Some of life’s experiences are unforgettable, forever seared into our consciousness. Like the birth of a child, a first kiss. For me, it was September 12, 2015. What should have been an otherwise ordinary fall day was anything but. Clear skies, unseasonably cool, low 70s. Pancakes for breakfast. I wore a black tee and jeans. My husband, Baba, was wearing a red hoodie and sweats. Oddly enough, he wanted an orange soda, which I wasn’t pleased about.
Later that day we would find ourselves in the local emergency room and learn that he had stage 4 esophageal cancer. We were incredulous. Baba wanted to share his story with other men when he got better. I was all in. We had new goals!
I immediately leaned heavily into my plant-based and holistic background and cooked and juiced for him. He consumed it all. However, it proved not to be enough. Better never came and Baba died 46 days later. He was 44.
Transforming Grief into Action
Once the weight of grief lifted, I was reminded of the important work to be done: sharing healing tools, specifically with black men. So in January 2017 I completed my 200hr yoga teacher training, and the following September I launched Litehouse Wellness. Litehouse uses yoga, mindfulness, preventative health education, and plant-based nutrition coaching to meet black men where they are and guide them toward wellness. Litehouse is my love offering in honor of my husband and the many husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons who left this earth too soon; it is for the wives, daughters and mothers who mourn their premature passing.
The Critical State of Black Men’s Health
Additionally, I am motivated by the overwhelming need and the critical, largely unaddressed state of black men’s health. According to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013:
- Black men live 7.1 years less than other racial groups.
- Black men experience disproportionately higher death rates in all the leading causes of death (cardiovascular disease and cancer).
- Twice as many black men (40%) die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to white men.
- Black men have a higher incidence of diabetes and prostate cancer.
- Black men 15 to 24 years old suffer a high suicide rate, the third leading cause of death.
Many of the above listed maladies are lifestyle-related; they are preventable and reversible if addressed early enough. Unfortunately, there is a false (and oftentimes, deadly) societal narrative that encourages yet punishes hyper masculinity, and contributes to continual engagement in unhealthy behaviors. As a result, we are not seeing a concerted effort bolstering their wellness.
Litehouse Wellness: A Labor of Love
Litehouse is working to help black men dismantle this construct and re-discover balance. They are thus able to show-up for themselves, their families, and their communities in ways we’ve all longed for.
However, there are challenges! Litehouse Wellness is my labor of love. However, limited financial resources, maintaining a traditional “day job” and barriers to getting my messaging out to my target audience seem to be my three biggest bumps in the road. But I’m deeply encouraged when I consider the extent of my grassroots reach over the last year and a half. For instance, in my very first Litehouse yoga class, disappointingly, I had no men in the room, only women. Just recently I had eleven men and five women—the most men ever!
Lessons Learned Along The Way
In terms of failures, last year we hosted our first men’s health mini-conference and experienced a lower than desired turnout. Sure, a half-full room of men early on a Saturday morning learning about health and wellness is an achievement, but considering the overall investment, it was a bit disappointing. In retrospect, my expectations may have been misplaced and the many lessons learned have left me better prepared for our 2nd annual conference this summer and beyond.
I’ve gleaned so many valuable lessons along my journey with Litehouse Wellness. These, in particular, really stand out:
Intention over outcome
You only plant the seeds, not harvest them.
Create a team
One of my favorite African Proverbs says, “Go fast, go alone. Go far, go together.” Your tribe wants to support you. Yield to them.
Know your worth
You are competent, qualified, and worth the investment of others.
Iron sharpens iron
Connect regularly with those who lovingly challenge and nurture you.
Self-care is mandatory
Taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury. Give to yourself generously, daily.