Rev Dr. Iyanla Vanzant is an African-American inspirational speaker, lawyer, New Thought spiritual teacher, author, life coach and television personality.
Her life has been filled with near misses, struggle, strength, courage and triumph. And hence, from her life’s experiences she has uncovered her life’s purpose, discovered the power that lies within and recovered her authentic self Iyanla Vanzant. She indeed has emerged as a living testament to the value in life’s valleys and the power of acting on faith. The best part is, she teaches what she has learned, according to her life’s story.
She is popularly known for her books, for her eponymous talk show, and for her frequent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She can currently be seen on television as the host of Iyanla, Fix My Life,and as a frequently featured guest teacher of Oprah’s Lifeclass on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.
Born Rhonda Eva Harris; September 13, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, Iyanla Vanzant was given the title “Iyanla”, which means “great mother”, after being initiated and ordained as a priestess in the Yoruba tradition. The Yoruba people are an ethnic group of southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin in West Africa. The Yoruba constitute over 35 million people in total; the majority of this population is from Nigeria and make up 21% of its population, according to the CIA World Factbook, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. And the majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language which is a tonal Niger-Congo language.
She attended Medgar Evers College and Virginia Union University. Vanzant holds a Juris Doctor degree, Summa Cum Laude, from the City University of New York School of Law. She currently resides in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. She is also an ordained New Thought minister.
In 2000, she was named one of the “100 most influential Black Americans” by Ebony magazine, which said that “Her books, lectures and television appearances have made her a multimedia high priestess of healthy relationships.”
In 2012, Vanzant was listed at #7 on Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit magazine list of the 100 most spiritually influential living people.”
In 2014, she was co-speaker in Oprah’s the “Life You Want Weekend” tour, which travelled to eight cities, also featuring Deepak Chopra, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in the back of a taxi cab to an alcoholic mother, Iyanla was a child of an extra martial affair. When Iyanla was two-years-old her mother succumb to breast cancer. This left Iyanla and her older brother to be raised by father, who left his children in the care of a series a relatives, including an uncle who raped her at the tender age of nine. Although Iyanla knew her father, he was often not present physically and emotionally unavailable.
By age 16, she was a teenage mother. By age 21 she had three children and a physically abusive husband. 9 years, two suicide attempts and many beatings later, Iyanla and her three children made their early morning escape into an unknown future; a future where she would raise her three children alone. Being a single mother, she sustained her family for several years on public assistance. Iyanla was inspired by a sign on the bus to change her life by attending Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.
“Three years later she graduated Summa Cum Laude and entered the City University of New York Law School at Queens College. Her brilliant oratory skills caught the attention of the Philadelphia Public Defender’s office who offered her a job without a formal interview. Three years into her practice, Iyanla knew she had made the wrong choice for her life and left her position.”
Like everyone else, Iyanla readily admits that she too has had long periods of confusion. Unlike many, however, she uses her difficult times to usher her into a new state of being. After leaving her prominent position as an attorney, Iyanla eventually found herself unemployed, sleeping on a sofa in a friend’s basement with her pregnant 16 year-old daughter. A friend invited her to teach a class for women who were being trained to transition from welfare to work. Understanding their predicament very well, Iyanla took her new job seriously. She produced a workbook for the class. In 1988, that workbook became her first published work, Tapping The Power Within: A Path To Self Empowerment For Black Women. The 20th. Anniversary edition of this book was published in 2008. (Smiley Books/Hay House). Her second work, Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations For People of Color, crossed the racial divide to become a favorite companion for Tipper Gore, wife of then Vice President Al Gore. 13 publications and 5 New York Times Best Sellers were not a part of Iyanla’s plans. Then again, the best laid plan tend to go awry.
Iyanla has received numerous awards and accolades for the power and impact of her work. She is hailed as one of Halle Berry’s five “Sheros” (Glamour Magazine 2006); one of the country’s most influential African Americans (Ebony Magazine 2004); among the country’s most 100 Influential Women (Women’s Day Magazine 2003); one of the “most dynamic speakers in the United States” (Emerge Magazine 2000). She is a woman of passion, clear vision and purpose.
Dr. Vanzant travels globally delivering her teachings and message of hope to thousands. A much sought after guest for prime time radio shows, her voice is a staple on The Tom Joyner Morning Show (Radio One); The Tavis Smiley Show (NPR); The Michael Baisden Show (ABC); and Tell Me More with Michel Martin (NPR). She has appeared as a host Life Coach on the NBC Daytime Drama, Starting Over (2004-2006); Iyanla, her own daytime talk show (2001-2002) produced by Barbara Walters and Billy Getty. She was also a recurring guest on Oprah (1998-1999) as part of the Change Your Life Faculty.
As Founder and Director of Inner Visions Institute of Spiritual Development, Iyanla shares her knowledge of Universal Principle and Law, Eastern and Western spiritual/religious traditions/teachings, and the truth of Unconditional Love to motivate others to create a better life, a better community and a better world! She spends most of her time now training Life Coaches and Ministers and conducting a series of community forums through Inner Visions.
And as her website notes, “What I have learned from all of the difficulties in my own life is that human beings have very thick skin. I call that skin, spirit, our Highest Most Powerful self. Spirit is the key to everything we desire. It is our weather-proofing, our Teflon, our line of credit that assures if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one day; there will be a miraculous payoff.”
History will show that Iyanla Vanzant is one of America’s most profound spiritual leaders and acclaimed empowerment legends. Her body of work spans over three decades to include 15 published books, 5 New York Times best sellers (translated into 23 languages and with sales exceeding 8 million copies), CDs, television, radio and on stage performances.
Likened to other great African American Women in our history, Iyanla embodies a no-nonsense approach in her message and teaching style. Outspoken, fiery, transparent, truthful, and sage-like are just a few of the common adjectives used when describing Iyanla Vanzant.
Her latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces, chronicles her extraordinary professional success against the back drop of personal tragedy. As the world watched her as a regular guest expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show then onto her daily talk show, “Iyanla”, her marriage was crumbling her daughter was losing her battle with cancer. Peace from Broken Pieces shares the spiritual lessons learned and the wisdom gained during this difficult time.
Today, Iyanla is the host of Iyanla: Fix My Life, the number one reality show on the OWN network, produced by Harpo Studios. She is an accomplished author, inspirational speaker, talk show host and living testament to the value in life’s valleys and the power of acting on faith. Iyanla goes behind closed doors and deep inside people’s lives for emotionally, riveting conversations where she applies spiritual practices to bring forth inner peace and healing.
Ebony Magazine says “Iyanla’s books, lectures and television appearances have made her a multimedia high priestess of healthy relationships.” According to Emerge Magazine, she is “one of the most dynamic speakers in the United States.” On stage, as she tours the country, Iyanla uses humor and straight talk to deliver her consistent message of love, forgiveness and living your best life. Thousands of followers are filling audiences to connect and engage with this once public defender, summa cum laude graduate of City University of New York Law School, who is now dedicated to facilitating the growth and evolution of human consciousness.
There is no better arena in which to experience Iyanla’s dynamic presence as teacher and spiritual guide than in one of her regular weekend retreats at Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. As Founder of Inner Visions World Wide, Iyanla is actively engaged in training new spiritual leaders, spiritual life coaches and ordained ministers.
A woman of passion, vision and purpose catapulted into world prominence and recognition, Iyanla refuses to accept “celebrity status.” She is grounded and remains connected to the people she serves. Her unique gift is her ability to simply walk right into your heart.
Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American
TD Jakes, Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant