When it comes to spiritual resilience, Dr. Juanita Bynum has endured a hailstorm of criticism. Most of it is regarding her public divorce to Bishop Thomas Weeks, who allegedly assaulted her in a public parking lot in Atlanta. Since then she has pledged to serve as a warrior and to give voice to those women who are suffering. After 18 months of surviving bouts of depression and the court of public opinion, Prophetess Bynum celebrated a milestone: she turned 50. Her manager and staff invited 300 of her family and closest friends to celebrate the occasion.The minister opens up about her "rebirth," why she wore her wedding gown to her bash, and why she plans to wield her sword against domestic violence on her home soil.
ESSENCE.COM: Happy belated 50th birthday! We're glad to hear you're doing well and have made it through the storm. How was your celebration of life?
PROPHETESS JUANITA BYNUM: Words cannot express how truly amazing it was. It came about because I was in an unfortunate situation when I thought I almost wasn't going to live to see 50. So I was happy to just be grateful for being alive. As time went on leading up to my birthday, I witnessed the transition I had gone through in 18 months [of my separation and divorce]. I was no longer the same person and had gone through a spiritual and emotional transition.
ESSENCE.COM: That's definitely cause for a celebration. What finally motivated you to be reborn?
BYNUM: Just as if you decided to detox, the body must defend itself by getting rid of the internal and external toxins. When the body becomes overloaded it will fight to cleanse itself; if not the body will crash. When I was going through my divorce, I made a decision to cleanse all my body's gates that led to the internal me. So I went cold turkey. I refused to listen or discuss anything, read magazines, watch the news, and when I left everything alone I finally saw the vision of who I was at that point and that's when I evolved into a new person. My focus became my future, destiny and was able to define every aspect of my life and give it proper definition.
ESSENCE.COM: We understand that your Web site streamed your sacred ceremony live. How can those who missed it get an instant replay?
BYNUM: In the next two weeks the video, "The Redefinition of Juanita Bynum," will be available online at www. juanitabynum.com. The cover art will be a picture of me in my old wedding dress ripped to represent the Juanita who was torn from a marriage. But I tell people it was the Juanita that was already torn, and so when I came into that ceremony, I knew that by the time I lifted that sword, I had to tell people to "stand up on your feet" and make the decision to "redefine your self."
ESSENCE.COM: We are in a new year; is this recommitment to self one of your resolutions?
BYNUM: My resolution is not that I'm going to do something for the year 2009 but for the rest of my life. That's when I started teaching again. I have taught and it literally transformed people within days. Now, there's a live webcast of my seminar series online (juanitabynum.com) that starts next Tuesday, February 3. There will be a room full of 800 people. I also have a book coming out called "Accessing the Power Within: Why Did I Keep Going When I Should Have Given Up?"
ESSENCE.COM: That's awesome, but when are we going to get another No More Sheets conference.
BYNUM: Well, I can tell you that I will be teaming up forces with Georgia's Fulton County district attorney's office to start a major campaign against domestic violence. We're working now to get bills into legislation and the follow up to the NMS conference will be No More Sheets: Redefined. It will take place in Atlanta during October, which is also Domestic Violence [Awareness] Month. I really want people to know that I didn't just make it for me. I made the decision to survive for so many other women who didn't. It was like I placed my life in their honor, and the way I see it, if I can make it through all of what I walked through, then I'm rooting for every woman to walk upright and make a commitment to redefine yourself. If you have an opportunity to become a better you, then it's never too late.
ESSENCE.COM: What was the most difficult but valuable lesson you learned through your public divorce?
BYNUM: I had to forgive me first for displacing others in my life like my friends and putting them in a position to operate in a capacity that they weren't able to. Often we have expectations of people who will never have the capacity to do or be there the way we might want them. I had to learn that I had to be there for myself. So I had to forgive myself for the lack of wisdom of not being able to judge other people's capacity. Once I did that it was time to redefine who I am. My mentor always told me you should never allow people to tell you what they think about you; you tell them what they should think about you. Once I began to heal and evolve, I had a responsibility to this new Juanita Bynum.
ESSENCE.COM: At the sacred ceremony, which was an integral part of your birthday celebration, you wore your wedding dress. Why?
BYNUM: One of the greatest moments of my life was the day that I married. That day was supposed to be the defining moment of my life when I would show the world that I had stepped into my womanhood. It was always the original intention of my dress and I refused to let it not be because it was made for me. So I wore it because I felt like someone had robbed me of that right. I waited so many years to walk in it and I wanted to give the dress the honor for which it had been made. My father told me to always face your fears head-on, and since this was the dress that is connected to the incident for which the whole world remembered me, I said that if I'm going to cross over I have to go back and stand in the same place.
ESSENCE.COM: Was it difficult to wear the dress again knowing the pain and heartache that was once associated with it?
BYNUM: Not at all. When I opened it up my first vision wasn't: "This is the dress I married the wrong person in." I touched the dress and said, "I almost forgot how beautiful this dress is." When I stood in that dress for the second time I looked at myself in amazement because I knew the real moment that I waited for all my life had come again for me to define who I was. So that's when God gave me my new name, Juanita Bynum, II, because I have redefined myself and been reborn. It was like being given an opportunity to be me again—the new evolved me. I rewrote my ten commandments and I declared that my past would not be a part of any mockery, shame or error, and it would only be a part of my future for me to pass on lessons about my experiences. I will never allow anyone to mishandle and misrepresent my name because it's one of the most valuable, God-given gifts.
ESSENCE.COM: What was your reaction the day your divorce was finalized?
BYNUM: With all that I'd been through, the world witnessed me endure 18 months of devastation. I literally died in that devastation. I remember sleeping in my bed for four days straight with no appetite and extremely depressed. My father asked me with a fierce anger, "What is your name?" And I said, "Juanita Bynum." And he said, "Don't you ever forget it; now get up!" I never stayed in my bed like that again. He was my rock, because he was that real man that was tangible; that helped to reaffirm and validate myself again. When a man takes your femininity and womanhood and treats you like you're nothing more than trash it's devastating. Through it all my dad was there. When my divorce was finalized on a Friday, my father called and said, "I want you to fly to the top." That following Monday he fell down dead in our kitchen from a heart attack. It's been seven months now.
ESSENCE.COM: We are sorry to hear that and can only imagine that you are still grieving in your own way. Still, you've shown so much strength in your crusade against domestic violence.
BYNUM: Yes, I told my manager when I lifted that sword [during my birthday celebration] I had something on me and that I'm getting ready to fight for every woman I know who has low self-esteem, feels like she can't get herself together or has been made to feel like trash. That fight is in me for real now.
ESSENCE.COM: Although your passion is sincere, the blogosphere has questioned your sudden motives to be the new face of domestic violence. What do you do about those who question your sincerity in your mission?
BYNUM: People that don't understand the life of a celebrity would say that. You should never talk or fight while your opponent is fighting. Let them say anything and everything they are going to say. I'm a lady so I don't do that. But everybody in their right mind knew I was going to stand up for it with dignity and not like a clown. I had a story to tell. There are things that happened in my marriage that I will never discuss because there's no need. Today, I am married to my destiny and l promise to remain faithful to her forever and always.
Send ProphetessJuanita Bynum birthday wishes in a comment below and check out her weekly webcast at www. juanitabynum.com every Tuesday, beginning February 3, at 8 P.M. EST.