We know Syleena Johnson as the R&B diva with the raspy, powerhouse voice. These days, however, Johnson has expanded her brand to the health and fitness world. Determined to improve the health of the Black community (women in particular), Syleena says she’s in the process of launching a new company called She-Lean Health & Fitness, LLC, and wants to challenge people of color to begin thinking more about fitness and wellness.
In an exclusive interview with Centric, Johnson also gives an update on the status of her relationship with her mom since their emotional therapy session with Iyanla Vanzant, where they addressed some pretty deep-rooted family scars. See what it did for her family, and why Johnson says therapy isn’t such a bad idea.
Centric: Tell us about your company She-Lean Health & Fitness, LLC. What is it and what does it entail?
Syleena Johnson: She-Lean is a company that I’m in the process of developing. I created it with a partner, Sheena Minard. Sheena and Syleena together is like She-Lean. It’s really a company that’s geared towards women and moms. It’s a place where women who are moms and who are not moms can go and get information about optimal nutrition, and all kinds of information from what to wear in your workout, what to eat, how to balance your workout, eating regimens with babies, what to feed your baby, etc. It’s a central station for women and trying to promote health and fitness, because the woman is the pinnacle of the household as far as what she feeds the family. So if the woman or mom is educated on what to eat, then obviously the man and the children will be healthy too. Then we can start to work on having healthier families, especially African-Americans.
What made you want to branch out from music and brand yourself in the fitness and health realm?
I’ve always been into fitness. In high school I was an athlete; I played basketball, I was on the track team - I did the shot put - and I played tennis. I was always into fitness and always working out and very active. To this day, I’m training for a half-marathon. I’m surrounded by women in their late 30s, 40s and 50s who are triathletes and run several marathons, so that’s basically my surrounding. What kind of inspired me was the fact that African-American households in many communities are not privy to optimal nutrition.
We’re not properly exposed to organic and whole foods, juicing and the importance of using almond or coconut milk, or the importance of taking your average day-to-day vitamins. These are things that our community does not know. There’s lack of education and a lot of stereotypes like eating healthy cost more money.
There’s a general perception that Black women do not like to work out. What are your thoughts on that?
This is why I teamed up with Donna Richardson on a lot of things. She’s an health advocate of over 30 years. She used to be married to Tom Joyner. She’s always been a huge inspiration in my life, and I talked to her about this. The number one reason is that they don’t want to mess up their hair. I have a hairline for that called Renown Hair. We sell full wigs and all kinds of hair for being active. Having extensions is a good way to preserve your hair. You can blow dry it, burn it, whatever you need to do. Nicole Ari Parker came out with a scarf that’s really cool that locks the sweat in. Women use their hair as an excuse. [Working out] is not a priority in our culture. I think Black women have to figure it out. With us dying of stress and heart attacks, we have to figure this out. Ultimately, my company will be able to provide that kind of information to help women to that place.
Aside from working out, healthy relationships and family are also a part of wellness. This year you and your family had a therapy session with Iyanla Vanzant, where you address your strained relationship with your parents. How has your relationship been since then?
My relationship with my mom is a lot better. We are all seeing therapists - and it’s not because we’re all crazy. It’s because we all wanted to continue the behavior and continue the techniques that were given. Having a therapist is not a negative things. That’s another belief in Black communities. It’s actually a good way to relieve stress. In this day in age, it’s something that’s necessary. We get a clearer view on why we do the things that we do and to be able to change. We’re all doing well. We still have the same mom issues, but we’re working on it. Big issues have become a lot smaller.
What’s inspiring about you and your family’s story is the fact that it shows people that it’s never too late to address old wounds. Would you agree?
Definitely. A lot of the behavior that we have as adults is because of the things that have gone on in the past. If we don’t address them, if we don’t dig and get to the root of why things are the way they are inside of us, we’re never going to be able to have peace with who we are. But if you’re walking around and the child inside of your mind has not elevated or grown because you’re still a child, it’s because you lack understanding about certain things that happened to you as a child.
For example, if your mom were to beat you up mentally as a child - call you all kinds of names or make you feel like less than nothing - and it’s never been addressed, you’re going to carry that behavior onto your adulthood. A lot of the times we’re not mature in some areas of our lives, but at any time it can be fixed. It’s important to address issues as much as you can as they come up in your life.
For all things Syleena Johnson visit her website, www.syleenamusic.com.
This has been brought to you by Strive To Thrive.
(Photo: OJ Rice, courtesy Syleena Johnson)