While AJ Johnson may be best known as Jody’s momma in the 2001 film Baby Boy, what many people may not know is that over the last several years, the veteran actress has dedicated her life’s work to being a health and wellness coach to both celebrities and non-celebrities alike.
One of Johnson’s clients, Gabrielle Union, made headlines when she stood before an audience at the ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon to give a candid confession about how she once “lived for the negativity inflicted” upon her fellow actresses of color out of insecurity and competitiveness. In an interview with Oprah, Union revealed that it was Johnson and her work as a wellness coach that inspired the actress to deliver such a speech.
More recently, Johnson, 50, was seen using her expertise to help rebuild Lindsay Lohan’s life and career in a special docu series. With her company, The AJ Zone, Johnson is helping many people and corporations live a life of complete wellness, which includes fitness, nutrition and spiritual balance.
In an exclusive interview with CentricTV.com, Johnson gives the low down on how she ended up stepping away from Hollywood to embark on her new calling, and how the death of her parents was the catalyst for it all. The Spelman College graduate also gives us some nuggets on how to overcome some of life’s many barriers and how you, too, can live to be a better you. Learn more about The AJ Zone and see what’s in store for Johnson’s career.
CENTRIC: How did you get into the realm of being a life and fitness coach? Was there “a ha” moment, as Oprah loves to say?
AJ Johnson: I wouldn’t necessarily say that I transitioned from one to the other. God called me in a particular direction, so I kind of shifted my focus on my attention and things have been so amazing in that arena that there just hasn’t been a script that has pulled me away from it in the last few years. If a great script came up or an amazing director came up I will for sure do another film or even a TV series, but I love what I do. I love the level of connection it allows me with people different than Hollywood on-set connections. I just feel like a lot of my life has built me to do this work. So, I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t like to box myself in and say I’m doing one thing or the other. This is just kind of where I am at this point and we’ll see what the next step is.
My a ha moments were really the catalyst of losing my father. I lost my dad right after Baby Boy came out and because my dad had become my biggest fan, my acting coach, my cheerleader, my script breakdown person, my action decision maker; my dad was kind of like my road dog for me in the business. When I lost him I just couldn’t get the drive that being an actress, an African-American actress especially, that it takes.
A lot of people did not know that I was a dual degree honors graduate from Spelman [College]. I was a premed major when I came to L.A., so with degrees in chemistry and sociology my launch in LA was really just a break between undergrad and med school but things took off for me in the arts, so then like I’m kind of living my life now I never went back to school and you all know me as an actress. [With what I do now] I get a chance to be on camera, I get a chance to help people. I get a chance to use my background on my education...I was called to this work. I live a certain lifestyle and that actually started when I lost my mother to cancer when I was 17, so all of this built me into this place. My healthy living lifestyle for myself started when I was 17 or 18 and it kind of grew after I lost my mother. By the time I lost my dad in 2002 I was already equipped with the tools to live a different lifestyle.
People just started asking me for help based on seeing me do what I do and the fact that it turned into this business, the clients, the speaking engagements, the TV shows, magazine articles and online companies. I never expected any of that but it just goes to show you that people want to be healthy and people want to be better. If my example makes people feel like they can do it than I’m grateful.
CENTRIC: What type of advice would you give someone who’s experienced losing a loved one?
AJJ: Everybody grieves differently based on their relationship with the loved one...based on how they lose the loved one. If it’s an illness of a long period of time or if it’s immediate like a car accident or due to a medical condition. There’s so many different factors that personally really factor into what kind of counseling and support a particular person needs after losing someone. For me interestingly enough losing my parents hit me so hard that I didn’t want to disappoint them and just completely give up on life. I really didn’t see how I was going to bounce back from losing them, but at the same time there was a big place in my spirit that said I got to do something to make them proud. You can never decide how you’re going to come out when you lose a love one.
Those of us that are left here after you lose someone, I believe we’re left here to live the lesson and whatever those lessons are I just feel like we’re obligated to carry them out from a spiritual obligation. Obviously there’s a period of time of just emotional grief and shock and disappointment and sadness but as time passes and you realize that you’re here and you’re waking up everyday and what do you do with that? I like to believe that I’m supposed to carry out some degree of my journey from the lessons learned by experiencing the other person.
CENTRIC: So tell us more about the AJ Zone Company, the creation of it and the work you do.
AJJ: We’re an open wellness life coaching company; I have other life coaches that work with me. I’ve coached and trained everyone that works in the company primarily because we are one of the few companies that handle all of it. We personally don’t separate the title of health and wellness coach and fitness. Health and wellness is a complete package, mind, body and spirit. We cover nutrition, we cover spiritual, we cover emotional, we cover mental and we cover physical.
The reason why the company was created that way is because most divisions of wellness are only reached successfully by all the other components being dealt with; we don’t de-compartmentalize. For example if someone comes to our company with an emotional eating situation the first thing we do is tackle every angle of it. We tackle nutritional background, we tackle spiritual background, we tackle fitness lifestyle, so we don’t address one issue by one division. We address one issue by every division and that’s what you get when you come to the AJ Zone.
We have personal clients one on one, we do speaking engagements, we work with colleges, we obviously work with celebrities, and we also have online programs available for the non-celebrity. I like to say that the AJ Zone is the zone that you live in when you’re reaching for your better - and everyone’s better is different. Some people may come for weight management, some people may come for a diet for a role or project or film, some people may need high discipline, everybody’s better is different and so the company is formulated to help everyone reach their better.
CENTRIC: Is there a particular style or approach you personally take when you are coaching someone? Is there a way you approach that others don’t?
AJJ: I don’t necessarily work deeply into what other people do. I move by how I would do it. I start from the space of what do I do to combat a certain situation or what would I do or what could I do to combat the situation. I also try to live to them alongside the person. With the Lindsay Lohan doc series, saw me cooking for her, working out with her, helping her with career plans and management and not only developing them but trying them out. A lot of people I think ride on the laurel of their certificates on the wall, where as I like to live the life with the person. I try to dig in and be an example. I don’t come across very many life coaches that actually live by the example. I live alongside them, so that I understand the experience so they can understand that they are not alone in it. I don’t like to tell people what to do; I like to show them what to do.
CENTRIC: What advice would you give to people who feels stuck? Who maybe feel like they can’t overcome their obstacles?
AJJ: You have to believe that there is life that can be lived unstuck, you have to believe that you can get unstuck and you have to believe that you’re worthy of it, if you want it bad enough and if you believe that there is a way and you just haven’t found it yet then you come to the AJ Zone and we’ll help you find a way. You really have to have a faith and believe that there can be a different way.
CENTRIC: Is there a proudest moment that you have so far with the work of the AJ Zone...a success story?
AJJ: I’m proud anytime I watch a client reach a goal that we set. When Gabrielle [Union] got up, I had no idea that she was going to deliver that speech. She quoted a lot of the notes and work that we have done over a seven years span of time. I had no idea she was going to come that clean if you will, in front of an audience, and an audience full of her Hollywood peers and be honest about the work we did. A lot of times, especially with celebrities, just like any doctor visits it’s very confidential, sometimes this work can be very deep that we dive into childhoods, family issues and a lot of times people don’t want to admit those deep wounded problems even though they are on the path to getting better and getting healthy. That’s why a lot of people before Gab or before Lindsay don’t really know what I’m doing because a lot of my work is confidential but that’s why I was so surprised that Gabrielle delivered the speech she did and acknowledged the work that we have done, so that was another proud moment.
When anytime I can experience a level of success and goal attaining with a client I’m proud. When I’m out to speak at a conference and I get a standing ovation or someone just comes up to me after my speech and say, ‘wow you just changed my thinking or you just changed the direction that I was living my life’, that’s a proud moment. Anytime I can bring success to someone it feels like a big moment for me.
CENTRIC: What’s next for you? Is there anything else that’s in the works for you personally, in your career as an actress, life coach or for the AJ Zone?
AJJ: Oh yeah! I’m continuing to do a lot of work helping Oprah.com build their busy platform in addition to my own theAJZone.com, a few TV appearances, as well as on BET’s “Lift Every Voice.” I put together a retreat that will probably jump off in the New Year to help people make decisions and choices for their new self and new you, so I’m going to be pretty busy.
CENTRIC: Any other words of wisdom you’d like share?
AJJ: I was doing great as an actress, I have no complaints; I had a great career going, I had a career that most people beg for but I was called to do something else. There was a passion that was not being set by my lifestyle as an actress in Hollywood and the discipline and the courage in my spiritual life is what led me to follow that passion and I’m so glad that I did. Don’t be afraid to side step on what you think you should be doing when a calling is placed on your life for when you feel like there’s something else that you should be doing to fulfill a purpose. There’s a reason why you feel that undying energy that tireless passion. Try not to ignore it because it rarely steers you wrong.
(Photo: Araya Diaz/WireImage)