Series 29: For the Love of Black Lives | Episode 04
The Black Woman’s Fight to Be Well, with Christina M. Rice
Though many of our country’s systems of care desperately need an overhaul, there’s one system in particular that could improve greatly to help Black Americans: healthcare. It’s unimaginable to any of us that we might get lesser care, for example, if we were giving birth to our first child. But black women find themselves in these situations often–even those who wouldn’t be considered to have less means–where healthcare professionals aren’t listening to their needs or taking time to understand their health concerns–and this sometimes leads to disastrous consequences, including deaths that could have been avoided. These healthcare gaps are part of an unhealthy loop that starts with a huge imbalance in economic resources, which leads to a lack of access to healthy food, gyms, nutritional education, and as our guest today says, “places that are considered well.” Christina M. Rice is a wellness expert and chief experience officer of OMNoire, a social wellness community for Black women and women of color dedicated to living well. Christina shares about her own wellness experiences as a Black woman, and how finding yoga helped her realize the need for wellness spaces where Black women and women of color feel seen and welcome. Christina describes why it’s so important for everyone to prioritize the health of Black women and men and that tackling the issues of health care inequity may be daunting, but we must speak up and do our part to amplify voices of color so that Black bodies are allowed to flourish.
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Christina: There has to be equal access to quality healthcare. There has to be equal access to quality healthcare. There has to be equal access to places in low income neighborhoods, just as much as in wealthy neighborhoods, places that are considered well.
Jen: Welcome to the For the Love Podcast with me, Jen Hatmaker. Today, we’ll talk about gaps in health care and wellness for Black women and men with wellness expert and entrepreneur Christina Rice.
Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I am super happy you’re here today because we have an episode for you that’s absolute fire.
Right now, we are in a series called For the Love of Black Lives, which feels urgent and acute and important. And I thank you for your incredibly high engagement around this series as we listened and learned to some of the absolute best leaders and thinkers of color out there.
So today we’re going to tackle a part of Black American life that absolutely deserves not just our attention, but reform. Because the well-being, the care, the beauty of Black bodies has largely been disregarded in this country. Black bodies have not been given the same care and treatment as white bodies, which is not just shameful—it is harmful. And so today, we are going to examine the disparities and gaps in health and wellness that the Black community has experienced every single day.
Then we’re going to take a look at how we can mobilize as allies to help reshape policies and systems to better and equally serve our Black family, friends, and neighbors. Right now, anybody with privilege, anybody who is centered, needs to listen to voices of authority here, to the Black women and men who have lived through these gaps and can help us see them and understand them so that together we can build a bridge to wholeness and healing for everybody.
And so lucky us, today we get to talk to a force for black wellness. Her name is Christina Rice. She is the founder and chief experience officer of OMNoire. OMNoire is a social wellness community for Black women and women of color who are dedicated to living well. I loved this conversation. Christina, first of all, is an absolute boss. She is a serial entrepreneur, a certified yoga instructor, she launched her very own business in Nashville when she was twenty-one. After that, Christina worked in marketing and PR for fifteen years before launching ONNoire just a few years ago. But let me tell you a little bit about OMNoire. It’s an incredible organization. OMNoire has blossomed at this point into an online community of more than 40,000 women. It has hosted summits and master classes with some of the most sought after leaders. Just a beautiful place for women to connect with themselves and each other.
OMNoire has led retreats in places like Granada and Bali and Barbados and Ghana. Like okay, as well as providing immersive experiences that are steeped in well-being activities, some that are just virtual. There is an access point all along the spectrum here where attendees can find a deeper connection to themselves and the richness of their communities. It’s really amazing. I can’t wait for you to hear this conversation.
Christina is an absolute self-starter. A woman lighting up the world with her fire. So it’s absolutely fitting that Inc Magazine voted Christina as one of the 100 women building America’s most ambitious and innovative companies in 2019. Wow. Deserved. You’ll see. Deserved.
There’s so much to learn by watching the way Christina leads, listening to her specific body of expertise and watching the way she lifts up the women around her, creating these beautiful places for women for rest and healing and wholeness and wellness. I was so inspired by this conversation today, and I think you will be, too. So welcome with me the absolutely brilliant and talented Christina Rice.
Christina, welcome. Welcome, welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I’m really so happy to meet you today.
Christina: Thank you so much for having me, Jen. I am so excited about our conversation.
Jen: Me too.
Christina: I, of course, met you virtually during the Share the Mic Now campaign, so I’m happy to reconnect.
Jen: I know. My team and I—of course that’s where we were exposed to your work initially—really, really wanted you on the podcast. I’m like, “Send out an invitation immediately. Let’s see if we can get her. She’s so busy.” We’re honored that you said yes and that you’re here.
I’ve told my listeners a little bit about who you are, but I am really interested to hear from you about the beautiful work you’re doing at OMNoire. Let’s—if you don’t mind—take it back to the beginning, and just who you are. I’m interested to hear about your own wellness journey. What has that looked like for you, Christina? What’s been your experience as a Black woman growing up in America, trying to find healthy practices for self-care, or places for you to live and thrive in community, or that celebrate your beauty? How did this start for you? What was your original experience?
Christina: Growing up—and I think this is the plight of many Black Americans—we were not really exposed to a lot of healthy practices. I mean, a lot of us, we have families, parents that are from the South. They were also raised on certain types of foods, and obviously very heavy foods, very Southern foods. It wasn’t until later on in my adult life that I actually was exposed through my own practices to a healthier lifestyle. Of course, that doesn’t take away from our parents and how they raised us, but this is also what we call generational. They only teach what they know, right? The plight of many Black Americans is that we are raised on unhealthy foods. And things like yoga and meditation and exercise, just various forms of physical activity, we’re just not really exposed to that. For the most part, it’s probably not in our neighborhoods, like, yoga studios and spin studios and all that kind of stuff.
I was raised in Akron, Ohio. I went to college at TSU in Nashville. Right after college, I decided to open up a clothing store at twenty-one. So, I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life, my entire adult life, for the past twenty years.
After I closed my store, I moved to New York. I kind of fell into the PR industry and launched my own agency around 2015. I was going through a very difficult time in my life, a really bad breakup, a toxic relationship. My business was suffering. My friendships, my mental health, everything was suffering.
And over the years, I’ve tried different types of physical activity. I’ve even ran a half marathon, kickboxing, spinning. It wasn’t until I walked into this $5 yoga studio two blocks from my office in Manhattan that I really discovered my true love of this practice. I say this a lot, it really saved my life. Because had I not been really intentional about focusing on my spirituality and my emotional and mental health, I don’t know where I would be today. One of the things that I want to point out, and the reason why I said $5 yoga studio, is because for the most part, most studios are typically priced a lot higher, right?
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: This is something that you really enjoy to do, and you would go every day or every other day if you could. After a while, that $25 and that $30 starts to add up, right?
Jen: Yeah, it sure does.
Christina: Yeah, so that also eliminates a certain economic group, of course where in neighborhoods they’re located. Thankfully, I found this studio. It’s actually a donation thing. I say $5 because I always used to give $5. Through that process, and this was spring 2015, I started going every day. Because in that time, I was just searching for something to get me out of this dark place that I was in, and so I found it. Sometime around the summer of 2015, they announced they were doing a yoga teacher training. I didn’t know if I really wanted to teach, but I knew I wanted to get deeper in my practice.
So I signed up and started fall 2015. One thing that I noticed [was that] out of fifty-four students, I was the only Black woman. Even through a ten-week process, very intensive training—and I did get close to many of them—I still didn’t feel like I was in a safe space. I just didn’t have anyone that looked like me, that understood even my own insecurities for my own shape. You go into a yoga studio, it’s these size two white women, right?
Christina: Who are super busy. They practice yoga probably all day, every day. So you come in bigger and not as flexible. You’re trying to learn this practice, but it doesn’t feel as welcoming and as inclusive. Through my training, as a student, as a teacher, I noticed that Black women would navigate to my classes. A lot of times, after the class they would say, “Thank you for seeing me. You really made it feel welcoming for me.” That’s where the idea of OMNoire came from, for us to create that space for Black women and women of color.
Jen: I want to go back through several things you said and kind of parse it out, because you just dropped so much right there in that answer.
One thing that you have said before, you said, “I felt there weren’t any platforms that were really addressing how we can be more proactive with our health, and spaces where we could just breathe and look around, and see the woman next to us who understands our challenges as Black women.” Which is kind of what you just described. When I read that sentence, it feels so acute. It feels so necessary. And, to your exact point, white women in dominant culture just don’t understand this.
Jen: Everywhere we look, everyone looks like us. Can you talk about why it’s so important to have places, especially inside wellness work, where everyone can rest, and feel at home, and feel seen, and feel known? And maybe even how tiring and how exhausting, and even just demoralizing code switching is all the time, and why that sort of work moved you into OMNoire?
Christina: You know, we’ve talked about this as Black women a lot, that we are kind of raised to be superwomen, right?
Christina: To constantly have on that cape. And so we push ourselves and push ourselves. In every room that we’re in, we’re fighting to be seen, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be respected.
And so OMNoire for me, it was really my safe space. I wanted to create a space that felt welcoming and inclusive for Black women and women of color that we could let our hair down. That we can talk to each other in a way that we understand, listen, from systemic racism, from generational trauma. From all of these things that we’ve had to fight through in this day and age, we’re that happy and safe and peaceful space where we can, one, be together in a room that, like I said, feels welcoming and safe. But also, we can learn from each other because we speak the same language.
Christina: One of the things that in all my retreats and spaces that we curate for our community, I say, “Every woman in this room has gone through a struggle or is currently going through a struggle.” That’s how you identify with the woman in the room that looks like you, and you can have those really open and vulnerable conversations. When we’re in rooms that we are the minority, which mostly we are, those conversations aren’t crafted for us.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: They’re not talking about the disparities in healthcare and wellness and education, everything that is really built against us and against our survival in this world. So when we get in this space, we can talk about that, and how do we change it within our community first?
Jen: That’s so good.
You mentioned systemic, the systemic nature of this. I’d like to talk about that. The term wellness, it’s kind of new in the zeitgeist and it covers a lot. That encompasses exercises, and food, and relationships, and mental and emotional and physical health, just to name a few.
So I wonder, when I think about these things under the umbrella of wellness, can you talk about what kinds of obstacles Black Americans face as they pursue health in these areas that their white counterparts might not necessarily face at all?
Christina: I mean, we can run down statistics all day long. When you said, “Wellness encompasses so much,” I do believe—and this is what I teach—that wellness is a 360 degree journey. One doesn’t work without the other.
When we talk about disparities in healthcare, we have to talk about economic disparities.
Christina: And the disparities in just wealth. White families hold 90% of the wealth in this country. Black families hold 2.6% of that. I just read a recent report that even Black families that obtain middle class status, their children are likely not to stay in the middle class. They either stay the same or they do worse.
Christina: We’re not even set up to build generational wealth.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: It’s interesting, because we have a virtual retreat this weekend to address that, and why we all have access to certain educational resources and finance, like, how to build generational wealth. We’re not taught that. We’re not taught about real estate and things like that. But white families, they teach it within their own communities. We haven’t gotten to that place yet, to have those conversations where we’re passing knowledge in community and family, and family to family.
So when we talk about disparities, like I said, in wellness and healthcare, we have to talk about economic [disparities]. We have to talk about education. We have to talk about why Black Americans are far more likely to not have access to emergency medical care.
Christina: Then we get into the pregnancy mortality rate for Black women. You’ve seen the stories. Even wealthy Black Americans, like Serena Williams and Beyoncé, talked about being in the hospital and doctors not listening to them. Because again, like I said, it’s just a domino effect. When we start, when we are born in families that are already coming from a deficit economically, that translates to everything else. That’s a food desert.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: We can even go into that.
Jen: I’d like to hear you talk about that.
Christina: Low income neighborhoods are really considered a food desert that do not have access to healthy food and nutritional food. $50 of frozen and boxed foods will last a family, a low income family, longer than $50 of healthy and fresh foods. So then, of course, they have limited choices.
Christina: In low income neighborhoods, you have more convenience stores that have limited shelf space. It’s a bunch of canned food and frozen food and boxed food. Of course, obviously more gas stations. Again, it becomes a domino effect.
Then we go into obesity and heart disease. Those numbers disproportionately affect Black Americans.
Jen: You’ve shared this stat before, that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, that Black women have the highest rate of obesity compared to any other group in the country. It’s just such a sobering thing to hear, because there is so much systemic injustice wrapped around that outcome. Which to me, of course reeks of privilege because of everything you just mentioned. It’s cost, to time, to access.
Jen: “You’re just not making good choices.” But what you are describing, these are the facts. The facts are that, systemically, the Black community is set up for failure in terms of health. It’s just real.
How do you suggest, I mean, this is a big elephant that you have to eat one bite at a time. But what are some of the low-hanging fruit options and reforms that you suggest we begin making to reverse this, essentially injustice inside health and wellness for the Black community?
Christina: It’s going to take years. It might even take generations for us to see major, major, major change, because we have to dig through 400 years of this, right?
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: I mean, 2020 has really shown the ugly underbelly of America. We’re going through it at the same time. Civil rights, women’s rights, a pandemic.
Jen: Yeah, gosh.
Christina: A lack of true leadership.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: This is our reckoning right now. Then on top of that, and I was thinking about this earlier, the pandemic has really shown behavioral patterns of Americans, and what that inner mindset is too. Because if you care for your neighbor and you look out for your neighbor, and not just yourself, this pandemic would not have been as massive. Because we see so many people that are so reckless now, right?
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: They haven’t been affected, so they don’t think about it. Imagine, like you said, white America has not really been conscious and intentional about Black lives because it had nothing to do with them.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: It took the death of George Floyd and the horrific nature of his death for people to wake up, and understand the need for police reform, and just so many other things. Which I just went on a whole other tangent…
Jen: Listen, but it all goes together.
Christina: It does all go together.
Jen: These are systems that are intertwined, and one injustice feeds the next.
Jen: Once you start pulling the thread, the whole damn thing unravels. It’s all connected. What you’re saying is very relevant when you look at behavior patterns that the pandemic is exposing, and this real sense of partisanship around just the most basic safety practices that are working in every other country. You kind of see that it’s this privileged response to keeping your neighbor safe from largely the white community, and this matters. This matters to a lot of the things that you and I are talking about. That sort of position is also at the root of the healthcare disparities. I mean, it’s just one big monster. It’s a huge monster.
Christina: I want people to understand, especially white America, systemic racism is costly.
Jen: Yeah, it is.
Christina: It affects everyone. The economic cost of even with the pandemic and Black Americans being adversely affected over white America, that is straining our healthcare system.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: That affects everyone. Think about—and I’m sure we’ll get into white allyship—if you do your part as a white ally, you start to, like you said, unravel all of the thread of economic disparities—healthcare, wellness, everything like that—to make a better, more cohesive America. That affects everyone positively.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: What’s happening, everyone is negatively affected. Every single American, even across the world, we are affected by a pandemic one way or the other.
But it’s really, like I said, it’s showing the ugly underbelly of American life. And how we have our blinders on with things that do not affect us. But again, of course, this is our reckoning. This is our time to have these conversations.
And you did say something about solutions. There is going to have to be massive unraveling of a lot of things. But I think for the most part, if really want to, I mean, we really have to unravel our healthcare system. This has been a fight for years, that there has to be equal access to quality healthcare.
Christina: There has to be equal access to places in low income neighborhoods, just as much as in wealthy neighborhoods, places that are considered well. Whether it’s gyms that are more cost effective, or donation based. There are a couple things that need to be inputted here for us to start to flatten this curve.
But here’s the rock and hard place with gentrification. When I think about low income neighborhoods, if they’re able to bring in a healthier grocery store, better quality gyms, all of that stuff, what it does is it drives up the cost of living.
Jen: Right, dang it.
Christina: Families are again pushed back, and then are pushed into smaller spaces.
Jen: That’s right, such a conundrum.
Jen: This is a requirement. This is a required focus right now. Our healthcare system is so inequitable. The gaps are humongous. Obviously, I think you mentioned this, the mortality rates for Black mothers and babies are so much higher than for white mothers and babies in America. Black patients don’t receive the same regard from the administration of pain medication. I mean, it’s bonkers. When you read it on its face, it’s so absurd. It’s so unjust. I think that’s why we see so often the white response is just fragile. It’s so fragile to say, “No, that can’t be true. Surely medical care is not systematically biased. Surely that’s just a basic right that we have set up.”
Systems are so hard to confront and admit. It’s so much easier to just come down to these individual spots. But when we look at these sweeping systems, the data doesn’t lie. Those are just facts.
Jen: That is not a biased opinion, it’s just facts that when we look at our healthcare system, it is undeniably biased toward white Americans and against Black Americans.
You said this a second ago, and it’s just so big. It’s so big, and you may be right that we’re looking at generations of intentional work. But these are the truths. This is the lived experience of so many Black Americans inside our healthcare system. I like how you said that, how did you say it? “Places that are well.” I never heard anybody say it in that way. I really like that, just places that are well inside every community, all along the economic spectrum. How do we begin to address these systemic inequalities inside the healthcare system at large?
Christina: I think we have to dial it back even a little bit further, and address it in grade school. We are not typically, I’m not sure from your experience, but I don’t even remember being taught nutrition in school. Many, many, many health issues come from unhealthy eating. It starts, of course, when we’re younger. We maintain those same habits throughout our childhood, throughout our adulthood. Then of course, that’s where heart disease and obesity and diabetes [occur] in adults, is because from a young age, we are eating candy, tons of sugar, processed foods, all of that stuff. Because if we can address it in grade school, then the disparities in the healthcare system from just the way that Black people are disproportionately affected will start to lower.
Even now, and I’m so grateful for it, that the wellness conversation is so big now among the Black community. I’m grateful that even in our community, we’ve done our part to address that, right? How we can start to reverse some of our behavioral patterns, and also just some of our physical health issues. Last year, even as an entrepreneur, I’m sure you understand that many times our wellbeing becomes the last thing that we think about.
Christina: Right? And so last year, I was at the doctor. Here I am, I’m running a wellness company. I go to the doctor, I’m so intent on my business that I haven’t even been paying attention that I started to gain weight. I did a physical, and the doctor is like, “Your blood pressure is way up. You’re going to have to reverse it so that I don’t put you on medication.” Blood pressure medication has tons of adverse effects, from thinning hair and just all that stuff. I got really, really, really focused on my health. But I realized that this was old behavior starting to resurface. If I’m not really intentional, and really focus on a daily basis on my health, then I’m going to fall back into old patterns myself. Imagine the struggle.
Christina: From the Black American experience, even as entrepreneurs, as employees, how we are so focused on being the best because we have to be, and over-prove that we are educated, and we can run businesses, and we can help companies grow. That of course because of that, our wellness and our wellbeing is the last thing we think about. Because we can’t think about anything else.
Jen: I appreciate you saying that because if you, an absolute wellness expert, can also put your own wellness last place, I appreciate the honesty in that. That is how hard it can be. That is the uphill climb, even when that’s your supreme focus.
I’d like to talk about you a little bit more, because I think that your path is so interesting. What you discovered is really fascinating to me. As you mentioned, you obviously found your niche in yoga. You said this earlier. I hope my listeners picked it up, because you said when you went to training, out of fifty-four people, you were the only Black woman in the room. That’s a remarkable thing to say, only one out of fifty-four.
Can you talk a little bit about specifically what yoga has meant to you, and why it is that that practice has served you so well? And how it is now that you use yoga as an instructor, as a master, to serve your community?
Christina: I want to go back to the one in fifty-four really quick. I’m not surprised by it for two reasons. One, because for so long, wellness was not welcoming to Black Americans. Yoga is kind of that practice that has been very white washed.
Jen: Very white, yeah.
Christina: Very white washed. Secondly, the cost. I was fortunate that I was in a financial position to pay for yoga teacher training. But you’re talking about $2400 and above.
Jen: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Christina: That already takes out a large economic group right there. I wasn’t surprised to be the only one. I was more saddened. Because when I went through this process, like I said, it saved my life. I wanted to give that to other Black women, to find something that not only was challenging physically, but also spiritually, right?
Christina: To grow within a practice that was a journey from the inside out. With OMNoire and introducing that to my community, and introducing it in a way that, like I said, I understand their own challenges within this wellness industry, within this practice. And to teach from that standpoint, that was what was so important for me. I literally have given what this practice and what this community has given to me.
Jen: What was the response? Were you met with any resistance? Because as you mentioned, that has been very much a white space. Did you have to talk some members of your community into believing the yoga hype, or was it an immediate land for them?
Christina: It was an immediate land. I think just because again, the way that I talk about my experiences and just understanding their own challenges and insecurities, and even lack of knowledge about this practice. Because for many, they just haven’t been introduced to it in the way that we understand it. And how crucial it is for us, both mentally and physically.
When I started teaching, like I said, flocks of Black women would come to my classes. They understood that this was something that they needed.
Jen: I love that.
Christina: For my own personal journey, this practice has allowed me to grow from my spirituality. Even finding my voice. I said earlier that I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach because I had a fear of public speaking.
Christina: So when I started teaching, I found my voice.
Jen: That’s great.
Christina: I found my home. I wanted to give that back to my community. We’ve had so many women that are in our community that have gone on to get their yoga certifications, that have said that I’ve motivated them. I’m just grateful for that.
Jen: God, I love that so much.
Can you talk a little bit more about OMNoire and how you’ve built it? How you’ve structured it, what you offer the women in your community through it, and kind of what the experience has been like for you.
Christina: Yes. It’s so interesting. I launched OMNoire in 2016, and it really was only an Instagram page. I just wanted to highlight other Black women and women of color in wellness.
But in 2017, a mutual friend, she came to me and was like, “Have you ever thought about doing a wellness retreat?” I said, “I of course had thought about it,” but I was also still running my PR agency.
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Christina: She came onboard. She was like, “I’ll help.” We planned our first wellness retreat. That was October 2017. We had over fifty Black women who attended our first retreat.
Christina: And we didn’t even have a large following, probably like 2500…
Christina: …at that time. After the retreat, everyone was like, “What’s next? When is the next retreat?” I was like, “I don’t know!” It was just something that I did. Then 2018 came and I was like, Okay, well it’s time to get serious. Obviously, I’ve found a niche and people need this.
And so I planned out three more retreats, and really started to form a company and a business. It was in that spring of 2018 where I was just like, I’m over PR. I don’t have a passion for it anymore. I’m ready to focus on OMNoire full-time. A lot of people ask me, “It had to be difficult to transition from one career to the other.” It really wasn’t.
Jen: That’s great.
Christina: It felt like actually, I had discovered my purpose and my passion. I just moved and moved into that. Since then, we have hosted six retreats in the last two years. We had three this year. Of course, I rescheduled. But last year, even though our retreats literally were probably 95% of our revenue, a thought came to me from an email that a woman had sent from San Francisco. She asked, “Do you have any online resources for women who cannot attend your retreat?”
Christina: Within thirty seconds, I was like, “We need to launch a virtual retreat experience.”
Jen: Oh, yes.
Christina: That was essentially bringing our retreat experience to our members’ homes, for women who couldn’t afford our retreat. But also, just life, whether it’s not being able to take it off of work…
Christina: …or family, or children, and that kind of thing. We launched last year. We had over 100 members. This was our membership community. This year in 2020, initially, it was going to be a six-week experience, which it was last year. For this year, I was like, “I just want it to be an ongoing membership.”
Jen: That’s good.
Christina: Whether you pay monthly or annually, whatever the case may be. I initially was going to launch it in May. But when the pandemic happened or occurred, and quarantine in the middle of March, I was like, “We need to launch it now because people need it. They need community.”
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: “But they also need wellness resources.”
Jen: Yes, God.
Christina: “Right in their home.” And so we launched at the end of March. Within that kind of process, I also was like, “We should do one-day retreat experiences for everyone.”
Jen: That’s great.
Christina: We’ve hosted three so far. Our fourth one is this weekend. We have basically three verticals. Of course, our retreat, our membership platform, and now our all-day virtual retreat experience.
Jen: So great, oh my gosh. It’s just only going to grow. The sky is the limit for this. It just feels like nothing but potential to me when I think about it. I’m a creator like you with an entrepreneurial spirit. My brain is just spinning like, Oh my gosh. This is going to be so huge.
And you can scale. Your business model is so impressive because you can scale. Bring them on, bring on the women. You can serve them.
Christina: That’s so true! Of course, I have to say, when we were first quarantined, the first two weeks, I just could not. I felt so heavy. I felt like just my energy had shifted because the world had shifted. I kept thinking, What can we do? What can we do? What can we give more? That’s where the retreat came from. I even personally know a Black woman at thirty-nine years old who just committed suicide two or three weeks ago. I knew that the anxiety and the depression that Black women are affected by the most, just outside of the pandemic and quarantine, that it was going to be heightened at this time.
And so I just kept saying, “We have to build a community where, one, we can help them step away from social media, step away from the news, and be amongst family, and be amongst community and women that understand, and women that need the same things that they do. It’s been an incredible experience with these virtual retreats and the growth of our membership community. Because it really was this space that we needed to create for just the mental health of Black women at the time.
Jen: Let me ask you this, because OMNoire was recognized as an excellent wellness resource for Black women in the middle of a pandemic, which is incredible. You just recently talked about that. But there aren’t enough resources for the wellness of Black men. Would you talk about this imbalance, and why it’s so important to work toward the health of both Black men and Black women?
Christina: Absolutely. Of course, I’ve seen more platforms grow. And I’m glad that I posed that question and that challenge, because I saw so many pages being tagged. But it’s just not widely—I don’t want to say accepted, but I think from a Black male standpoint, this also goes to not just mental health, but physical health. And the reason why numbers are so high for Black men is because they don’t go to the doctor enough. Of course, for such a long time, therapy and mental health was kind of…
Christina: Yeah, it was stigmatized. Of course, even expressing their feelings. Of course, being in spaces with other Black men, really the answer to OMNoire for Black women is that we need one for Black men as well.
Jen: That’s good.
Christina: Like I said, we have platforms that are growing, that are out there. I just don’t think we have enough. I hope that in this space now, that Black men are starting to understand that they have to take care of their mental health for the health of their family. Because guess who suffers when a Black man is unhealthy mentally?
Jen: Of course.
Christina: His partner and his children. Now, like I said, I see a lot more platforms. I just hope that we see more. And I think actually, besides George Floyd, before that, even the death of Kobe Bryant.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Christina: For Black men was really, really hard. I saw a lot of conversations online and a lot of IG Lives and Zoom calls for Black men that surfaced after his death. Then of course with George Floyd, it’s such a need now to protect the mental health of Black men. Because Black women, we’re doing our part now.
Christina: When we’re healthy and we go home to unhealthiness, there’s that disconnect.
Christina: Hopefully, we’ll have more, like I said, Black men talking more openly about their mental health.
Jen: I hope you’re right.
On the OMNoire website, you have a quote from Rumi that I love. I wrote it down in my notebook. It says, “Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being.” I wonder if, as we kind of start to wrap this up, could we examine this through the lens of allyship, which you mentioned earlier? From your perspective, how can some of your white allies with privilege, how can we be meaningful sisters? Meaningful allies to our Black brothers and sisters, specifically in the sector of healthcare and wellness? What do you think that looks like?
Christina: I think it’s really, really basic. I think it is using your voice and using your power and your white privilege to speak up. Before that, it’s really acknowledging that there is a problem. From the Black experience, when we talk about Black Lives Matter, we’re not saying, “Other lives do not matter.” All lives do matter. But if Black lives don’t matter, all lives can’t matter.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: We have to acknowledge that the reason why we are projecting our voices more so now, with everything that has gone on just in this year alone, that we are screaming that Black lives have to matter.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: If our white allies can acknowledge that first and foremost, not just with themselves, but with their families, their friends, their companies, and everywhere that they can use their power and privilege to be a white ally, then we’re getting somewhere.
Jen: That’s right.
Christina: Secondly, like you said, in healthcare and wellness, that is speaking up as well. We posted not too long ago how to be a white ally just for Black women in the wellness space—and Black men too. The studios that you love, the wellness spaces you frequent, if you don’t see a Black face in there, you have to speak up.
Jen: That’s good.
Christina: If you are the instructor, you have to speak up. Because you have to acknowledge that your privilege and power can actually make a difference.
Jen: That’s right. That’s not hard. It is not hard. This is absolutely accessible to every ally with a voice. It’s interesting to see some of the downhill momentum that can come from that allyship. It really does matter. I think when white women feel paralyzed and frozen, it’s too big, it’s too systemic, it’s too wide, it’s too long. I can’t make a difference. That is a real crippling narrative that’s actually not true, that every little bit that we chip away together counts. It all counts.
Is there value for white women to put themselves under the leadership of Black women in wellness? Specifically in your construct. Or is it more important that you keep that space absolutely and utterly safe and welcoming for Black women? Does that make sense?
Christina: That’s a good question. I’m not even sure how to answer that. I will say this. OMNoire is inclusive. It’s not exclusive. Anybody can join our community. Anybody can come on our retreat. Just know as non-black or non-person of color that the conversation is going to be centered around wellness of Black women and Black men.
Jen: That’s great.
Christina: Okay? But that’s an opportunity for you to learn so that when you go back into your community, you can speak from the Black experience that you heard, maybe not that you experienced.
Jen: Yeah, that’s good.
Christina: And say, “These are the things that I need to do as a white ally in my white spaces, because I have actually listened to Black women.”
Jen: That’s great.
Christina: One of our members in the community, in our membership community, she’s a white woman from Utah.
Jen: Wow, that’s real white.
Christina: She just has a ball.
Jen: Does she?
Christina: Yeah, she’s on our Zoom calls. She is right there, present. She listens a lot, but she is just as part of the community as anybody else. I say it’s not inclusive, I don’t really know if I would necessarily bring on a white teacher or a white instructor.
Christina: I don’t know that. I’m going to be honest with you all.
Jen: Right, well, they’re not centered.
Jen: You’re centering Black women and the Black experience and Black wellness. That makes exact and perfect and right sense to me.
Christina: Absolutely, and also because I have just made it my mission to amplify Black voices in the wellness space. So I want our community to see Black nutritionists and Black OBGYNs. I want them to see that. There’s directories out there now, with Black mental health therapists and OBGYN doctors, because of what we face when we go into these white spaces of not being heard.
Jen: Of course.
Christina: Or not understanding our experiences. Like I said, anybody can come on our retreat. I have a girlfriend who is Armenian. She’s been on some retreats. We have our community members. Any woman can be a part of our community. Just know that you are there to listen and be an ally.
Jen: So great. God, I love it.
Christina: Not to debate and say, “I don’t see color.” No, I need you to see color. I need you to see color.
Color also acknowledges the disparities that Black Americans face, that’s it. By seeing color, you are compassionate, considerate, and intentional about your presence in our spaces. But also your voice in other spaces that we’re not in.
Jen: Beautiful, that’s perfect. I want to wrap it up with you, Christina. These are quick, off the top of your head questions that we’re asking all the women in this series, For the Love of Black Lives. This first one is a doozy. I’m sure it can be really, really long, so you can just pick.
Jen: Who has been either one or a couple of your greatest role models?
Christina: Women I know, or women I just admire?
Christina: Okay. Of course, I have to start with my grandmother and my mother. Of course, you have to start there. These are the women that raised me.
Christina: And thankfully have always encouraged me to use my voice. It took a long time for me to find it, but these are obviously the first women who I came after. Tarana Burke, I mean, come on.
Jen: Yeah, I know. Come on.
Christina: She’s just such a powerful voice.
Jen: She is.
Christina: I haven’t met her, but I know she is a part of Share the Mic Now. I hope that I do get a chance to. Of course, Michelle Obama. Of course our ancestors, women that fought long before I was even a thought for civil rights and women’s rights and whatnot. Oprah. I mean, we just have such a long, long, long list of women. Let’s amplify their voices for the good of Black women, for women’s rights, for civil rights. But yeah, I would say just off the top of my head, those are the women I would say are my role models.
My mentor, her name is Angela Benton. She is a veteran tech entrepreneur.
Christina: She’s incredible, incredible, incredible. I hope that she can be a part of the next Share the Mic Now.
Christina: Yeah, I would love for her, because she has been fighting systemic racism in Silicon Valley for a long time.
Jen: Yeah. Oh, that’s a really important conversation.
Jen: What’s her name again?
Christina: Angela Benton.
Jen: Yeah, pioneer.
Christina: Yeah. This is her third tech company she launched last year. But because she was facing so much opposition when she was raising her seed round in white spaces, she decided to do a crowdfund. And in four days, she raised over $1 million.
Christina: And that was just last week.
Jen: What? Wow!
Jen: Wow. Oh, okay. I’m going to keep my eye on her too. Thank you for that introduction.
Christina: This is what we call group economics. We have to reinvest into the Black community. I can imagine probably 80%, 85% of her investors were Black.
Jen: That’s amazing. We can’t even start talking about VC money for women of color. It barely registers.
Christina: Yeah, but she would be a fantastic guest.
Jen: Yeah. Well, speaking of, this is the next question. Who are some of your favorite artists or teachers or leaders of color that you’d like us to be listening and learning from and supporting right now?
Christina: Off the top of my head, Rachel Cargle.
Jen: Yeah, I can’t handle her. I can’t handle her. She’s so smart that I just have to really concentrate to just stay with her.
Christina: I know.
Jen: She’s just an incredible leader.
Christina: I know, she’s awesome. You could just go to her page, and it just starts to branch out of all the women that are in her community. And just everything that she teaches, and the passion with which she leads her foundation. And just amplifying Black voices.
I love Tricia Hersey.
Jen: I don’t know her.
Christina: She’s the founder of The Nap Ministry. The foundation of that is encouraging Black women to rest.
Jen: Oh, I see what you’re saying now. Oh, that’s fantastic.
Jen: Good. Those are such good recommendations. Everybody, we will link to all of those leaders so you can have a one-stop shop there.
Last question, Christina. This is actually something I ask every guest in every series. You can answer this however you want. Answers to this question have run the gamete from the most hilarious, ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard, to something deeply sober and poignant and earnest. You pick. But this is a question from a priest that I love. She says, “What is saving your life right now?”
Jen: That’s good.
Christina: I’ve been saying that this pandemic, one of the good things that has come out of it is that it has caused us to slow down.
Jen: No doubt.
Christina: Because I’m sure many of us were going 100 miles per hour because this is what we do. Of course, again, our wellbeing is the last thing that we focus on. For me, I have been very intentional about one, my rest. Then I’ll say the second thing is boundaries and space, and not worrying about whether it’s sensitive to other people, but really creating boundaries so that I can show up fully and wholly to my community and my work, and to myself first.
Jen: I love that conversation. I love a boundary. It took me a long time to learn that. I’m forty-five. Boundaries eventually changed my life, as does rest. I’m not naturally good at rest. I think you and I are probably similar. I don’t even remember how to get on an airplane. That is restful.
Jen: No airports for five months is restful. Yeah, I’m with you on that.
Okay, before we sign off here, can you please just tell my listeners where they can find you? Where to look, where you are, all of that.
Christina: Okay, great. Yeah, so my personal page is Christina M. Rice. Christina is spelled with a C-H-R. And OMNoire, which is O-M-N-O-I-R-E. That is social media. Then of course, OMNoire.com houses everything from our retreats, which we hope are going to be in 2021, to our membership platform, and our retail shop and our blog and everything like that. Christina M. Rice and OMNoire.
Jen: I just want to thank you one more time for coming on the show today, and for your work in the world. It’s profound and it’s important and it’s impactful. It’s exciting to think about what is ahead of you, and the amount of leaders that you’re raising up inside the wellness space is incredible. It’s just going to be this exponential building of capacity around wellness inside the Black community. That feels so exciting to me.
I’m proud of you. I love that you found this, and that you pivoted from a really lucrative PR career into this work full-time. Thank God that you said yes to that. Thank you for saying yes to this show today and for being who you are. I’m just here to support you and your work in any possible way I can. That is genuine. Stick that in your back pocket. Anytime I can support your work, I want to do it.
Christina: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. This has actually been a really, really fantastic conversation. So I cannot wait to hear it and share with my community as well. Thank you again.
Jen: I am always so grateful to discover such incredible leaders in every single facet of life. Like, here is Christina making such a difference, making such an impact in this particular space. And I’m proud of her. I feel honored to get to have learned from her today.Now I get to pay attention to her work. And so do you.
And so you can find every single thing she mentioned over at jenhatmaker.com. If you go under the Podcast tab, you will find this episode. And we have so much over there. The entire written transcript of our conversation, if you’d like to read it, or cut and paste any parts of it. Every single person or resource Christina mentioned, we will have linked over there. I know it’s hard to keep all track of and wrangle. So we’ve wrangled it for you. Amanda does this major labor every single week for you. So I definitely hope you are using that resource as you consider new people to follow, new organizations to learn and listen from. Anyway, thankful to her for her incredible expertise today and just her presence on this Earth.
So, guys, thanks for being a part of this conversation series, so much more to come. I just can’t. The caliber of leader in this series is so high. It’s so intimidating. I have to drink like three cups of coffee before every single interview just to activate my brain. So thank you for sharing these episodes, for listening, for putting needs on your social media sites, for sending these to your friends and family and pastors. Love it, love it. Love it, love it. Laura and Amanda and I and our whole podcast team are grateful for you and so thankful to bring this to you week in and week out.
So with that, I’ll see you next week.