There is something extraordinarily powerful about hearing a child declare with complete conviction, “If God says, ‘Go,’ you do what Christ tells you to do and go!” At just nine years old, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard belted out these very words on her famous mother's (Karen Clark Sheard) gospel song, “The Will of God,” and by the look on little Kiki’s face, I can see and feel that she means what she’s sanging. Out of the mouths of babes!
While today I still tear up when I watch her incredibly moving childhood performance (about half of the YouTube video’s 500k+ hits are probably from me), my first introduction to Sheard’s music was her all-grown-up, first solo album, 2004's I Owe You, that I stole from my older sister my Freshman year of college. Nine years, four albums, two Stellar Awards and a Grammy nomination later, the 25-year-old chart topper and her powerhouse voice are still at it. But while it’s common knowledge that the girl can blow, I was surprised to learn that the seemingly self-assured Sheard has had a lifelong struggle with her weight.
Her efforts to stay healthy as she prepares her fifth album and manages the trials and triumphs of her famous family, are on full display in a new BET docuseries called "The Sheards," premiering on April 7th. When I caught up with Sheard recently, she shared with EBONY.com the moment she realized that she was overweight. The way many of us are first alerted to our flaws, a family member made her aware of her growing size when she was still young.
“My uncle, who is no longer with us, lived in Las Vegas and I lived in Michigan and [when I went to visit him after not seeing him in years], the first thing he said…was ‘Girl, you getting as big as you can be. You need to get some weight off.’ That I will never forget. I walked out. I cried.”
As a child, Sheard never expected to hear those words from her family. She says, “you expect to hear, ‘You’re getting just as pretty as you can be!’” But her uncle wouldn’t be the only loved one who would comment on her weight. "My nana [who is still alive, was] always on me about my weight." In time, Sheard would learn that her family's comments weren't mean-spirited but were rooted in love and concern for her health. "[My nana's said] 'You're so pretty. I want you to live long!' She doesn't have any health problems, and she says [to me] 'I don't want people to be able to see your health problems in your skin, or anything, and I want you to be able to live long." At one point, the college grad had ballooned to more than 300 pounds. She credits her family's comments with saving her life.
"I know someone who was my same age back then and she died from being obese. And if I hadn't had a family member to tell me that, I would probably be dead now or bigger than what I was. I understand [now] that they didn't say those things to hurt me, they said those things out of love."
Sheard's weight gain was the result of a combination of over-eating and lack of physical activity, saying "I like to eat good! I like to eat good food. That's the hardest part. And the other hardest part is that I don't like to exercise. I hate exercise." But now, Sheard says, "I made that decision to live a long life, understanding that diabetes runs in my family and I don't want to die soon. It's gotten to a point where I really care about my weight." Though she credits her family's medical history, a desire to wear cute clothes and the ability to 'stay in my heels for a long time too' for her attitude change, she says that the most important thing about losing weight for her was what it represented in her spiritual life.
"It was actually mostly a spiritual thing for me, too, because you can be greedy in a lot of areas. But in order to be like Christ, you can't be a greedy person. You have to display self-discipline. And once I grew in my walk with Christ, that's when I really started concentrating on my weight."
When I ask her why—after growing up under the intensely scrutinizing eye of a Detroit mega-church as the kid of a famous pastor and the daughter and niece of the world-renowned Clark Sisters—she would go on to subject her private life and her weight loss struggles to the scrutiny of potentially millions more by signing up for a reality show, she tells me, simply: "Because I am a disciple of Christ. I'm a follower of Him. I don't mean to sound too spiritual or church-y, but, I love God! I want [people] to see that you can be down-to-earth and have fun and enjoy your life while still being a Christian. And you know, I've wrestled with things that are bigger on the show, and I want them to see that you can't let the industry or what society says you should look like change who you are. Be who you are. Love yourself enough for you to want to have a long life and be healthy.
"The Bible encourages us to not only speak the truth, but to live the truth. The old folks used to sing this song,'This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine,' and I think on this show, with a bigger audience, it gives us the opportunity to let our light shine on a bigger platform and let it speak to someone who may not be saved or who may not believe. It gives us the stage to let the world know that not all church-going people are hypocrites. There are some of us that really try to live like Christ and some of us that really love and are really trying to get better and not judge people. And I think that this [show] is what that is."
Well, “If God says ‘Go,’” go ‘head, then, Kierra.