Bishop Vashti McKenzie is an electrifying preacher who is a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first elected woman to this position in the denomination’s 232-year history. She remains true to her ministry through motivational moments through any crisis. During the quake of the COVID-19 crisis, she started the Gratitude Project to inspire the feelings of gratitude and joy among various audiences as well as provide advice on ways to combat anxiety.

Share who you are to the readers.

I am Bishop Vashti McKenzie, a consecrated Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I preside in the 10th Episcopal district, which is in the entire state of Texas. So, I am responsible for two hundred congregations all across the whole state of Texas on behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am also, the founder and leader of the Selah Leadership Encounter for Women that is a group of women in which we meet several times a year, one in Atlanta, GA and Dallas, TX. We meet too level-up are personal and professional careers. It’s a time to build community between corporate business, entrepreneurs, clergy, civic leaders, and political leaders. This is an opportunity to resource and strengthen each other, so that we can grow stronger in our personal and professional lives.

I am married and we have three grown children and two young grandchildren. Yay! My background, I have been doing this for several decades now, but my work experience is in Radio Broadcasting from on-air to programing then to being the corporate vice president of programming for Mortenson Broadcasting. So, I have quite a lot of experiences in different places, but my passion has always been for people and leadership. How they do it and let’s do it well! 

Tell us more about the Gratitude Project and its mission.

Well it began in the beginning stages of COVID-19 pandemic. In talking and dialoguing with people who were on the edge with stress and anxiety just eating at them and fear was just everywhere. People were just unsure how it impacts, they go to bed one night with the world and what it looks and feels like, then wakeup the next morning and everything is just changed, everything is closed.  No concerts can’t work at your job you have to work at home with a new set of coworkers. You have the dog, the cat, the children, your spouse, the parents, and even your neighbors. Everything just changed and the world has come to a halt! The pull of testaments will call your name absolutely every day! You have people who were looking forward to life events and it never happened.

So, I was asked over and over again, how do you stay positive during a crisis? How do you find the bright side? I say, I practice my spiritual disciplines whatever if it is, prayer, praise, meditate, study, worship, fasting, nourish my spirit and soul. All of that is very important, but it is ultimately how you start your day. I start my day with a simple gratitude prayer, and I look for something, no matter how dark or deep it is, that one thing that I am grateful for. And I found that if I can identify that early in the morning before I have human contact, I find that it makes a big difference on how I move throughout my day. That’s how the Gratitude Project was born!

I began to share what I am grateful for on a daily basis with people who have tons of responsibilities in their lives. So, then I ask them what they are grateful for so that others will be able to share. I asked Sabrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, what are you grateful for and she shared with me that, she is “Grateful for power that came out of pain, that God was able to transform her pain into power”. If she latches on to that gratitude, what gratitude can I then latch on that can make a difference in my day. So, I want to people who are known in different communities or just ordinary folks and asked them “What are you Grateful for?”. Of course, it’s a wide range of answers.  

This gratitude project was created to invite people to look in the middle of the one hundred things that are going wrong and find that one thing that is going right in your life.  

How has the Gratitude Project thus far inspired and encourage the spirit of Gratitude and the actions of prayer?

The feedback that we have gotten online! I tell people it’s more than a feel-good deal, it’s a do-good deal. So, what is happening is that people are sharing their gratitude’s with me and sharing them with others. I call them purveyors of hope! Champions of spreading joy. And sharing the message to people who may need to receive it. In this season we have been on Zoom, and in our meetings, someone would say “Thank you for the Gratitude Project, it helps me!” and I respond “Good, that is what it’s supposed to do”. “I pray the prayer in the morning, and it helps me get started. I latch on to this!”

This is the response we have been receiving, over and over again. Because they can share with those who may be drowning in doubt, fear, and uncertainty. We want everything to be certain! And it’s not in this moment. We want everyone to not only survive but to thrive! It sounds paradox, but you can thrive by first starting with an abundance of gratitude. It’s not ignoring the reality; it is embracing the reality and then reworking it to work for you not against you. 

What are tangible steps to take to express gratitude?

When you say that you are grateful for something, then you should take a look at what you do and say throughout the day, should affirm what you said out of your mouth. So if you say that ‘I am grateful for my family and the people I live with’, but then you don’t talk with them all day or snapping at people. That gratitude has not worked out in your behavior. If you are grateful for it then it should show up in your behavior.

Steps you can take:

  • Rest, get some physical rest.
  • Reevaluate the reality and embrace.
  • Grieve the disappointments.
  • Recalibrate, look at the worst that is happening and then figure out how to make it work for me.
  • Recharge, to nourish the spirit and practice spiritual disciplines

This is all a part of the learning. Learning a new skill, reading a book, and doing the to-do lists. Finding those opportunities to do something for you, then others, and finally for the community.  

What advice would you share about ways to stay positive during a crisis and ways to reduce anxiety?

When people ask me, how do I stay positive during a Crises? The first thing I tell people is that you need rest. You have no excuse to be running yourself into the ground like that. God has already arranged it, there is no other place for you to go. So, this is the time to get some rest! Don’t binge all day on Netflix, get some rest and get acquainted with yourself, your bath robe, your pajamas, and your slippers. And, take care of those things that you really need to take care of.

Next, then you need to grieve the disappointments, it’s okay to grieve the disappointments. Those life events have been canceled, your career is on quarantine, you’re working from home with new coworkers, and you’ve been saving up for a fabulous vacation that you’re not going on. It’s okay to grieve theses disappointments. Now once you got some rest and grieve those losses, it’s not the time for you to sit around and say “poor me” and luminate on all this stuff, it’s the time to look around you and ask yourself “how can I make this work for me?”. This is the time to rework your resume, to read those books you have on the list, to learn a new skill, and to take a course online. YouTube University!  

This is a great time to reevaluate internally and our reality. What is really important? Really important? This is the time for you to go through your emails, your bills, and the monthly charges. A time to ask if it’s really an essential item and search for those things that we really need. A roof over our heads, food, and healthy relationships. Go back to the basics! Then recharge spiritually. Do those things that nourish your soul and strengthen you. When you reevaluate and do those things that nourish your soul, strengthen your faith, and strengthen your spirit, then you have to acknowledge those things that suck the life out of you. If it sucks the life out of you, then you may need to close the door on that. It’s the same way with people, there are people who affirm and nourish us and then there are people who suck the life out of us. You may need to close the door on that relationship! If you can’t close the door on that then you might just need to limit access.

With all those things, then you have to plan on who you want to be and where you want to be once this is all over. One day it will be! So, don’t waste this pandemic and the time you’ve been given here. It may not every come again in life!  

Plan now! Who do you want to be once this is over? What do you want to be doing once this over? Where do you want to be when this is over? Because the goal is to come out better than when you went in. We used to say, “Tore up from the floor up”, then you don’t want to come out “Tore Up”! You want to come out better. Now don’t make the mistake of trying to have everything revamped. Don’t do that because that’s enough to drive you crazy. Just think tomorrow I want to be better than I am today. It’s a one-day deal!  

What can we expect from you in the future?  

One of my passions is leadership in the proper handling of power and authority and the professional lives. So many times, our personal lives are in asylum where educators talk to educators, dentist talks to dentists, doctors talk to doctors, and clergy talks to clergy. I believe that it takes everybody to have a conversation together to lift each other up. In the future, you will see more tools and resources presented virtually and in-person to help with the conversation. I want younger women in late teens and early twenties to see how far they can go with others who can help and broaden their network with mentorship and coaching. Each generation can learn from the other.

Look for Selah online. Selah is an ancient word that means stop here before moving forward. That is exactly what Selah is, it’s the stop here to be resourced and then move forward in your life. Also, look for Selah Moments, it’s an opportunity to share resources. In addition, look for the broaden of the Gratitude Project because now we are saying good things and doing good things by doing the things, we are grateful for. We want others to stay encouraged and to inspire to do good things.

For more on Bishop McKenzie, click here.

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All images courtesy of Bishop Vashti McKenzie