Move over Olivia Pope… Iyanla Vanzant is the Ultimate 'Fixer'

"Fix My Life" host Ilyanla Vanzant, left, with journalist Chandra Thomas
“Fix My Life” host Iyanla Vanzant, left, with journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield

Reality Series Tackles Gay Pastors In The Black Church This Weekend
Iyanla Vanzant knows all about comebacks. In her lifetime she’s bounced back from three divorces (including two from the same man), the excruciatingly painful and untimely death of her daughter and most famously a fallout with media mogul Oprah Winfrey. After she and Ms. Winfrey publicly made up on national television, she returned to the small screen in 2012 ago as a “fixer” of sorts (ala’ Olivia Pope style) with her Iyanla: Fix My Life show on OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network).
This Saturday (Oct. 3) the esteemed New York Times Best-Selling author, self-help guru and motivational speaker wraps up the final installment of the emotional three-part season premiere of her unconventional reality show, featuring the salacious story of two gay black pastors who reveal their “down low” lifestyles to their families and congregations respectively. And that’s just the beginning of what season five has to offer.
In signature Iyanla Vanzant ( her first and last names are pronounced “E” like the letter, yon, luh; van like the car, zant rhymes with “aunt”) style, this season of Fix My Life covers a wide range of personal stories, including: a former model addicted to butt implants; a grandmother raising her grandson for her daughter; and the heartbreaking update on African American Olympic medalist Debi Thomas, who now lives in dire poverty. Journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield recently sat down with Vanzant to discuss a diverse mix of topics — from Black Lives Matter to Bill Cosby.
Wow, season five sounds pretty intense?
This season we tackle what we tweet about and what we Instagram about, but don’t talk about  – gay men in the black church: gay ministers in the black church. For us as a community to finally start addressing these issues, we’ve got to start really talking about this stuff. We’ve got to start with the ministers before we can get into [what’s going on with the people in] the pews. [In this season] we talk about violence among women and violence between women. We show a mother who not only pulled a gun on her daughter, but also pulled a knife on her daughter because it was a generational issue. We talk about Debie Thomas who went from becoming the first African American to win an Olympic medal at the Winter Olympics [in 1988] to living in a bedbug infested trailer park in West Virginia with an alcoholic who beats her. We’re dealing with a lot of heavy stuff.
Thomas: You’ve been at it with this show for three years now, what impact do you ultimately hope to have?
Vanzant: I hope that the legacy of reality TV does not have to be wretched and damning — you don’t have to take your clothes off, you don’t have to fight. You can look at real issues with dignity and respect. Look at INNER-tainment instead of entertainment. My show is called Iyanla: Fix My Life. “Fix” means to restore for proper use for its original purpose.
The Black Lives Matter movement is gaining a lot of ground these days. If you were to say, “fix” the issues in the black community, where would you start?
I don’t think the black community needs fixing. When it comes to Black Lives Matter,  it boils down to systemic issues that permeate our society.  If we could see more black people of prominence, we would know that black lives matter. We have a black president now, but you’d never know it. Look at the way he’s treated. If he were treated with the respect he deserves we’d know that black lives matter. If there were fewer economic disparities [in our black community] we’d know that black lives matter. It’s not just about others, we also need to teach black people that black lives matter.
For a while it seemed like Oprah was practically your TV BFF, then you all parted ways until you mended your differences in recent years. Describe your relationship with her now.
Oprah Winfrey is my sister, we’re two women of color with similar backgrounds and experiences. We love and respect each other. Oprah Winfrey, I believe, is an icon in the African American community. I look to her – not up to her – but across from her as an example of what is possible for all of us. Oprah Winfrey is my boss, so when I’m at work I call her Ms. Winfrey. When I email her, I call her “Ms. O.” She is a person that I honor and respect.
Comedian, actor and philanthropist Bill Cosby has come under fire recently for facing a string of accusations that he sexually assaulted dozens of women. What would you say to him if he were on your show?
Mr. Cosby is my elder, I hold him in that regard. I would ask him to tell the truth.  I’d ask him to talk about what happened [with these women] from a truthful perspective. I’d ask him what has he learned as a result of what happened. I think that would be an important starting point.
All that he’s been and done [in entertainment and for education] cannot be negated. He’s a person with a lot of personal stuff going. If J. Edgar Hoover can be the head of the FBI as a cross dresser, Bill Cosby can [continue to] support education. If I were to speak to Bill Cosby, I’d say “tell the truth.”
Tune in to Iyanla: Fix My Life on Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.

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