Well, not quite. Not like a semester, but a couple of days.
Hush. That counts.
And, really, it was a beautiful couple of days. Though, I have to admit that it was riddled with concern because of what was going on an hour or so away in Boston… my two days at Amherst College were awesome.
A few months ago, a pair of Amherst students reached out to me and asked, very plainly, if I would help them put together a fitness initiative for their campus, that’d culminate in me coming out to speak. And, while I was really excited about it – something that actually surprised me, and I’ll share why later – the timing was just too off. An academically rigorous campus, and a demanding workout program created around the time when people start preparing for finals? Good luck.
Instead, I’d simply come out and speak. I’d share what I’ve done for myself, and talk about ways how they could do it too.
The train ride was long, but it was actually quite pleasant. You spend enough time in such an urban environment like NYC, you tend to forget that the rest of America all pretty much looks the same…so as soon as we got out of NYC and into Connecticut, everything looked like Indiana.
Did you cringe? I sort of did, too. But it did! Lots of trees, grass, and quiet. You could hear a deer sneeze. (And this is coming from someone who has definitely had a deer in their backyard before.)
The hotel, the Lord Jeffery Inn, was gorgeous. A giant American flag – and, yes, our flag brings out my inner patriot – hung from the entrance, and the hallways and public spaces were stunning. The staff was amazing.
The girls who brought me there, Liz and Francheska – whew, do I love that name – gave me a tour of campus. I’ve got video of us being silly and overlooking the forest and the hills in the background and, if I ever sit down and actually do it, I’m going to put it all together on video and put it on my YouTube channel… along with the other 4 videos that I’ve done and still haven’t uploaded. Shame on me.
Please, get into that zen garden. So peaceful. It was wonderful being in that space before entering into what, for me, felt like a high-stress situation.
The event was actually a lot of fun. There was a nice-sized crowd, and we had a great conversation. I shared my YouTube video that briefly discusses my journey, and told everyone up front that I’m not really huge on talking about myself, because I do that on my blog every day… and people don’t really come out to hear me speak for all that. People want to know the things that will help them do what they want to do for themselves, so I just wanted to spend the rest of the time taking questions.
And that’s exactly what I did. For over an hour and a half. Francheska literally had to start asking people to leave afterwards. Shoot, we were hungry and hadn’t eaten dinner prior to the event… as far as she was concerned, we had business to take care of. And I wasn’t mad. At. All.
Everybody had questions, and I am proud to say that I… had answers. Everything from eating disorders, to muscle development, to commitment issues, to processed food, to chocolate, to familial distress, to dieting, to detoxing, to addiction, to smoothies and juicing, to metabolic damage and type 2 diabetes… it all came up, and it all came out. I did my best to leave no stone unturned, and tried to give them ways to incorporate what I was saying into their daily lives. I mean, it’s college, and they don’t have kitchens. They don’t have time. If you’re paying fifty stacks a year for an education, your time is focused where? Where it needs to be. On your future.
And this is where I’m most proud of myself and my evolution from “fitness enthusiast” to actual trainer and coach. Cutting things cold turkey was easy for me because, hell, I had the time to deal with the withdrawals and I had the space to get it done. What happens when I have a client who doesn’t work that way? Let’s face it – cutting some stuff cold turkey is traumatizing for some people, for reasons neither they nor I will always understand…. but if the important thing is to work someone down from a bad habit, not just eradicate it completely, what do you do?
I’m really proud of the more nuanced approach I took towards giving direct advice. It’s not “give up those chips, girl,” even though that might be what I did. It’s not “don’t do smoothies, or pork, or drink juice,” even if that’s what I did. It’s so much more about finding out what works for each individual person, and I’m so glad I was able to see that tolerant approach shine through in what I was sharing. I’m also proud of the fact that I was finally able to get beyond my concerns about public speaking. Maybe I underestimated my own knowledge and abilities, but I am very proud of how far I’ve come and am looking forward to possibly having more speaking opportunities and getting even better at it. I just want to share to the best of my ability, and getting better is just a part of the process.
In my traditional reflective fashion, the one thing I wished I was better prepared on is explaining diabetes and insulin sensitivity… because it’s something that I think that young persons of color need to understand, since chances are very high that we have a parent who is either diabetic or pre-diabetic. (Quite frankly, I’m surprised my father hasn’t lost a foot at this point.) Knowing how diabetes truly works in the body affects the choices we make when we eat, and it affects the urgency we feel to encourage our parents and siblings to learn, too. If you think gossip spreads fast, you’d be surprised how quickly good, sensible health advice spreads. Trust me on that one.
Also, and I know this is going to sound strange, but I was pleasantly surprised by the non-persons of color and the guys that were present at the event. People are usually put off by the name of my blog, and I was pleased that people ignored all that – much like the non-girls and non-persons of color who participate here.
Being on that campus, especially while knowing about the high-stakes drama that was happening at the other side of the state. It was kind of weird, because living in NYC, I could catch a train ride for an hour and still be in NYC. In Massachusetts, Amherst being an hour away from Boston means that I’m essentially worlds away… and no one really understood why I was trippin’, so to speak. “Girl, that’s on the other side of the state.”
“Oh…really? An hour away?”
Clearly, I forgot what non-urban life is like. Either that, or MTA has ruined me.
The situation was stressful, but no worry. I went ahead and self-medicated with books. I may or may not be a book hoarder. I visited both Amherst Books, and Food for Thought, which is a book co-op. Found a foreign mag with my boo on the cover.
Ahh, life felt good.
I did spend the next day on campus with the girls, and even ate in their cafeteria. I wanted to see what they were working with. And, though it was a hell of a lot better than what I was eating in college, I understood what they were getting at.
Being at Amherst was affirming for me. I got to learn more about myself and my abilities to follow through on what I’m truly trying to do with myself and my career, and I reaffirmed that yes, I am sincerely capable of helping people. The best thing about lunch the next day, was the student who came up to me and told me she practiced the advice I gave her last night, and it felt painless. Let’s just say… my heart grew three sizes. It was literally like the scene in the end of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
All in all… I learned a lot about myself. I was happy to be there, happy to share, and happy to hug (and, apparently, share natural hair tips to all the girls rocking epic mini-fros who wondered what the hell I’m putting on all this hair I’ve got.) And I’m hoping I’ll get the opportunity to share even more.
Thank you, Amherst, for having me. Now go tell those girls I need to come back and help y’all put on a thorough fitness program!
I graduated from Amherst College in 1993 and have to tell you it’s really cool to think of you speaking there!
Like most of the black girls on campus, I felt FAT from day 1 when I started comparing myself to the thin white girls. I arrived thick as a freshman and got bigger as the years went on. However even with the rigid academic structure I vowed to lose weight my 2nd semester of senior year. “If the athletes can stay in shape, why can’t I get in shape.”
I made time for the gym at least 5 days a week – often getting up early and sloshing down Memorial Hill before the grounds crew could even shovel the snow. I made healthier choices in the dining hall, watched my portions, loaded up on fruits and vegetables, and stopped drinking anything but water.
I was ecstatic to graduate from Amherst College at my goal weight which was less than I’d started as a freshman. I did this all without the help of your blog, fitness magazines, or Facebook pages and managed to keep my grades at a B+. If there had been BGGWL and you were on campus speaking in the 90s, I might have been inspired to take charge of my health sooner. The service you provided to these young adults was priceless. Know that you changed many lives that day.
Go Lord Jeffs!
You know, I wish this was something I could better discuss, but I can’t fully wrap my mind around it. But, with upward mobility comes the expectation of thinness. As we strive to do better than our parents did we’re really unprepared for what the world expects of us, and how those expectations affect our lives.\
Maybe I’ll just do an open thread about it to see what people share.
I think that our parents and previous generations were focused on freedom and civil liberties. They simply didn’t know how to prepare us to live in a world with bad body images, stress eating, and the pressure to fit in.
The girls look so happy and pretty in the pics. I love the idea of you speaking to people on college campus about the journey to a healthy lifesyle. I will be looking for the youtube videos. I love this.
Way to go! Do I smell a “Black Girls Guide to Weightloss National Tour” coming? I would pay to hear you speak!
Seconded! And while you’re at it, why not consider expanding and coming to see your Asia-based fans? 😉
Erika, YOU are an inspiration!
Asia? *faints* I wish! LOL!
*big hugs for everybody* Wow, y’all. Wow. Smiling from ear to ear right now. 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the Pioneer Valley…I spent my college years just down the road at Mount Holyoke. After 2 years of comforting myself with dorm treats and milk and cookies every night (yeah, they did that to us), I got serious about my health. We could have definitely used your positive influence on our campus. Spread the wealth around. Good luck!!!
I really believe you will be doing that speaking tour. You give and give on this blog and to others and that all comes back.
You just changed lives on that campus! I love it!
Now hurry up get a sponser and come to San Antonio. (-:
I was super excited when I heard you spoke at Amherst! My daughter, Imani is a freshman there. Apparently, she didn’t know how much I love you because she chose studying over attending your talk??? Go
Oops I meant “go figure” lol
Amherst is actually 2 – 2.5 hours from Boston and 3 hours from NYC. I’t s actually closer to Hartford, CT than Boston. But, cool visit!
Via train, though? Because my Amtrak ride was definitely 6hours long. BOTH ways.
Either way, I’m not familiar with that area at all, so thank you for helping me out. 🙂
Man! I wish you’d gone right up the street to my alma- Smith College. Two women’s colleges right there and they didn’t get a chance to hear your wisdom. 🙁
But, so glad someone did. I’ll have to reach out to the black student’s alliance out there. UMASS alone would’ve resulted in 5k listeners.
And, YOU GO for overcoming your concerns about public speaking! Awesome to hear someone talk about their growth (beyond weight). 😉
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