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