.” And I said, “Well, I’m real happy here.” And she said, “No, you need your own show.”
What were the common themes you were seeing from "Life Class"? What are some of those "kitchen table" conversations you'll be having on this show?
Forgiveness; still holding onto traumatic or challenging experiences from childhood and how they manifest today; and family relationships -- how they break down, why they break down.
The intention of this show is to look at what people do, how they do it, why they do it and provide a solution. And then the solution, the “fixing,” is not what I do, it’s what the people do, how they apply the information and the skills and the tools to their everyday life.
So whether it’s the things that we have -- trying to rebuild a family after a betrayal, sisters who can’t get along, family secrets, marriages that fall apart even though the people want to be together -- these are on every block, in every city, in every state in this country. People don’t know how to be people.
In the black community there's typically this stigma attached to seeking counseling and talking about what’s happening in your lives. Can you share your thoughts and experience with that and why you think that stigma exists?
In the African-American community, the culture is such that we do not air our dirty laundry outside of the four walls of the home. We don’t do it. It’s cultural. I believe it’s ancestral ... It comes from a place where nobody cared. If you’re a slave, nobody cares that your foot hurts or that you feel a little upset, so we have been programmed and conditioned to believe a) you don’t matter; b) nobody cares; and c) if people know something is wrong with you, they will take advantage of you.
Fast forward now, into a society where the people who get the attention are those who are doing the best and those who are at the lowest rung, doing the worst. The people who fit in between usually aren’t seen or heard from. Nobody cares, you don’t matter and you’re going to make yourself vulnerable.
When it comes to mental health, when you’re already at the lowest rung, when you’re already feeling like you don’t matter and nobody cares, why would you dare let somebody know that something is wrong?
You take it to the church or you hide that, you don’t tell that. Human beings in general, regardless of race or gender or national origin have a fear of being vulnerable. And when there’s something wrong, when something is off, you don’t reveal that, because that makes you vulnerable. That’s across the board.
But then when you add to that the history, the experience, the genetics of people of color, you get a whole other level of denial, avoidance, resistance, all grounded in the fear of being vulnerable.
How are you addressing that on the show?
I am not a mental health professional. That is not what I do. The only thing that I can do, when I recognize it, when I see something that is pathological, something that is beyond the realms of behavioral modification, I have to refer people and encourage them “You need some help, you need therapy, counseling.” Because if it took you 40 years to get here, 36 hours with me is not going to change it and I’m real clear about that.
You talk a lot about forgiveness and really telling the truth, has any of that factored into your relationship, whether it be personally or professionally, with Oprah? When you met for the reunion last year, you apologized to her for what had happened, but I don’t know if she apologized. Was that an expectation of yours?
Me apologizing to myself was the first step. That’s the work I had to do to identify how I contributed to the creation of the experience. I can’t speak to her experience. Only she can speak to that. And I certainly didn’t expect an apology, because from my perspective, it wasn’t about her, it was about me.
I had to look at me: What did I do, how did I do it, why did I do it and how did I change it. Once I cleared that up, there was an opening for she and I to come together and have that conversation.
When a relationship is important, when you care about the person and when there’s something bigger than you at stake, you can have the conversation.
Neither one of us, we didn’t plan it, we didn’t rehearse it, we didn’t know what was gonna happen, but because I had done my work and she had done her work, we were able to stand as a demonstration before millions and millions of people.
Why do you think it is that people are embracing this conversation around spirituality and self healing?
Because we’re real clear that what we were taught and what we did, didn’t work. I’m a living example of that. All the money in the world, all the fame, all the fortune, all the success is not going to move you forward until you deal with your inner vision, your inner self, your inner demons.
For such a time as this.
We’re finally realizing that and we’re willing to say it out loud. The money ain’t enough. The house is not enough. And I think because we see so much disfunction on television -- there are many properties on TV that highlight disfunction and we’re saying "Wait a minute, hold up."