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EXCLUSIVE: Chaka Khan on Giving Back to Women in New Orleans & 60-Pound Weight-Loss

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Chaka Khan knows the meaning of being every woman. While headlining last year’s ESSENCE Music Festival, the “I’m Every Woman” singer was so touched by the struggles of women in post-Katrina New Orleans she decided to launch a mentoring program to help them with financial and job assistance. A year later, Khan is hosting a graduation ceremony to honor 33 women who have completely changed their lives.  

She spoke with ESSENCE.com about her initiative and, her 60-pound weight-loss and becoming a vegan.

ESSENCE.com: On July 7, the Chaka Khan Foundation will be graduating 33 women from your Superlife Transition Program during the ESSENCE Music Festival.
CHAKA KHAN: Yes, I’ve lent support, assistance, along with the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies, another organization that helps women and children in need. This year we’re having our first graduating class of women with amazing success stories. One woman, for instance, started her own girl’s band. I will be doing a song with them at our graduation ceremony. Another woman, who was on drugs, is now closing a new house. There are 150 women in the program in total. Every one of them has a great story to tell and has done great things.

ESSENCE.com: You’ve watched these women transform in a year, what can you say about the change you’ve witnessed?
KHAN: It’s been great. They’ve all gone to greater heights. They’ve hit new levels of existence. And they are all so happy and pleased with themselves. It has just been a win-win situation. It’s indescribable. I‘m just flipped out at how great they’ve done and how far they’ve come in such a small period of time.

ESSENCE.com: Why was it important for you to launch this kind of initiative?
KHAN: When I went down to perform at the ESSENCE Music Festival last year, I said, “How silly is this? I can’t be down here performing in the midst of all this tragedy.” Women were suffering. They were in several degrees of some kind of shock syndrome, you know. Some were living in their cars still. It was really, really devastating. I knew there was no way I could just come in there, sing and leave. I talked to some of the administrators for the music festival, and they immediately jumped onboard.

ESSENCE.com: What does the actual mentoring entail?
KHAN: A lot of women need a place to live so they got hooked up with the places. We help them with financial assistance, healthcare for their families and any opportunity for them to work.

ESSENCE.com: I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I didn’t ask you about your amazing weight-loss.
KHAN: Oh, thank you. You know, I had diabetes type two and high blood pressure. I adopted my 10-year-old granddaughter last year. I have to be there for her. I knew I couldn’t go out like this so I just fasted for like a month, then I went vegan and went off meats and all dairy and anything with eyes. If I have a craving for a little baked fish or something I might eat it. But that’s about it. I’ve mostly been doing a lot of high-protein foods and a lot of vegetables and exercise.

ESSENCE.com: Vegan? That’s quite a transition.  
KHAN: Well not for me because I go back up and I’m an herbalist, so I’ve been going through this since I was 20, on and off. I felt like I needed to heal my body so I would just fast and eat no meat, no dairy. I’ve never been a fan of meat, dairy and sugar. And when I developed diabetes last year I said, “ Oh okay I’m not going to be here long. A change is coming.” So I started getting my mind set, then I started the fasting. Now it’s just a way of life not for me.
 
ESSENCE.com: What’s your exercise of choice?
KHAN: I don’t like exercising at all. I guess if I had one of choice it would be walking. I do not run and I’m losing like on average about five pounds a month. I’ve lost 60 pounds since October.

ESSENCE.com: It's inspiring that you've become so proactive about your health at 59.
KHAN: Oh yeah. That’s because I don’t pay attention to the calendar and the clock. I won’t be wrapped up into that. [Laughs] You know I don’t know. I forget how old I am and it be my birthday and I don’t even care. I just keep it moving honey.

Chaka Khan’s Superlife Transition Program’s graduation will take place July 7 at the ESSENCE Music Festival.

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