Monday February 1, 2021

By Mark Anthony King

“Is it just me, or has 2020 been like watching a marathon of bad horror movies with D-list actors, psychopathic writers, and drunk directors?”

Most of us grew up in a world that is tremendously different from the one we are currently living in. A world where words like “Pandemic”, “Social Distancing”, “Masks”, “Global Travel Ban”, “Enforced Curfew”, and “Lockdown” all have negative connotations. And more often than not, remind us of how eerily familiar and oddly prophetic the 90s film Outbreak is. Fast forward 30 years, and times are incredibly different. So different in fact, that these very words now trigger confusing, simultaneous feelings of oppression and a superficial sense of safety.

So how different is 2021 compared to the years that preceded it? Not too long ago, a public sneeze was met with “bless you”. Now, that sneeze elicits panic. This is unfortunate because prior to the pandemic, there was this gentle awakening starting to occur, where we began to truly recognize that we are all one. We were better, we were evolving, and we were rediscovering magnificent, wondrous, beneficial truths long forgotten. Finally, there was a death of ego and narcissism, followed by a long-awaited rebirth of what was beginning to look like genuine love and altruism.

Humanity was back on track. Then Covid-19 sent shockwaves around the globe that most of us weren’t physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, or spiritually prepared to handle. Have things reached an irreversible level of wrong; THIS concept of humanity’s “new normal”? Despite the evidence that easily leads us to a logical and resounding “Yes!”, the feeling of HOPE suggests otherwise. Things a lot of us took for granted – until we found ourselves in the middle of social distancing and then quarantine – are now the very thing we desire most, like physical affection. Ironically, we had all the time in the world to spend on our phones, and what we wanted most was for that phone to be a specific person.

In October of 2020, I was filled with hope. That hope came in the form of a few pretty amazing people who dared to be defiant and in the midst of a pandemic plagued with virtual meetings said “enough is enough!”, and decided to host a live event titled “The Lioness Pride” Conference. The passion project of a woman named Felicia Dhanani – who is an accomplished entrepreneur, pre-school owner, and founder of Vikasa Integrative Health Expo – created the event; a transformative community for single mothers from all walks of life. Over the past ten years, Felicia has studied the impact of yoga on the physical, mental, and spiritual body with renowned teachers from around the world. She then created her own therapeutic yoga program called Brain Fit Yoga that embodies both Eastern and Western philosophies. She’s worked with cancer patients, chiropractic patients, and chronically ill students that were looking to heal through mindfulness, gentle movement, and breathwork. She speaks on global platforms about health & wellness in today’s world and uses her platform, resources, passion, and creativity to give the community something it was in desperate need of; hope and connection. Felicia had very quickly reached her original intent of a 5 to 7 woman cap, yet there were still tickets being sold. On October 17th, 2020 I spoke at the grand ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Downtown Orlando, Florida, as the host and master of ceremonies; truly an honor. The women in attendance were dealing with abusive husbands, drug addiction, human trafficking, sexual abuse, illness, and personal losses. There was a room of 70 sisters from different backgrounds, different races, and different religions being fully vulnerable and ready to learn together, grow together, forgive together, and support one another. Being the only male physically present in the room was a little intimidating, but seeing what took place in that room is something I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It is a memory that I will forever hold dear to my heart.

During her segment titled “Healthy is the New Kind of Sexy,” Felicia focused on not only the physical aspects of health, ensuring to cover the benefits of physical exercise, proper hydration, nutrition, supplementation, and rest, but also focused on the aspect that lots of health coaches forget to touch on; mental and emotional health. She closed her segment with an in-depth focus on a critical component of fulfillment; our ability to measure how happy we are in a particular area of our lives and adjust as needed.

Our next speaker was Cynthia O’Brien. Cynthia has spent 17 years working in financial data processing, working with banks, mortgage companies, thrifts, and credit unions across the entire country, until she decided to open her own business and entered the financial services industry. After successfully creating her own client base, she began working largely with women, business owners, and independent professionals. She’s garnered numerous awards, both in the region and on a national level and she’s been an active participant in junior achievement, adult literacy, and a tutor and mentor at Jones High School. Cynthia helps her clients connect to what they care deeply about and make intelligent financial decisions that demonstrate alignment with their values and future goals. They love working with her as she helps them achieve their financial milestones and life objectives.

Among the sounds of applause and diligent note-taking, I found myself hurrying back on stage to introduce a woman who I now have the honor and privilege of calling my dear friend and kingdom sister; the much loved Mrs. Stephanie Bowman. Stephanie is a 7- time cancer conqueror, a certified life coach, & motivational speaker. Moreover, she is the founder, visionary, and CEO of One Heart for Women and Children in Orlando, Florida. One Heart provides hunger relief, education, and community resources for the homeless and underserved in Orlando and surrounding areas. Her powerful testimony has recently been featured in People Magazine, Time Magazine, and The Kelly Clarkson Show where she was celebrated for being awarded the “Kindness Award” by People Magazine. Godiva Chocolates also highlighted her as a part of the Lady GODIVA Initiative, celebrating women doing great things.

Stephanie began speaking about her journey, and opened up about sexual abuse she experienced as a teenager, followed by a dark journey into drug addiction, substance abuse, issues with the law, homelessness, prostitution, and lastly, having DCF take her kids away. Broken and defeated, she asked one question… “Are you there God?” Stephanie’s speech, while difficult to listen to and truly heartbreaking, is a testament to what is possible when we surrender and wholeheartedly allow God into our life, and as she says, “Learn to go from pain, to passion, to purpose.” Stephanie managed to dramatically shift the energy in the room, and among a sea of women who were no doubt reliving their own past or current torment, there was an air of peace and forgiveness. I understood that those tears weren’t tears of pain, but healing tears. I then introduced our virtual panel, and it was such an honor to have Stefanos Sifandos and Christine Hassler speaking on what they are most passionate about. Stef and Christina are one of the couple powerhouses whose influence and teachings are well regarded and respected on a global scale. Stefanos is an author, speaker, coach, and successful entrepreneur known as the Relationship Alchemist, whose expertise is in relationships, men empowerment, and whose life mission is to be a voice for the voiceless. His wife Christine is also known in the coaching realm as a master coach & best-selling author, who left her job as a Hollywood agent to pursue a life she could be passionate about. Stef and Christine speak with a transparency and vulnerability that is so critical now more than ever since Covid has truly done a number on the divorce rates in America.

Then came our closing speaker. While I have a great deal of admiration, respect, and love for every single woman & man on the panel and am incredibly close to most of them, it is my sincere belief that The Lioness Pride Conference did in fact save the very best for last. This next speaker challenged all the lies I had ever told myself. This speaker made me face every single inconsistency and incongruence within my business and personal life. This speaker introduced me to God when I was lost. She showed me how to pray and prayed for me. She showed me more support and compassion than anyone else ever has. This next speaker introduced me to the most amazing people I’ve ever met, making me feel that this was why I was the host and master of ceremonies for The Lioness Pride Conference. You have this speaker to thank for reading my words. This speaker placed her own reputation on the line; vouching for my integrity as well as my talent as a writer. Every single blessing that has come into my life in this past year was directly influenced by her. For the man that I am, and the man that I am becoming, I can wholeheartedly give her all the glory. Stemming back tears, I welcomed to the stage Melody Garcia.

Melody is a multiple award-winning international keynote speaker who has represented the United States in different countries with her winning platform of Social Conscious Leadership. She has shared the stage with some of the biggest game-changers and met with global leaders, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, the Dalai Lama, the Princess of Morocco, Kim Kiyosaki, and more. Melody authored a book titled “Women Who Influence”, which was accepted into the US Library of Congress in 2018. Melody is one of the few certified Psycho-Neuro Actualization Master Coaches in the world, mentored by behavioral scientist Dr. Steve Maraboli.

Melody’s humanitarian heart and passion for children led her to create Unicef Unite Orlando, who represents 192 countries in children advocacy. She is a multimedia powerhouse who is a columnist for 3 international magazines spanning 10 to 74 countries with their reach, has her own podcast titled “life unscripted”, a TV show, and is about to launch another podcast. She does this while balancing the demands of being a single mother. She engulfed the audience with her compassion and energy, then in true Melody fashion, closed with a prayer. And with that, the annual Lioness Pride Conference came to a close.

This weekend painted a different picture of humanity, and certainly shed some much-needed light on issues that so many women experience these days, issues that have become far too commonplace. Issues that have 45 become magnified by Covid. Global and personal issues that women face, which are running rampant, and are unfortunately being dismissed. These taboo topics which are generally met with dismissiveness and judgment were instead openly discussed and met with love, acceptance, compassion, and more importantly, hope. You see hope is an acronym, standing for “Hold On, Pain Ends.” I saw a transformation take place in that room. The air was forgiving, redemptive, and grounded in truth versus narrative. I saw 70 women who made peace with their past and made a commitment to building a beautiful future while enjoying the present.

Have things reached an irreversible level of wrong? The answer is an irrefutable, logical, and resounding NO. So long as we have faith. So long as we lean not on our own understanding. So long as we love others as we love ourselves. So long as we commit to serving humanity in a deeper manner. And last but not least, so long as we have a collective belief in the fact that everything is happening for a reason, and we believe this like we believe the sun is going to greet us in the morning, we will in fact experience a far brighter tomorrow. Remember, when you change your outlook, you change your outcome.

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