Leslie Carrington On Curating Holistic Wellness Retreats For Women Of Color: “You Don’t Shame People Into Changing”
About six weeks ago, I met Leslie Carrington in a vegan cafe in Midtown Manhattan. We’d been brought together by her publicist, Dominique Drakeford, to discuss the adventure that was before us: a week canvasing wellness centers in Costa Rica for an upcoming retreat Carrington is planning through her company, HolisitiCitiLyfe (HCL).
I won’t lie, I was intimidated. Despite having been on a weight loss journey for about 18 months now, wellness as a lifestyle (as opposed to using it as a means to fight the battle of the bulge) was still a foreign concept to me. And one thing that’s consistently kept me from engaging members of the wellness community is the expectation of being judged. And then I met Carrington and was like, OK sis, you gotta let that hurt go.
Just mere hours into our journey I discovered something I often forget about health facilitators: They’re human.
“I like chocolate, not dark chocolate, milk chocolate,” Leslie told me at one point during our seven-day trip. “Do I eat it everyday? No. But I eat it.”
Already we had something in common.
Over the course of the week, I’d find out we had many more similarities, including a shared affinity for wine, a deep love of Black culture, and a desire to help Black women. The latter is what Carrington is doing though her HolistiCitiLyfe movement and the retreats she’s hosted in Greece, Jamaica, and soon Costa Rica.
“When I started [HCL] I was very Pollyanna. I wanted to work with everybody. I wanted it to be Asian and white and Black and engage people in the holistic lifestyle, which I still do, but, initially, the reception that I received from certain demographics was just very different,” she recalled. “People would be surprised that I was the founder and CEO of a wellness company. They would engage my facilitators and ask them questions while I was standing there and they would have to tell them I’m the one who created the event and they would look at me with amazement.”
That’s when Carrington realized she needed to shift her vision and get the proper support to make her venture a success. So, she started working with a coach and hired a publicist to align her with the right people.
“I changed the broader focus to engaging African American women who can relate to me and my journey. People who, like me, like chocolate. And also understanding that, as women, especially Black women, we have so much going on and we are such nurturers that we still extend ourselves and then often neglect ourselves. We think the superficial is all there is to focus on — as long as you put on that front that you look good — but there’s so much more to being ‘good.'”
That’s the conversation Carrington wants to change: challenging Black women’s image of success so that it’s “not only success in a monetary fashion, although that’s good because money’s real and we need money to buy the organic fruits and such,” she laughed, “but also, what is success if you don’t have balance in your life? What is success if you don’t truly love yourself? What is success if your relationships are not happy? What is success if you wake up feeling tired with low energy?”
Carrington is open about the fact that she didn’t always have a clear image of success. In fact, it wasn’t until a trauma struck her family nearly three years ago that she began to sincerely reevaluate not only how she was treating her body but also nurturing her mind and spirit.
“To be quite honest, I would do healthy eating more so to lose weight. What really got me engaged in seeking other methods to bring more balance to my life was after my mom got attacked in our home by our handyman for drug money. She’s a feisty little thing. She was like, ‘no you can’t have my money’ and he almost beat her to death. After that trauma happened when I thought I was going to lose my mom — I lost my dad in 2002 and she’s my only living parent — I sort of ran my body into the ground. I got sick, I was still working full time, going to Jersey to see her in the hospital…I wasn’t eating. I was hardly getting any sleep, and it took a toll on my mental, my spiritual, my physical and everything else in between.”
The social worker also starting to question why such a horrific thing happened to her and her mom when they were “good people.”
“[My mom] was so kind to this guy. The day before [the incident] she went and got him a gift for his birthday. He had to take off the bloodied shirt [after he beat her] and he put on the one that she bought him for his birthday and that’s how he left the house.”
Though she’d always had a good relationship with God as a Christian, after her mom was attacked Carrington began to seek other means of answering lingering questions about the meaning of the trauma. “I still pray but I sought other means of connecting — meditation — I saw another purpose of eating healthy as far as deepening that connection [to God] by keeping my body a certain way, and I started removing things from my life that no longer served me. So I had to let go of some people, and after that happened other opportunities came about. I knew I was not satisfied in my 9-5 anymore. It wasn’t bringing joy to me. I didn’t feel that I was effective as a social worker and a psychotherapist. I wasn’t as present for my clients as I used to be and opportunities opened up, like getting promoted.”
Being removed from the strain of having clients led Carrington to realize she’s actually more interested in the business side of helping people; hence HCL. And through her research, affirmations, and vision board she also came to another understanding. “I came to realize that God did love me. He did love my mom. She’s alive and it’s an experience that we’re going to grow from. I then turned it inward and connected better with myself and began to love Leslie more and to be more appreciative of who I am and what I bring to the table.”
Through her retreats for the “wellness curious,” Carrington invites other women of color to join her at the table and make their own self discoveries through a series of workshops, daily yoga, meditation, and a day of service centered on giving back to communities of color in the respective city.
“I want to give people a soft intro because I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want to come across as ‘you have to change this and do that.’ I want [attendees] to see the benefits, hear about the benefits, experience being away from their daily stressors for the time-being and be fully present for what’s being taught, and then they decide what they’re going to do with that information. It’s up to you. If you want to change, we provide support.”
Retreat packages also include a massage, tour, and two meals per day, at a price point that reflects attendees’ curiosity.
“If I’m interested in something but I’m not so sure and it’s $3,500, I’m going to lose interest,” Carrington said. “If I’m interested in something and it’s like $1200 and I get food, I’m more apt to give it a try and see how it goes.”
Practitioners from the retreats are also available to follow up with the women when they return home in case they have additional questions or need a support system, an offering born out of Carrington’s own approach to maintaining a holistic lifestyle.
“I get support. I have a counseling session with a shawman, Tracy James, that I work with regularly, and she helps me to process a lot of stuff. I needed support along this journey. I didn’t do it alone. She is trained in mental health counseling but she’s also a shawman so she’s able to meet me where I’m at. We use the same language and she also ties in that spiritual piece which compliments me and my understanding.
It’s that support system that has helped Carrington gain a new perspective on her mother’s attack and the progression of HolistiCitiLyfe.
“In hindsight, I can look back and see [the attack] was a gift. I don’t think if that didn’t happen I would have the courage to seek out other means for myself to deepen my relationship with God.
“To be quite frank, I love my mom, but to see certain attributes in her close up, I knew I did not want that for myself. And I see where I was heading down if I continued on the same path. I knew I had to change me. Parents and family, like other people, come into our lives for a reason. They show us things about ourselves, so it helped. I’m able now to look back and see where all the trauma and all the changes put me in a good place. Things shift, things change but if you have faith in the long-run you always end up exactly where you need to be.”
For more information of Leslie Carrington and HolistiCitiLyfe retreats, click here.