Changemakers Meet the Next Generation of Wellness Changemakers The Debut Issue
Changemakers

Meet the Next Generation of Wellness Changemakers

"The future of wellness is decolonized, equitable, inclusive, and integrative."

There’s no talking around the fact that the wellness industry is in need of a massive reckoning. There's the whitewashing, which has polluted the visual identity that we often associate with common practices and traditions that come from other cultures. (if you haven’t already had a firsthand experience to witness the commodification of wellness, go watch the new Netflix series (Un)Well for a crash course on cultural appropriation). There's the idea that wellness is unattainable, or only available to those with unlimited resources and a disposable income. In order to break from these misconceptions, there needs to be a collective cry for change.

Radical shifts need to happen in order for the industry to become a beacon of holistic healing, which is what it was originally intended to provide. For starters, we can all do with a bit of unlearning—challenging the biases and conceptions that all of us have about what it means to be "well." Luckily, there are many individuals committed to doing this work for the benefit of the collective. At long last, the universal call for decolonization has been heard loud and clear, and these are the voices leading the way.

Ahead, we highlight a few of the changemakers that are making wellness a more inclusive, intersectional, and holistic space for all who wish to be a part of it. Scroll down and learn more about what each of them bring to the table with their incredible work for the good of the people (and give them a follow of support!).

The Energy Healer

Marya Ayani

Changemaker: Maryam Ajayi, founder of Dive In Well

As an energy healer, entrepreneur, writer, activist, and speaker, Maryam Ajayi is paving a new path in the wellness industry to make it a more inclusive space. After launching Dive In Well, a wellness dinner series which has grown to become an educational platform bringing diverse voices to the frontlines in wellness, and Indagba, a company offering holistic business strategy for companies and individuals, she’s found herself at the forefront of the movement for inclusion and equity in the wellness industry—and her work has just begun.

Why did you decide to start Dive In Well?

"I did not have ambitions of working in the wellness industry. After having a very fruitful career in a traditional corporate environment, I was suffering from chronic pain, crushing anxiety, PTSD, and bouts of depression. I didn't understand at the time that while I was making a career in white-dominated spaces steeped in racist corporate culture, I was also carrying around ancestral and inherited trauma. My body and mental health were at a breaking point when I found what we call the 'wellness industry.' Although I was finding much-needed relief [in it], I also started to experience so much harm once again in white-dominated spaces. 

I had seen it and experienced this marginalization for my entire career, and finding this same culture in an industry that is supposed to help people feel whole wasn’t just disappointing; it felt hypocritical and enraging, particularly because most of the tools being packaged by the wellness industry originated in and belong to Black Indigenous People of Color. Because of the endemic marriage of white hetero-patricarchy, colonization and capitalism, the communities who needed and created these modalities and sacred traditions the most could not access them, and I had had enough. 

I wanted to take action in whatever way I could, so I founded the Diversity in Wellness dinner series, which gathered leaders in the wellness industry for intimate salon dinners to discuss the changes that needed to be made for wellness spaces to become inclusive and safe for everyone. In 2019, Diversity in Wellness brought together over 100 thought leaders and influencers through these salon dinners across NYC and LA. By the end of 2019, I knew that we were more than just a dinner series—we were a movement. We rebranded as Dive in Well at the start of 2020, and relaunched in February with the intention to grow our community and resources."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are and why/how? 

"I would say first and foremost, our founding team, Kristen Hwang and Neo Khama, helped make DIW what it is now. These folx really understood my work and stepped up in a big way, trusted me and stuck with me when shit got really real this year. Without their heart, openness, and readiness to disrupt the status quo, I can say there would be no Dive in Well as we know it. Now our team is growing with other like-minded changemakers and it’s so exciting! 

I am also grateful for our Board members: Jordi, Rachel Ricketts, Ellie Burrows Gluck and Jesse Israel who are building such beautiful communities and have guided us along our journey as an organization. Other folx that have supported me on my journey and that inspire daily by the way the show up as their full selves and show up for others are my parents, my mentor Crow MotherConstanza Eliana Chinea, Rebeckah Price, and Aja Daashuur (to name a few, because we would be here forever if not!)"

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"I believe the future of wellness is one that looks like the actual composition of the world—it’s diverse. I also believe that technology gives us a lot of creative power to share true knowledge, create cultural competency and eventually change cultural norms because it allows us to reach more people with less work, meaning more accessible pricing. I also believe that when we educate our leaders, the powerful outward ripple of those facilitators and educators is profound, which is why we launched a course called Pivot Into Equity with Constanza Eliana Chinea for leaders who are interested in decolonizing their wellness spaces and mindsets. I believe that the future of wellness will look a lot like what we laid out in that curriculum—more inventive business models, and a marriage between profitability and serving the community. I believe that building a community that is comfortable having difficult conversations about systemic racism in wellness spaces, accompanied by the powerful nervous-system soothing tools that wellness practices offer us, is the bedrock of radical change. 

What I hope for and believe is possible is the complete eradication of white supremacy and cultural appropriation. Right now we are pulling the roots up on a system that is not designed to work for everyone—a system that's been in place for a longtime. But we are also creating space for something new to grow—an industry that is truly equitable, inclusive and actually helps people transform their lives, regardless of the skin they are in or any other circumstance in their lives they have been taught makes them undeserving of being well."

I believe that building a community that is comfortable having difficult conversations about systemic racism in wellness spaces, accompanied by the powerful nervous-system soothing tools that wellness practices offer us, is the bedrock of radical change. 

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Breathe. We walk around so disconnected from our bodies and breathing helps us connect with ourselves. It’s a free tool that is available to us if we are blessed enough to have access to it. If we can connect to our breath and our bodies, we can more easily connect with what we truly want. When you connect what you really want in this life, it’s really hard to not go after it."

The Writer

Fariha

Changemaker: Fariha Róisín, founder of Studio Ānanda and author

Widely known for her profound writing around wellness, self-care, race, identity, and pop culture, Fariha Róisín is an Australian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist and the director of the anti-colonial wellness space Studio Ānanda. In 2022, Harper Wave will be publishing her next masterpiece, Who Is Wellness For, a book that unpacks white supremacy and the wellness industrial complex—consider this as something to look forward to post-pandemic. Until then, pick up a copy of Like A Bird and How To Cure A Ghost, both penned by Róisín. She also created a guided journal for women, femmes, and non-binary folks to work through body dysmorphia called Being In Your Body.

Why did you decide to start Studio Ānanda?

 "The reason I started writing and thinking about wellness was that I had no choice. As a survivor of child abuse and sexual abuse, my whole life I've felt incredibly unwell, but I didn't always know how to shift that, or even confront it. Focusing on wellness became the first way I was able to grasp at my past, my abuse, and actually manage to have a good life and the change to heal, regardless of the trauma I had experienced. Then, because I'm a writer, I started to think more deeply about the industrial complex around wellness... And that led to writing my next book, Who Is Wellness For, and the launch of Studio Ānanda.

To me, the lack of South Asians in the wellness industry is stark and continually disappointing because by and large many of the foundations, practices and ethos of modern wellness is directly from South Asia and things that I was raised with—turmeric, ayurvedic principles, ashwagandha, yoga. It feels empty when folks talk about wellness but the bare minimum of acknowledging appropriation is not recognized nor seen as a valuable conversation to have."

It feels empty when folks talk about wellness but the bare minimum of acknowledging appropriation is not recognized nor seen as a valuable conversation to have.

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

"I've gained a lot from my favorite writers. June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Susan Sontag have all written about being sick, about being queer and about violence in ways that I find have been incredibly useful for me to arm myself with. Recently, reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and being in spaces where I learn indigenous practices has been life-changing for me. Ayahuasca, peyote, mushrooms and other plant medicines have been massive teachers to me. Sitting in tobacco ceremonies with indigenous elders, and the communities that I've met through medicine work has taught me so much about humility, ego, and the earth—about Pacha mama. 

Coming from Australia, I have always had great respect and connection to the land. Trees are our elders, and the land as well. Recently I was listening to an interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer On Being With Krista Tippett where she explained that because she wasn't raised with a lot of human elders, trees became that for her, and I felt so seen, so safe in that understanding. I didn't have parents who were looking out for me, so I was alone and isolated—that was my reality. In a way, it's powerful that the land became my ally. We have so much to learn from in the world around us. I am humbled by water, fire, earth and wind. I have immense gratitude for these elements, these technologies."

fariha roisin
 @fariha_roisin

What does the future of wellness look like to you?

"I hope that it becomes truly inclusive in every sense of the word—whether that's more of a focus on disability, white inferiority—but also, as I said earlier, to have a reckoning with the true foundation of where this knowledge comes from. I also think we also need to start looking at Indigenous communities, uplifting them, and giving land back to their rightful owners. What does it mean to live on stolen land? Isn't that a question we should be having when it comes to wellness? Isn't true wellness one that's accessible to everybody, for everybody? That's what we're really trying to do with Studio Ānanda, and I'm really proud of what we're building there. We're creating an archive, a conversation, a reference."

 What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"You can confront your own inner capitalist—your patriarchal and white supremacist leanings. Abolish the cop in your head and your heart first... It starts with you. With your healing first."

The Cultivator

Sinikiwe
 Courtesy of Sinikiwe Dhliwayo

Changemaker: Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, founder of Naaya

With a background in photo, video, and art directing, Sinikiwe Dhliwayo views life from a different lens. In regards to wellness, she is quick to point out how the optics cater to a white, affluent, and able-bodied gaze. The vision for her company Naaya came into the picture as she desired to rewrite the narrative with a space that rooted BIPOC in their well-being by making them feel seen and heard.

Why did you decide to start Naaya?

"Naaya was born out of a deep desire to cultivate a space where BIPOC could feel safe to partake in the endeavor of being well, with the caveat that it doesn’t just look one way. What works for me (yoga and meditation) might not work for you and that's okay. Mostly, I was tired of trying to exist in spaces that touted themselves as being for all and being treated terribly and like I didn’t belong. Additionally, I have always had difficulty doing what I was told to do—like the current wellness industry, which has commodified ancient practices and removed any representation of the folks who originated these practices."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are and why/how? 

"I really credit my mother and G-O-D. My mother won the green card lottery when I was seven years old. We moved from the U.K. to Amherst, Massachusetts while my dad remained back in England finishing his PHD. My mother is a warrior and I credit all of my strength and tenacity to her. I’ve always had an interesting relationship with God and the bureaucracy that comes with Christianity particularly. When I was younger (middle school) I was hardcore my faith. I was part of a group that did bible quizzing (like, we studied the good word and competed against other church groups). At some point we had a falling out, but I am glad to say we are back on track!"

What does the future of wellness look like to you?

"The future of wellness isn’t homogeneous. How boring is it that the epitome of wellness aligns with white supremacy? My well-being as a Black Woman is never going to look like that of someone who doesn’t exist in a marginalized body as long as we are fighting to simply exist. No amount of surface level well-being is going to cut it when my humanity isn’t met with the same consideration as someone who holds white identity."

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Make space to change your mind when presented with new information. No one likes to be wrong, but honestly I welcome it. Why wouldn’t you want to be better? Being better often means being corrected when you are incorrect. Look at racism— racism is not new, yet lots of folks just got the wake-up call in June that they may be racist. Now that they have this new information, how are they actively (and no, self-proclaiming yourself an ally is not the move) assessing and addressing their anti-Blackness and bias in order to create parity and an environment where Black humanity is never questioned?"

The Mental Health Advocate

Elyse Fox
Elyse Fox

Changemaker: Elyse Fox, founder of Sad Girls Club

Since 2017, Elyse Fox has been cultivating a safe community space for women of color to destigmatize the conversation around mental health. Sad Girls Club started as an Instagram page (now with hundreds of thousands of followers) and has since evolved into a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting BIPOC millennials and Gen Z. 

Why did you decide to start Sad Girls Club?

"After releasing a documentary in 2016 about my journey through depression called Conversations With Friends, messages from people who had seen the film were pouring in. I received comments from a wave of girls who just wanted advice on how to be more open with their friend groups and families. To continue the dialogue, I launched a private account called the Sad Girls Club, but the requests for access became overwhelming so eventually I made it public. Now, @sadgirlsclub has more than 350,000 followers. It serves as a safe place for people to talk freely about their emotional struggles and in the process, chip away at social stigma surrounding mental illness, particularly for women of color."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are and why/how? 

"I’m constantly in awe of the Sad Girls Club community. They inspire to not only keep moving forward but to challenge what isn’t working in today’s society. Knowing that Gen Z is adamant in building a brighter future is comforting."

 What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness is accessible; the future of wellness is inclusive and equal. I hope that we can one have patience with one another and understand that everyone is going through something in their lives that may affect their behavior. Understanding is a necessity in society." 

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"If you see something you feel is wrong, find your place in the movement towards change. We often comment without taking action. Anyone can speak up—it’s important to know that change begins on a micro level."

The Warrior

Rebecca
Courtesy of Rebecca Parekh 

Changemaker: Rebecca Parekh, founder of The Well

Taught by wellness guru Deepak Chopra, this self-described women’s wellness warrior is on a mission to provide an ecosystem for wellness through her company, The Well. On top of being the CEO and co-founder of the modern NYC wellness club, Rebecca Parekh is a certified yoga instructor, advisor to the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Entrepreneurship Program, and holds board positions for a variety of non-profit foundations and social impact companies focused on education and gender inequity.

Why did you decide to start The Well?

"I grew up around wellness and have always recognized the importance of holistic health. My mom was teaching yoga in the '70s when she was pregnant with me and the philosophy of food as medicine was a big part of my upbringing; my great grandfather was an Ayurvedic doctor and my grandparents had a daily meditation practice. I witnessed and experienced firsthand the transformative power of wellness, but found it challenging to integrate it into my everyday life. In late 2009 on my way to a conference, I visited a destination wellness spa in Sedona, Arizona. That was my lightbulb moment and I knew I wanted to bring that integrated experience to New York City in a way that was easy-to-navigate and filled some of the gaps of what our traditional healthcare options lack. 

The Well is pioneering a better way to care for your health. We bring together Western doctors and Eastern practitioners to create products, content, programs and experiences that harness the healing power of an integrated approach."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

"My mom is the ultimate changemaker in my life and I could not do what I do without her. She taught me everything I know about wellness, encouraged me to pursue my dreams, provided unconditional love and support and helped me navigate every chapter of my life. She was our first investor in The Well and is my guiding light always. My friend Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, the international non-profit working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does. We first met when we were organizing around political issues facing the South Asian community in the wake of 9/11. One afternoon while waiting for a train in D.C., Reshma helped tease out this idea I’d been sitting with to create an integrative wellness space in New York. She is a trailblazer, role model and incredible source of inspiration and I am grateful for her guidance and friendship. My friend Kerri Kelly is the founder of CTZNWELL, an emerging movement to mobilize people into a powerful force for well-being for all. We first met at a healthcare conference through my former boss, Deepak Chopra. Just as we look at health from a whole-body perspective, we need to look at wellness from a whole-society perspective, examining how the well-being of individuals impacts the well-being of society at large. Kerri is a powerful organizer, bridge builder, communicator and teacher. She holds me accountable for centering equity work in our business and I’m grateful for her wisdom and leadership. 

What does the future of wellness look like to you?

"We have seen a turn to telehealth during COVID and I hope that technology will continue to be a big part of the future of wellness. My goal with The Well is to help people take greater agency for their health and empower them with products, courses, and education, all of which we make available online as well as within our physical spaces.

Beyond that, I think the future of wellness needs to be more accessible, in all the ways—more inclusive, less confusing, less complicated, more affordable and more integrated into a 'traditional' healthcare model. We have the highest rate of avoidable deaths and more than 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic health conditions. We currently have to go outside the system because the system is failing us (and some of us far more than others), but my hope is that we move towards a model where wellness is part of healthcare, prevention is valued, food as medicine is part of every doctor’s office conversation, healthy food is accessible to all, and our focus on self-care shifts to a more inclusive model of collective care."

Get political. If you care about wellness, take it to the polls (or request your mail-in ballot).

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Get political. If you care about wellness, take it to the polls (or request your mail-in ballot). Our elected officials control a lot, from the food on our plate to our access to healthcare. Get educated on policy issues, talk to your representatives, support grassroots organizations and demand a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable healthcare system. It goes back to looking at wellness from a whole-society perspective. If you need somewhere to start, take a look at the Tufts Food and Nutrition Innovation Council site to learn about food policy initiatives and start talking to your local representatives today."

The Designer

Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu
@ogorchukwuu

Changemaker: Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu, artist and founder of Making the Body a Home

As a multidisciplinary artist, Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu is redesigning wellness by creating a “soft space for BIPOC to tend to racial trauma.” In 2018, she published the geometry of being Black to provide a portal into some of the most prominent issues that the Black community faces today, such as colonialism, police brutality, hair politics, toxic masculinity, misogynoir, colorism, self-loathing, and more. Ogorchukwu has degrees in social welfare and user experience design, which she utilizes to create spaces that “prioritize the well-being of communities such as women, and Black, Indigenous and people of color.”

Why did you decide to start your platform?

"I have always been passionate about centering the healing of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Especially as a Black woman who was raised in a predominantly white environment. I ended up getting two degrees which focused on this work. During my social welfare degree, I focused on the societal factors that impact the wellbeing of BIPOC. During my user experience design degree, my research focused on designing platforms that cater to the wellbeing of BIPOC. As I’ve delved further into this problem space, it has become clear that the wellness industry does not hold enough space for colonial or racial trauma. 

I recently founded Making the Body a Home. This is an online platform that provides courses for Black, brown, and people of color to tend to the societal wounds caused by colonialism and racism. The platform currently offers a course on unpacking internalized racism which was created to empower BIPOC to begin their journey of decolonized healing, and I am excited to release more pertinent courses in the near future.

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

"From visionaries such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Frantz Fanon, and Angela Davis, who taught me about the intricacies of racism; to university professors from my time at UC Berkeley, who gave me the language to articulate the experiences that BIPOC have with racism; to my close friends, who are passionate about dismantling racist systems—I’ve been blessed to learn from and with some phenomenal changemakers. These people play a sacred role in my becoming."

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness looks like a soft landing place for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Whether that means more therapists, healing collectives, workshops, or courses that hold space for our colonial and racial trauma, I envision a future where creating resources for BIPOC healing should no longer be an afterthought, but it should be the norm."

When you take the time to learn the history of colonialism and racism, unlearn toxic colonialist and racist conditioning, and relearn love back into your story—you are making your body a home.

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Anti-racism work. Anti-racism work is full-body wellness work. When you take the time to learn the history of colonialism and racism, unlearn toxic colonialist and racist conditioning, and relearn love back into your story—you are making your body a home."

The Tea Doctor

Maria
Hannah Bellon

Changemaker: Maria Geyman, founder of Masha Tea

This Brooklyn-based doctor of naturopathic medicine treats her clients with natural medicine for skin health, mood, and hormonal concerns. Maria Geyman is also the founder of Masha Tea, a one-stop shop for the “healing and regenerative powers of natural teas.” High tea is out and “fun, thoughtful, and sensual tea culture” is in. She also frequently is cited as an expert on topics like mycelium packaging improving the beauty industry and running a small business during a pandemic.

Why did you decide to start Masha Tea?

I studied naturopathic medicine in Portland, Oregon, where naturopathic doctors are licensed as primary care providers; meaning you can go to your naturopath for bloodwork, a Pap smear, or any other health care issue and receive holistic care. I always knew that I wanted to practice in New York; there are ways to include foundational principles of natural medicine within the peculiar pace of a city lifestyle. I think that for our society as a whole to heal, we need to normalize taking care of ourselves. New York has some of the most creative, overworked, hilarious, and passionate people I've met. I wanted to be here for this community. Through this, I have come to now also work with people (virtually!) across the globe and indirectly, by having my line of teas out in the world. 

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

Liza Roeckl, who is a therapist and fertility expert with whom I shared an office when I first moved to NYC a few years ago. Her fertility practice is inclusive to the full spectrum of those trying to conceive; she works with queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, couples thinking of having their first baby "naturally," those doing IVF, and single people deciding to conceive on their own. We share many patients and work on cases together and even briefly had a podcast, recorded by her husband Matthias Roeckl, which included an episode where we interviewed Lena Dunham in her apartment doing a vaginal steam. My naturopathic practice wouldn't be where it is today if it weren't for Liza's help from the beginning! Ryann Bosetti cuts my hair, listens to my problems, and encourages all of my ideas and stories. She's inspiring, powerful, hilarious, and remarkably self-driven. I recently interviewed her for the Masha Tea JournalSamantha Story been my acupuncturist for the past few years. From a work perspective, we both specialize in skin health, her from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and me from a naturopathic perspective, so we work together with patients. Samantha has encouraged my individuality, growth, and healing for years now."

What does the future of wellness look like to you?

"The future of wellness is in simplicity. Are we drinking enough water, eating vegetables, moving our bodies, laughing, and sleeping okay? If not, what simple changes can be made to make those things more possible? If we can take care of ourselves in that way as individuals, we're more able to show up for one another more fully."

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Make it a point to spend no-phone time outside every day. Even if it's a ten minute walk around the block."

The Creative

Deun Ivory
Courtesy of Deun Ivory

Changemaker: Deun Ivory, creator of the body: a home for love

Based in Chicago, this creative visionary is versed in photography, design, illustration, and art direction. In 2018, Deun Ivory established the body: a home for love with the intent to shift the culture around how Black women heal from sexual trauma. The non-profit platform is a safe space where survivors can find community and are empowered to speak their truth.

Why did you decide to start the body: a home for love?

"I started the body: a home for love because I was divinely led to do so. I believe that God wanted to use me as a vessel to create a space for Black women to heal through joy—a gentle and restorative approach that reimagines what healing looks and feels like for Black women. As a survivor of sexual trauma and a creative wellness artist, it was important for me to create a sacred space for Black women to be vulnerable about what hurts because rarely are we ever offered a space to expose our wounds and our bruises, while also being met with love and support. The body: a home for love is wholeheartedly and unapologetically committed to the collective healing of Black women."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

"Lauren Ash, founder of black girl in om. She has been such a huge blessing to my life. I love her commitment to Black women and her commitment to showing up for herself. She inspires me and always has. My best friend, Victoria Banjo, brings out the best in me in all ways and her empathy for people has taught me how to show love in a way that truly honors God."

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness looks like accessibility to all Black women regardless of their socio-economic class. I hope that wellness becomes an integral part of how we learn, how we teach, how we grow communities and how we navigate through life. The future of wellness also looks like the worldwide expansion of the body: a home for love. I believe that the work we're doing is and will transform so many lives for Black girls and women all around the world."

Ask yourself in every situation: Am I shrinking or am I expanding? 

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Ask yourself in every situation: Am I shrinking or am I expanding?"

The TCM Nutritionist 

Zoey Gong
Zoey Gong

Changemaker: Zoey Gong, Traditional Chinese Medicine nutritionist

If you believe that food is medicine, you’ll definitely want Zoey Gong to heal you. Hailing from Shanghai, this Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutritionist, chef, and consultant offers a modern form of holistic food therapy through mostly plant-based Chinese medicinal cuisine. Her mission is to make TCM a relevant and practical lifestyle for all. Gong is currently in the process of launching the site Five Seasons TCM, where she’ll be blessing the world with TCM recipes and knowledge.

 Why did you decide to start your platform and Five Seasons TCM?

"Before I started my practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I was a biomedical dietitian and a chef who focused on western healthy cuisine. From raw and plant-based to keto and gluten free, I was working with all trends and new ingredients in the mainstream wellness industry. However, after two years of doing that, I was very bored and confused. There are so many myths, so many doctor's recommendations, so many diets, yet so few varieties of food and cuisine that I could explore. I didn't like the fact that cultural foods were almost completely neglected and 'forbidden.'

Growing up in China, I always knew that there are so many natural, wholesome medicinal ingredients in everyday cooking, so naturally, I was eager to learn more. I started reading old recipe books and literature on nutrition and eating. The more I read, the more fascinated I become. Everything made so much more sense and still so relevant for today. I started to experiment with Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients and learn about its nutrition philosophy. The results were mind-blowing. 

The experiments gradually became a fusion of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine. I use oriental herbs in dishes of other cultural origins and translate Chinese Food Therapy principles into ones that can be understood and practical for people all over the world. My goal is to share the wisdom of TCM foods and nutrition and how to apply it in a broder, more modern, and more practical way. I truly feel it deserves a significant space in mainstream wellness."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are and why/how? 

"The head monk of International Bodhisattva Sangha in Taiwan wrote a book which completely changed my way of looking at life. I was able to see sadness, anxiety, stress, anger, and frustration in another perspective after reading it. One of my closest friends, a talented tattoo artist, Diego Romay @romaytheart really reminded me of the importance of seeking and treasuring spirituality several years ago. Now that I've realized the spiritual side of me, many things started to make sense (I know it sounds vague, but it is life-changing). I also just learned that I was born in the Week of the Spirit! Lastly, my grandparents taught me kindness and life skills that made me who I am. They are my biggest heros."

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness will be a modernized version of old wisdom—a fusion between traditional medicine and modern technology that focuses on individualization and holism. I wish more people and healthcare professionals could recognize the value in traditional medicines across different cultures and seek wellness practices that are unique to individuals, rather than using a standard formula for all. Wellness should be a way of life and a mandatory class at schools."

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Stop negative chatter. Seek a positive perspective. There is always one." 

The Artist

christine
 

Christine Alfred

Changemaker: Christine Alfred, co-founder of Awarehouse

Christine Alfred is a Haitian multidisciplinary artist and woman of many titles—energy practitioner (reiki and 13th Octave LaHoChi), therapeutic sound facilitator, and Earth Wisdom Keeper. She is the co-founder of Awarehouse, which serves as “a creative project that explores transpersonal growth and healing aimed at accelerating a regenerative and conscious culture.”

 Why did you decide to start Awarehouse?

"The initial idea for Awarehouse was to create environments that were engaging and interactive where people could have positive and healing experiences. We especially wanted to create late-night experiences where the focus wasn’t on alcohol. I come from a service industry background, and was really lucky to have been surrounded by so much art, culture and diversity there. I even met some of my closest friends, including my partner, Bobby, who is the other half of Awarehouse.

We realized that although we enjoyed certain elements of nightlife culture—such as art, craft, community, and music—we didn’t have a place where we could enjoy these things in a more supportive and sustainable environment. We were also both in the midst of our own personal healing journeys, but couldn’t find spaces that resonated with us, and felt that most wellness spaces lacked dynamism and inclusivity. We’ve always felt that 'wellness' lacked a certain rawness and diversity. There hasn’t been an urban, underground, or counterculture space for spirituality in a while and part of our goal is to reintroduce those elements. Ultimately, we hope to create immersive experiences that integrate art, sound, movement, and indigenous wisdom, and provide safe spaces that are accessible to all."

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are and why/how? 

"I’ve been extremely lucky to have a solid group of women who have accompanied me in my journey, and have inspired me. In today’s society, women can tend to be competitive with one another, but when we allow ourselves to see truth and bond through sisterhood by choosing to support and raise each other up, that experience itself becomes an initiation. My old roommate and good friend, Sonia Malfa, has always encouraged me to keep going after what I want and fully express myself. Witnessing her journey, determination, and passion as a director and screenwriter and her need as a visual storyteller to highlight the stories of people of color has definitely helped me see how we can create change through art."

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness is decolonized, equitable, inclusive, and integrative. I hope to see a world where all businesses/organizations create spaces and accessibility for all people, and where people are centered over profits. I hope that the structure shifts towards a more circular model, where 'power over' structures are diminished, and communities thrive on collaboration, inclusivity and diversity."

The future of wellness is decolonized, equitable, inclusive, and integrative.

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"Do the thing that makes you uncomfortable."

The Cannabis Chef

Mennlay
 Klinckwort Laframboise for Broccoli Mag

Changemaker: Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, cannabis chef

Based in Mexico City, this cannabis chef advocates for social justice while whipping up decadent dishes that also honor her West African heritage. Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey also co-hosts the Broccoli Talk podcast and runs Cenas Sin Fronteras, a series of pop-up dinners that directly support black and brown migrant folx at the U.S. Mexican border. Soon she’ll be launching a CBD brand called Xula. In the meantime, spice up your life and order her mouth-numbing cookbook, The Art of Weed Butter, immediately.

Why did you decide to Xula and what was the journey that led you there?

"I started cultivating cannabis in Humboldt County in 2005 under California’s Proposition 215 because there were few jobs available for me fresh out of journalism school. I started my journey in cannabis as a career almost by chance and curiosity. There just weren’t many other careers for young Black women in Northern California. And if there were, the ceiling was as high as your kneecaps. The true irony is that fifteen years later, the cannabis industry is still only made up 4.5% Black folks—the percentage is much less for Black women. 

Yet my recent endeavor with Xula, the soon-to-launch CBD brand I co-founded in Mexico City with my friend Karina, was a direct response to the absence of BIPOC and queer women in and cared for in the cannabis wellness space. So, each of our products are made up of herbs like passionflower, raspberry leaf, and blended with cannabinoids like CBG and CBN to focus on myriad cycles and phases of femininity—especially those in the Latinx, Black and Indigenous communities.

Who are some changemakers in your life who have helped you to get to where you are?

"Ms. Wallace, one of my closest friends and whose name I won’t include because her career now doesn’t allow her to talk about her involvement in the cannabis industry. She changed my life and formally introduced me to my first job in the field as a 21-year-old woman child. Her guidance was everything to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without her.

Anja Charbonneux of Broccoli Magazine took a chance on me and included me as a centerfold in their second issue and it blew my world open. Her mastery as a photographer, tastemaker, writer gave me a beautiful platform to sort of come out to the world, 12 years later, as a cannabis interdisciplinary. Now I consider her an impactful part of my life and am proud to share two endeavors with her: Broccoli Talk podcast, and the Floret Coalition, the anti-racist collective of cannabis brands, donating monthly to BIPOC communities.

Last but not least, my great auntie Mildred is who I fight to stay in this industry for. She and other older Black women who deserve and need access to effective, safe and natural care in cannabis is the reason why I do what I do. We now collectively know that the healthcare system in the U.S. is a farce, especially for Black babies, Black mothers, and Black elders. Auntie Mildred got a copy of my cookbook, The Art of Weed Butter, and through a friend was encouraged to start taking CBD for her chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Being able to legally send her weed in the form of CBD topicals and tinctures was and is groundbreaking. A lot of folks have and continue to work hard for this right."

What does the future of wellness look like to you and what direction do you hope it goes? 

"The future of wellness has always looked to the past through Indigenous communities. Most times it’s been exploitative and riddled with the cultural appropriation of Indigenous healing, whitewashed to be sold on shelves. But the wellness and beauty community is having a very late and much needed awakening. I believe that Indigenous wellness is the future of wellness. But this time they will be included, credited, and given restorative reparations as they are both the future, yet also the foundation of it all.

What's one thing anyone can do to spur change in their life, right here, right now?

"The one thing I can do is breathe. Close my eyes, slow down, pause, and breathe in deeply, with gratitude."

Related Stories