It’s no secret that the world of alternative spirituality and wellness aren’t always the most welcoming or accessible to black women. We’ve heard the stories of black women walking into yoga classes only to discover they are the only black person in the room.
Leslie Carrington knows this all too well. After being burned out from work, she began exploring meditation, yoga, and wellness. But while attending various workshops and events she decided to come up with a remedy for the lack of diversity in the holistic arena that she witnessed firsthand. It was then she launched HolistiCitiLyfe, a company that curates wellness events and retreats.
I caught up with Carrington after I attended her very first Unmask Your Natural Beauty event held in Brooklyn. We talked about how she’s handled the shadiness she experienced early on from the holistic community, why it’s important to make wellness more accessible to women of color, and her upcoming retreats to Jamaica and Costa Rica.
What you saw in the area of wellness and spirituality, the lack of diversity, essentially inspired you to start your company. Talk about how it unfolded.
My intention is to make wellness accessible and inclusive for people of color. When I started my spiritual journey, I was going to events and retreats and I would be the only person of color. I wouldn’t see myself so I wasn’t as open to what the [speakers] were saying because I didn’t see myself reflected. There wasn’t that much of a buy in. I would have to come home, do my own research and my own meditation and find my own inner journey. I didn’t feel like I had that sisterhood or that support. I wasn’t getting that from the events I was going to or the workshops I was going to. I didn’t feel that. That was just my experience. I was like, I wonder if there was a way to make it more inclusive where you saw Caucasians, African Americans, Latin people, and Asians sort of coming together as one. You’re in an environment where you’re vibing and enjoying each other and learning. That was the premise. That was what I set out to do. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well received. I remember that I scheduled a visit with a popular holistic coach out of Manhattan. We met at the park. She knew my name but she never met me. I looked her up on Linkedin so I saw her picture. So when she entered the room I’m there, waiving, “hi.” And she’s looking behind her. If you’re meeting someone, wouldn’t you think that the person that’s waiving at you was the person you’re meeting? Finally I called out her name, and she had a very surprised look. I’m really direct, so I said, ‘Oh you didn’t know I was black?’
You said that?
Yeah I did. I couldn’t think of any other reason someone is looking at you and waiving but you’re still looking around. I guess my statement caught her off guard and she was really defensive. That wasn’t the only instance. So I had to come back to the table, sit with my coach, and revamp it to now cater predominantly to women of color because that’s the audience. Ideally, I would still like for that to be the case where everyone can come together in an environment for wellness and support each other, but when I started my company a year and a half ago, that wasn’t the reception I got.
What brought you to wellness. What was your first foray into it?
My job actually. I got burned out. I got depressed. Stress triggers me and I snack. Although I eat a predominantly vegetarian diet, Stacy chips are not meat [laughs]. So snacking on some Stacy chips and some guacamole at 11pm was not the smartest thing. So that sort of led me to self reflect and to search outwardly and inwardly. Although I was brought up Christian and I thought I had a good relationship with God, it’s not until I went on my journey of self-love, I understood who God was within me. And after learning to love myself I was able to accept God, spirituality, and the divinity within. Having to go to church and hearing about the Holy Spirit, it’s taught to scriptural text. I wasn’t able to relate to it. It wasn’t relatable until I went within and I saw a foundation and my formative years and how that impacted and made me the woman that I am now, good and bad. I learned to love both aspects of myself.
Did you start through meditation?
Yes meditation. I collect crystals. I love them, I love the energy they give me. Meditation, silence—I understood why I needed to be alone. I always knew I was introverted. I learned that I’m a very sensitive person and very sensitive to other people’s energy. Which is not something that you do in church. All these things I learned made me a better person.
I want these things for other people. I want them to be able to experience that. Not everyone is willing to experience it through a workshop or retreat, but when you remove people from their normal environment, or their daily regimen, which is why we push the retreat, you’re more laid back. You don’t have a clock waking you up for 6am or 5:30am for work, you don’t have your boss, your kids, your husband. The focus is on you on what you’re bringing to the experience. And we don’t have these lofty ideals that when you come back from a retreat we don’t have these lofty ideals that when you come back from a retreat that you’re just going to be like, OM, and eating right, and making sure you’re getting adequate sleep—no, but we offer support for those who are really invested and gained something from the experience and want to continue, hence the wellness specialist. You can be aligned with someone to support you along the journey. Whatever that looks like for you.
There’s a Skype call once a week or once a month. I check in with those who are like, ‘this is really good.’ It varies based on the client.
When you said wellness, what exactly do you offer?
We have practitioners that are skilled and trained in various modalities. All are screened and all are licensed. Whatever certification needed for any specific modality, I ensure that they have it and that they are ensured. They are also background checked and cleared to HolistiCitiLyfe. So depending on what your needs are, whether it’s a nutritionist, or whether it’s a holistic coach to help you with mind, body, spirit balance we can align you with that practitioner.
There’s a monthly fee that is a $20 membership fee. That allows you to participate at our workshops and to get client referrals.
Talk about the details of the retreats you offer.
We have one leaving on December 30th to Jamaica. The intention behind that retreat is for women who are tired of doing the same things every year. For the New Year, we set intentions. The intentions don’t necessarily come to fruition, then we’re critical, then instead of moving forward we revert backwards. So we’re looking for women who are very self motivated or who want to be self motivated, who want change and who want support around that. So we’re looking to build a small sisterhood of women to support each other on their journey towards reaching their goals. That’s the intention behind that one. Then we have the Raw Beauty in April in Costa Rica. That one is about self-love and acceptance. It’s easy to say you’re beautiful to someone, but if she doesn’t really feel it, your words are empty and hollow. The raw beauty stripped down and bare, who you are and how you want to be seen in the world—that’s what this retreat is about.
Your last event was great. I really enjoyed it. What was your intention for that event?
That was our first fun, inclusive, non-holistic yoga centered event in Brooklyn. I really want people to see wellness as fun, inclusive, acceptable and attainable. That was why I was so pleased to see the diversity in the room—not just the typical naturalista that you would see, someone that’s vegan or vegetarian. You saw regular people who would not typically come out to something quote on quote wellness, but really loved it. That was what I loved most. Hearing their feedback. It’s a stepping stone.