iyanla-vanzant-14_240x340_7Dear Mother Iyanla,

Let me start this post by saying that I have been a die-hard follower of you and your teachings for decades; the shelves of my library are filled with each and everything you’ve ever written, I even own both copies of the book that started it all, Tapping the Power Within (the first one which was written specifically for black women and then later the 20 year anniversary edition, which was re-written for a broader audience).

I’m not one of these “neo fans” who found you through Oprah, I go all the way back to the early 90’s when an unknown Iyanla graced the stage of Maria Dowd’s multi-city empowerment conference known as African-American Women on Tour (AAWOT).

Regal, you were; dressed in your African garb giving us “life” as you REminded rooms overflowing with beautiful black women, all seeking a deeper knowledge of ourselves that we too, were powerfully majestic and that any obstacle could be overcome if we’d simply tell the truth, face the truth and do the work.

A few years later, while living in Atlanta, I was diagnosed HIV positive and my world literally fell apart. I found myself in a dark depression and contemplated suicide as I dealt with the stigma of a sexual past that included rape and the shame of being an HIV+ black woman in the 90’s. Several months after receiving the diagnosis, I was informed that they had made a mistake and that my test results had been mixed up with that of someone else. As relieved as I was my thoughts of suicide quickly turned to thoughts of homicide; during that time it was reading your book entitled, Yesterday, I Cried and listening to you speak when you would visit Bishop Dr. Barbara Lewis King’s historical Hillside Chapel & Truth Center in Atlanta, GA, that LITERALLY saved my life. Your willingness to be gut wrenchingly honest and transparent helped me to face the truth about my fractured self-worth and begin the path to healing.

I later relocated to Los Angeles where you were a regular speaker at Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith’s world reknowned Agape International Spiritual Center and on many occasions I tearfully thanked you for your “sugar-free” guidance and shared with you how your work has transformed my life.

Iyanla, it has not been easy but I faced the truth and did the work, even studying to become a minister, certified Spiritual Life Coach and I’m currently a doctoral candidate studying Metaphysical Psychology. Much like you, out of my deepest pain came my passionate purpose, which is to be the guide who walks women through the dark and painful terrain of healing the wounds of their past so that we can step into the powerful purpose and promise of our future.

I’m writing this letter because along with millions of other viewers, I eagerly awaited the return of your show and I couldn’t wait to watch your recent episode of Iyanla Fix My Life with NFL star Terrell Owens; we sat with mouths agape listening as this man poured out the broken pieces of his heart. We rode the roller coaster of his life events, from the highs of being one of the best football players in recent years to the lows of losing it all in the unforgiving glare of the public eye. 

Terrell Owens to His Parents: “My Heart Was Broken”

NFL player Terrell Owens’ mother, Marilyn, was just 16 years old when she got pregnant after an affair with the married neighbor who lived across the street. Terrell didn’t learn the truth about his father until he was 11, and says he never saw his parents come together for his benefit. Now is that time. Watch what happens when Iyanla gathers this family together to have an honest conversation about their feelings for the first time. Then, get an update on how Terrell is doing after his time with Iyanla.

I marveled as you bravely guided T.O. into the “dark” closet of issues that most of us black folk don’t like to talk about – colorism; where he talked about the pain of being teased and ostracized as a kid for being dark skinned and “ugly.”

I watched as you called the father on the carpet for the wound that his absence has caused in T.O.’s life, pointing out that the unceasing flow of tears were those of the broken hearted 11 year old who still needs his father; deftly maneuvering these raw emotions, you helped this grown man to begin the process of healing.

So imagine my dismay when you “went in” on T.O.’s mother, Marilyn, demanding to know why she & the father had not “come together for Terrell’s benefit or on his behalf.”


I KNOW that somewhere in this story it was clearly stated that at the time that Terrell was conceived, Marilyn was a 16 year old CHILD and that the father was a 30 year old MARRIED MAN. At the worst this was a case of rape/statutory rape and at the least, it was a vilely inappropriate relationship with a GROWN man who should have known better; yet no one EVER addressed this, no one – meaning you Iyanla.

You then demanded that Marilyn ask T.O. for forgiveness for not telling him the truth.


With all of the adults in her life doing all that they could to masterfully orchestrate and carry out this lie for 11 years, please tell me where was the space ever created for Marilyn to even tell the truth to herself about what REALLY happened?

But Iyanla, the cherry on the top was when you demanded that T.O.’s father ask Marilyn for forgiveness without EVER clearly identifying and acknowledging his REAL violation; and out of a sense of obligation, she freely forgave him because she has once again been shamed into believing that she was equally to blame.

Beloved, I find it hard no, impossible to believe that with all of your training, your personal experiences, family background AND your metaphysical eye, that you didn’t have the first inclination that Terrell’s mother is also still a wounded child who was victimized by the decisions made for her by three adults – her mother, this predator of a man and the man’s wife – all of whom conspired in a grand case of collusion so that the sexual secrets of a predator could be honored over their collective responsibility to protect a young girl; they failed her. They all made the choice to protect HIS honor; protect HIS marriage; protect the parts of the “family” that he was willing to acknowledge; all the while denying the TWO children he admittedly spawned outside of his marriage.

Not only did they fail her but you failed her….

You failed her by not creating the safe and sacred space for her truth to finally be told so that her healing can finally begin. Instead you irresponsibly used the international platform of OWN and the Iyanla Fix My Life show in a way that has now left Marilyn wide open to the never ending barrage of judgment, name calling and shaming that is being hurled her way via social media and websites such as EssenceMadame Noire, Necole Bitchie and The Huffington Post.

Further, you failed every woman who has ever been shamed into silence because the painful truth of her sexual victimization will simply create too much of an inconvenience for others. 

My coaching practice is filled with women from all socio-economic, racial and religious backgrounds who are burdened by the weight of sexual guilt and shame. Just like Terrell’s mother, many of these women where preyed upon by an older man yet they were blamed and held responsible; leaving them to deal with a pain that has yet to be addressed.

By not speaking to this you sent a message to the world that it’s better to continue to blame the victim than it is to tell the whole truth. You missed the PERFECT opportunity to address the sick sexual secrets that are intentionally hidden and covered up in way too many families; you failed to follow your own advice and “call a thing a thing.”

I must respectfully say, “Shame on YOU Iyanla!!”

Frantonia Pollins
Author|Speaker|Coach|Rape Survivor

    18 replies to "An Open Letter to @IyanlaVanzant – Shame on YOU Iyanla!!"

    • […] Winfrey Networks (OWN) “Iyanla Fix My Life” episode with Terrell Owens that I wrote an “Open Letter to Iyanla Vanzant” to respectfully share my thoughts on what I felt was an egregious oversight on the part of the […]

    • […] at 9:30 am PST as I talk with George Kilpatrick of New Inspiration for the Nation about my recent “Open Letter to Iyanla Vanzant” about the Oprah Winfrey Networks (OWN) “Iyanla Fix My Life” episode with Terrell […]

    • Mariam Whitelle

      While you are very, very astute in your remarks and perceptions, would you consider that perhaps the show was truncated for the following reasons: (1) first, the story was not about her but her son, and (2) don’t you suppose they do not nor cannot show everything that transpires on a 60-minute show, and (3) the show should be about the son who is the focus point, not on his mother’s life in total. That being said, you are quite right. But then there are many places she could go on any show, but they have to pick and choose what is the best projection of that one point of view of the show. Perhaps it should have been two shows: one on the son and one on his mother. Yet as perceptive as you are, it may not be plausible to “push Iyanla under the bus” for just one production. Think about it. Nevertheless, your words and wisdom were so compelling that I determined to “Like” you on Facebook and become a “Follower.” I’d like to hear more from you, and I still admire Iyanla and her work and wisdom. Thank God for people like you both.

    • Wow!

      WOW! OHHH FRANTONIA… As a black man (from the Caribbean) who has dated Black American Women, your views and several others are NOT surprising since the trend with so many is often the following:- IF you do in fact happen to have some understandable rights for being upset or for legitimately feeling hurt, then obviously NO ONE can ever address (at any time) none of the mistakes you too have made… You will get all emotional and instantly dismiss any neutral comments, thoughts, suggestions and advice will be lost in your rage over what happened to YOU ONLY…. And nothing moves unless your hurt is extensively massaged in every single way and angle in its entirety over time, and then maybe you might be open enough not completely miss out on the key points being addressed… which is… having the humility to see and attend to how you (in this case his mother) has contributed to the situation… NB: The situation here is HIS situation!
      In mine and every reasonable mind who have watched and read etc., there were many many unresolved topics that will relate to each of us depending on our personal experiences. The possible issue of teenage rape, a secret pregnancy and disruption of his mother’s life, the feelings of the man’s wife and children etc. could have been attended to. And YES, I admit that probably the most gearing to me was the age of the mother when Terrell was conceived. I am sure we can all genuinely see that for many years it was actually her life that was direly in need of ‘fixing’. In fact, a 2 hour program may have just grazed the surface of their lives (and any of ours also) which will often read like a soap opera.
      Frantonia, in my opinion, the few minutes were ABOUT HIM… Terrell. My response is in the context that a woman in healing with your own personal experiences, I can logically connect why you would be highly vested in ‘her story’ and please also understand that as a black man (the last of 10 children raised in a single parent household) that I would very much recognize that he was finally having HIS moment, HIS chance for healing, HIS story was finally being the subject of undivided attention. I am sure that he knows and loves his mother dearly but, in summary the picture clearly shows that he always needed his apology, this chance (and many many more similar chances) for personal healing and mutual parental focus and attention.
      You are a PhD student and an active counsellor and therefore will very much be sensitive to the fact that EVERYONE needs some form of psychological nourishment. But please be also aware that the subject here was about Terrell (you may call it the plot, the client, the study topic or whatever etc.) Therefore I could understand that good judgement and a producer, lawyer, teacher, counsellor and even Judge Judy would suggest or insist that it may be best to focus on the subject’s needs rather than to delve into other ‘not easily resolved issues’… (unless the time, the will and/or the scope of the study permitted.)
      I continue to be proud of Iyanla… and I am happy that despite the limitations of time, that she tried NOT TO FAIL TERRELL. And Frantonia, your personal story is very inspiring and I wish you continued growth as you seek to improve the lives of black women and grow to discover the needs of black men. I am confident that a day will come when your work is also as inspirational as Iyanla’s. I look forward to your success.

    • alimaj

      Truth…the parents issues were so deep. To address those it would require a longer show or another episode. Truth 2 ..this was an initial intervention.. I cannot assume follow up counseling is not next for T and his family. It may have been addressed but was edited out for the benefit of focusing on T for the hour episode. it amazes me how our people find excuses to pick with other. Really a whole blog against her …Wow!!!

    • after7pm

      The show was wonderful, it was about healing for Terrell. Great Job. love & support the show. Dammm even when you doing wonderful things, someone finds fault.

    • Sue

      I felt very uncomfortable throughout the show and am so grateful that you put words to everything I was thinking. Bless you

    • Raja

      Why am I not seeing it your way. I cannot totally ignor this 16 year old ‘child’ choosing to sleep with a married man. We cannot totally excuse her either. Maybe I’m in left field but all parties need healing and a one hour show cannot possibly handle all the issues even though she may have been working with this family for a week off camera.

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