Katy Koontz, Editor
THE INSIDE SCOOP
We are here
A positive path
for spiritual living
Visit our online
resource center for a
collection of spiritual
content with the
power to inspire
Find Unity near you
Iyanla Vanzant’s life has been one wild
roller coaster ride. Born as Rhonda Harris
in the backseat of a taxi, she grew up in the
Brooklyn projects (low-income housing
known for its rough environment). Her
mother died of breast cancer when Vanzant
was only 2. After that, she shuttled among
family members. An uncle raped her when
she was 9.
Her challenges didn’t dissipate in her teens. Vanzant was an
unwed mother at 14, although her baby died of Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome. She had a second child at 16 and then married very briefly
at 19 and again at 21—both times to abusers. At 25, she’d had enough.
She left to raise her then three children as a single mother.
That’s when she found New Thought, she told me in our interview
for this issue’s “Listening in With …” Technically, New Thought
found her in East Village Books in Manhattan by way of a used Ernest
Holmes book that fell from a shelf and hit her on the head. She took
the hint—and began an earnest exploration.
Vanzant’s life began to change. Inspired by an ad on a city bus,
she attended Medgar Evers College at 30 and then earned a law
degree from the City University of New York. She took a job at the
Philadelphia public defender’s office.
After two years, Vanzant left without a plan. Then a local radio
program invited her to speak about how welfare women can turn their
lives around—and that guest stint turned into her own weekly show.
A book contract for Tapping the Power Within (Writers & Readers
Publishing, 1992) followed, and by later in the 1990s she was a regular
on Oprah. Vanzant and her daughter, Gemmia, cofounded Inner
Visions Institute for Spiritual Development (innervisionsworldwide.
com), offering courses, workshops, and spiritual life coaching. Vanzant
thought she’d finally made it.
But the roller coaster soon hurtled downhill—upside down in
the dark. Vanzant’s relationship with Oprah dissolved when she
left to do her own talk show, Iyanla, which was cancelled after six
months. Her daughter developed a rare form of colon cancer and
died on Christmas Day 2003—after which Vanzant couldn’t get out
of bed for six months. Then she lost her home when a failed real
estate investment left her bankrupt. Her seven-year marriage ended.
Vanzant considered suicide.
She looked at the chaos as a divine opportunity to walk her talk and
reexamine her life. Relying on affirmative prayer and forgiveness, she
made a comeback—winning an Emmy, healing her relationship with
Oprah, and hosting the No. 1 reality show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey
Network, Iyanla: Fix My Life.
“I want everyone to remember how powerful we are,” she told me.
“We are so powerful, and every time we allow ourselves to be talked
out of it, we give away our power.”