Tonya Lewis Lee is a very busy woman. The former corporate attorney is a best-selling author, a television and documentary producer, multi-media production company owner and recently became a spokesperson for the CDC's Office of Minority Health’s Infant Mortality Awareness project -- in addition to being a wife and mother of two. Recently, she shared with EBONY how exactly she keeps it balanced and how she's trying to help our people live better:
TONYA LEWIS LEE: [Laughs] I manage it all by not doing it all at the same time! I am really lucky that I’ve been able to pace things throughout my children’s childhood. Since my kids are older and more independent, I can do more things, but I still don’t do everything at once. When I feel like things are getting a little topsy turvey, I’m lucky to be able to scale back to get a handle on things. I love all of the things I get to do.
EBONY: One of the things you’re working on right now is your Health You Now initiative. Tell us more about that.
TLL: Right now, we just re-launched our website, HealthyYouNow.com. I started it in 2009 with a desire to create a women’s health community that would connect regular women who wanted to get healthy with the proper resources to do so. This is also a place where women can share their own health stories and support each other on their journeys and I’m really excited about that.
The desire to create something like this came from when I first started my work with the Office of Minority Health (OMH) focusing on Infant Mortality Awareness. Working on this project, I learned that too many black women are having babies born prematurely or too small and so something is going on with our health that needs to be addressed. So I created this site to try to find easier ways for Black women to get our health under control.
EBONY: Many people have been eating unhealthy foods for years and those food choices are not only habits but traditions, even for people who have access to healthier food choices. Do you have any advice for how people can break those habits?
TLL: Breaking habits is difficult. It really comes down to you making a personal choice to want to change your life. You have to want to be healthy and you have to think about what it means to be healthy and why that’s important to you. That goes back to self-esteem and trying to get people into the mindset that they matter and how choices in food and exercise convey that mindset.
The real issue for me is, how do I get my stories out there?
And then it’s about getting people to make small easy changes that lead to bigger changes later. One day you decide not to order fries and order salad instead. Start one day at a time and look for support. I’ve had my own journey to manage and maintain my weight and make sure I’m healthy and I’m always looking for support. I’m looking for a book or a community or someone to cheer me on. And that’s what women will find at HealthyYouNow.com.
EBONY: Support when you’re trying to make lifestyle changes is very important. And sometimes when you’re so excited about the changes you’ve made and you want to share them with other people and they’re not receptive to making the same changes, that can be difficult.
TLL: You’ve got to be careful about the people around you. If you want to make a change, sometimes there are people who are uncomfortable with your change. Sometimes you have to put a little force-field around yourself to protect against people who might want to interfere with your growth.
But it’s also important to understand that you don’t have to change everyone around you just because you’ve changed. But maybe when people start to see how much better you look and feel, they’ll pick up and start wanting those changes too. But it’s a very individual choice.
I’m vegan and my family thinks I’m crazy, but every now and then they try something vegan I make. Sometimes they turn up their noses and sometimes they think it’s great!
EBONY: Speaking of family, you’re giving your husband Spike Lee a run for his money with your new production company. You were a very successful television producer and documentary filmmaker and now you’re moving into independent feature films. What can you tell us about the film projects you’re working on?
TLL: Well, I’m really thrilled because I have just joined forces with a producing partner of mine and we’ve started a production company that will produce independent films based on books. Our first is based on the book The Watkins Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. It’s a story about an African American family living in Michigan who travels