ESSENCE.com spoke with Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of film director Spike Lee, about her work to fight infant mortality and how she keeps her family healthy. Hear Tonya speak during the ESSENCE Festival’s Empowerment Experience in New Orleans July 4th weekend.
ESSENCE.com: You’ll be speaking at the ESSENCE Festival in July. How excited are you?
Tonya Lewis Lee: I’ve never been to the ESSENCE Festival before, and I’ve always heard wonderful things from lots of different people. New Orleans is a town that my husband and I enjoy. There will be a great lineup of musical acts, and I’m really excited to take part in the Empowerment Experience conference. It’s exciting any time women come together to talk about what they can do to evolve and get better. I want to share what I’ve learned in my journey in life and am looking forward to learning from other women as well.
ESSENCE.com: Can you share about your “Healthy Baby Begins with You” campaign?
Lewis Lee: I got involved in 2007 when the Office of Minority Health approached me about being a spokesperson for the campaign. It raises awareness about the high rate of infant mortality in the U.S., particularly in the African-American community. In addition to being an awareness-building campaign, we also developed a health program for college students around the country. We train them to be health advocates, so they talk to their peers about taking care of their health as they plan for children later down the road.
ESSENCE.com: What exactly can women do to be more healthy and help decrease the rate of infant mortality in the country?
Lewis Lee: Women need to understand that diet and exercise truly can be healing and have an impact on their health as well as their children’s health. Do research on a healthy diet. Visit my new website, healthyyounow.com, which has a lot of information about what a healthy diet involves. Figure out how much exercise you should be getting and make the effort. Don’t think of your health as only diet and exercise. We need to think of our intellectual health, too. Constantly educate yourself, be curious about information and read up on what’s happening in the world. Our spiritual wellness is also really important. We also need to know how to deal with our money. If we have financial health, that can take off a lot of stress. Health is a journey. It’s not a destination. It’s going to be ongoing and never-ending for the rest of our lives.
ESSENCE.com: What is your personal fitness and diet routine?
Lewis Lee: I work out four to six days a week. I run three times a week for five miles and then work out on the elliptical for at least 45 minutes. I’ve been been vegan for the last four years, which means I do no dairy, eggs or meat products. Getting rid of the dairy has made a tremendous difference in my life. I don’t get as sick as I used to get and my allergies aren’t nearly as bad anymore. My cholesterol level has gone down to a wonderful level. I’m much healthier and feel really, really good.
ESSENCE.com: How do you infuse health into your own family life?
Lewis Lee: I cook well-balanced meals for them and try to limit the sugar. My husband works out in the morning and he likes to stretch a lot. My daughter is a dancer, but I keep encouraging her to begin an exercise program. My son plays tennis and I always tell him to find a lifetime sport that he can work with.
ESSENCE.com: You were a corporate lawyer and transitioned into producing children’s television programming and writing children’s books. What are you working on now?
Lewis Lee: I’m shooting a film in Atlanta now called “Watsons Go to Birmingham,” which airs on the Hallmark Channel on September 20. Anika Noni Rose, Wood Harris and David Alan Grier are in the film, and Kenny Leon is directing. It’s based on a book a lot of kids read in school about a family in Michigan who travels to Alabama in the summer of 1963. They happen to be there when the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing happened. It’s really about family and love.