Now, in a time more critical than ever, Tonya Lewis Lee is working to bridge the health and wellness gap of Black women. With the continued rise in infant and maternal mortality rates, she’s leading the charge and creating a conversation past the silver-screen. From movies to TV, activism to motherhood, her life’s journey is centered in the common thread of women’s emotional and physical well-being, sexuality, and the development of healthy relationships.
For more than 20 years, the mother of two has utilized her platform, creating a safe space for women to uplift, inspire, and empower. Whether she’s authoring children’s books, producing content for the Hallmark Channel such as The Watsons Go to Birmingham, or serving as a national spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, it’s evident she’s leading the charge in education and entertainment.
I’m at a certain age, where I fully realize that life is stages and phases.
Mastering the art of advocacy through their shared values of family, cultural impact, and community Tonya and husband Spike [Lee] represent an unequivocal image of marriage, social justice, and a brand built on feeling mo’ better! BlackLove.com spoke with the attorney and advocate Tonya Lewis Lee to discuss motherhood, minority health, the value of generational love, and much more.
BlackLove.com: As a Black woman, what is self-care for you, and how do you continually practice it?
Tonya Lewis Lee:Self-care starts with treating myself with kindness and not beating myself up over what I’m not doing, what I wish I were doing more of or things of the past. It’s about thinking of ways to take care of myself mentally, spiritually, and physically so I can be the absolute greatest version of my best self. I’m at a certain age, where I fully realize that life is stages and phases. It’s a never-ending ongoing journey, but hopefully, it’s towards self-improvement and always trying to be better.
BL.com: My therapist recently asked the question of who was the most important person in my life. I named everyone except myself, and she reminded me that I’m the most important person in my life.
TLL:We are so trained to think about other people before we think of ourselves. Our mothers and certainly my mother and both of my parents instilled that in me. And it’s a good thing! But we do need to think about ourselves, especially in connection with everyone else because if we’re not well, that just doesn’t work.
BL.com: Growing up, who taught you about love?
TLL:Honestly, my great grandmother. She was my bestie, and I miss her dearly. She was also an amazing supporter of mine. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to know her. She really taught me my worth and how to love.My great grandmother taught me that love is about loving someone fully for who they are and not who you think they should be.
It’s a mutual understanding that each individual has a lot to contribute to the other, the marriage, and the world.
BL.com: How have you instilled this same concept in your daughter?
TLL:My daughter is now 25. I believe the key is to try and let her know that she’s got it! Reminding her of her own worth, what type of friendships or relationships she should have, and how people should treat her. But most importantly, to treat herself with kindness and take care of herself [right now]. Then it will become a habit later. I’ve taught her it’s not about what I want for her. But what she wants for herself – and going for it because the answers are within. As her mother, I’ve chosen to get out of my daughter’s way so she can fulfill her journey of self-discovery, but I’ll still be there when she needs me.
BL.com: It’s compelling that you’re teaching your daughter [Satchel] to create her own path instead of the path that you want for her.
TLL:It’s not easy, and it’s one of the things I had to come to. As parents, you try to direct your children in the way you think will be the best thing for them. What makes me my strongest is knowing my barriers, mistakes, and errors. So you have to allow them [your children] room to make their own mistakes and errors. But be there when it doesn’t work out the way they intended as a sounding board to say, “Ok, what did you learn from that?”
BL.com: Raising a young Black man in America, how have you taught your son the importance of loving himself and building a strong self-image in today’s society?
TLL: It’s not an easy task. Reminding my son of his voice, and ensuring him [Jackson] that what he believes, and the things that are important to him are of value. He has the power within himself to affect change in the way that he sees fit. Also, with young men [in general], I think it’s important to remind them about the relationships they have, whether it be with a girlfriend or friends. To make sure the people around them are positively feeding into them. Again sometimes it’s hard because you have to let your children be and make their own mistakes. For my kids, we [my husband and I] try to be examples for them of what it is to be healthy individuals so they can hopefully grow into that as they mature.
BL.com: This is a learning lesson for me because, as an auntie, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on my nieces and nephews. I’m learning not to react whenever they come to me with issues. Instead, talk them through it.
TLL:Yes, try not to be judgmental and listen! Also, as I said, posing the question to them about the lesson[s] learned from this situation and how we are moving forward so we won’t get stuck. I do not want my children ever to get stuck in this idea of beating themselves up; that is the key to life in general. There is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. “Life is as hard as steel.” It’s not always about being right, having the best time in life, or getting everything you want or need. It’s learning from our mistakes, moving forward, and focusing on trying to do better next time.
BL.com: Switching gears, what has sustained your marriage for more than two decades?
TLL: I think marriage has taught me more about myself than anything. What I will and won’t put up with and what’s important to me. I believe in marriage; two individuals need to focus on what is most important to them and having the space to go out into the world and work towards achieving just that. Then be able to go home and be in support of each other. It’s a mutual understanding that each individual has a lot to contribute to the other, the marriage, and the world.
BL.com: 2020 is here. How do you plan on continuing the conversation about the importance of women’s health, wellness, and sexuality past the silver-screen?
TLL: I am so excited about this year, especially surrounding the topics of women’s health, women’s reproductive health, and healthy families. I recently joined the board of March of Dimes. I’m excited because the March of Dimes focuses on the health of women and stronger babies with an emphasis on the disparity between black mothers and infants than that of whites in the United States.
When women come together specifically with the agenda of talking about health and wellness, it is a powerful thing.
I’m continuing with my vitamin line Movita Organics, and we’re in discussions to expand. I’m potentially creating a podcast where I can bring together all types of stakeholders to talk more about these topics. One thing I have come to realize, when women come together specifically with the agenda of talking about health and wellness, it is a powerful thing.
I look forward to creating these spaces and participating in lots of conversations in 2020 around health and wellness, especially for Black women. The more we talk about it, the better we all get.