Dr. Juanita Bynum: UNDEFEATED
Don’t call it a comeback, call it a coronation to the front line. Dr. Juanita Bynum shows us how we can all be unstoppable.
Danny Gokey’s “The Comeback” is blasting in the background and the lyrics seem to be the perfect theme song to personify Dr. Juanita Bynum’s life… “Just when they think they’ve got your game set match …Here comes the comeback.” The New York Times Bestselling Author and UN Ambassador commands the intimate Brooklyn studio loft with her powerful presence, as her ethereal white gown cascades to the floor. Without missing a single beat, Dr. Bynum tilts her head to the side and effortlessly stares straight ahead at the camera with her piercing, almond shaped eyes. With each power pose, her best friends, Rhonda and Lynn, tag team complimentary “oohs and ahhs” at the striking 61-year-old who looks every bit of 41 with her chiseled cheekbones and flawless complexion.
One would never fathom that the world renowned prophetic voice that God has used to bring healing to the world for decades, has had her own share of private, yet very candid heartache and disappointments. From a very public divorce years ago, to intense media scrutiny, many watched on the sidelines, deeming that Dr. Juanita Bynum would not rise. 12 years after the debut of her revolutionary Women on the Front Line Conference, Dr. Juanita Bynum is back on the front line like she never left.
And yet she still rises.
Who is Dr. Juanita Bynum?
I am a woman willing to use my life experiences to bring about change as well as give hope to women that have lost hope. That’s who I am! I live my life so that when I lay down at night, I am able to say that I helped someone and everyday, I have the peace in knowing that I have accomplished just that. I do not recall there ever being a time when I laid my head down on my pillow and was not able to sleep with an experience in my brain that happened that day, and I knew that I was The One chosen to help.
What is a day like in the life of Dr. Juanita Bynum?
I definitely start my day off with meditation, prayer, and the gym to work out with my trainer, Claire Marie Sherrin of the New York City Sports Club. The body naturally empties out from 4AM to 12 PM so I try to give myself brain space by not answering emails before 11 AM. It’s not just about being physically healthy, it’s also about being mentally focused. Sometimes we carry issues and thoughts, and we do not take time to discard those things in order to make the decision about who we want to be today, and what we want to accomplish today.
Describe your early life growing up in Chicago…
Growing up in Chicago was amazing, and at that time, I did not know that I had a wonderful life until now. I grew up with Mister Softee and in the era of playing with jacks and Old Maid cards. We did not know anything about the Internet. One of my friends taught me how to smoke cigarettes when I was in sixth grade. My mom would always say, ‘If I ever catch you smoking, I will make you eat an entire pack of cigarettes.’ I was a rebellious kid. I had a big afro, Angela Davis was on my wall, and I was all into the Black Panther movement. My parents sent me away to a very expensive boarding school because I was out of control. I came to know the Lord, and God turned my life around. I ended up graduating second in my class.
When you were 12-years-old, you preached your first sermon. How did you know you were called into ministry?
I probably did not know what I was talking about back then. (Laughs) When I turned 16, I heard the call that I was going to stand in front of people and minster. I was invited to do a three day revival, and my father took me. When I started ministering there were about 20 people there, and when he came back to get me, the church was packed. I got in the car and my dad turned to me and said, ‘Do you know that you have a great calling on your life? You are getting ready to go around the whole world.’ It was during my teen years—when I began drawing in crowds, and it just took off from there.
You always maintain your relevance, Dr. Bynum. How do you continue to evolve in ministry, and personally throughout the years?
I think that my life experiences become relevant. I experience what everyone else is experiencing, therefore I seek my answers which end up being everyone else’s answers. I don’t speak on anything until I have finished walking it out. Afterwards, I get the microphone to minister, and I know that this is going to work because it worked for me. Some people seek God from the Bible and church, and my prayer has always been that God would teach me how to take life experiences and put my spirituality in my life.
Happy belated birthday! You are 61 and fabulous! How would you describe your style?
Thank you! I would definitely say eclectic, unpredictable, and unapologetically free. My friends used to call me Punky Brewster because they would always say to me, ‘You can put on anything!’ (Laughs) I don’t like anything that is too matchy-matchy. I like funky and different. I like to know that my style of dressing is my identification, so when people see my style they see my identity.
If we were to peak inside your bag, what would we find in there?
You would find a MAC lip gloss and of course, I love my lip plumping lipgloss by Josie Maran. You’ll also find two cell phones, one for business and the other for personal. A brush, and a little pouch that holds all kinds of medicine. All my friends say I should have been a doctor, because when they get sick, I tell them, ‘You need one of these, and two of these then you will be good!’
If we were to peak inside your closet, what staple pieces would we find in there?
Gucci, Gucci, Gucci! (Laughs) I love Gucci, but not because it’s a luxury brand, for me it represents, “Gangsta Girl.” I have overcome a lot, and when I wear it, it represents me, and that’s why I wear it–the whole Double G! (Laughs) If you are looking for a fight of life, call me. I am that “ride or die” I am packed and ready.
Our theme for this issue is clean living, and you exemplify that from the inside out—what inspired you to go vegan? How has veganism impacted your lifestyle overall?
Well, when I was in my early twenties, I decided one day that I was going to go vegan. I went vegan for 10 years–no eggs, cheese, or meat. I believe that is what has given me whatever youthful countenance I have, I definitely attribute it to that. Then one day, my friend was having a barbecue for her son, and I ate meat after ten years! It did make me sick at first, but then I became addicted, and at that point I did not want to go back to vegan. I got sick and I did not know what was wrong. I was lethargic, sleepy, and nauseous. I went to see a specialist in Colorado, and had X-Rays done. The doctor saw a few fibroids and a black mass. He ended up doing emergency surgery to find out what the mass was. When he opened me up, he saw 33 fibroids, and all my organs were attached to them. The doctor lost me on the table. The procedure was supposed to be simple but, I was in surgery for almost 6 ½ hours. They had to remove the fibroids from my organs, and reset all of my organs back in place. The doctor said he witnessed a miracle and I would not have been able to digest anymore meat because the fibroids were pushing against my intestines and up into my esophagus. Also, my left lung had already collapsed. He showed me pictures, and assured me that he had never seen anything like this before–my fibroids were the size of golf balls or bigger.
Three months prior to the surgery during my morning meditation I heard God say to me, ‘Don’t touch meat anymore.’ It was an audible voice, and it was so strong that I turned around in my prayer room to see if anyone was there. I heard His voice so strong to the point that it convinced me not to eat meat.
After that, I was good. I was like, ‘Okay, Lord you don’t have to tell me twice.’ I feel God has called me to be a vegan, it’s not everyone’s calling, (although it probably should be) but God has called me to that. I am a water drinker, I love green vegetables, and I just try to eat right.
How do you see the impact of your ministry in the future towards millennials?
I believe that the next phase of my calling will deal with the Millennial Mindset. That’s why I became certified as a Right Brain Practitioner, and my practice is called “Brain Balance Institute.” The millennials were raised differently so there is a lot going on inside of them that I understand. I think that one of the things they are desiring is guidance, and guidance from someone that understands hardships because they have had it rough. A lot of them have been raised by grandparents, single parents, and some of them have practically raised themselves. Some of them have even been raised by parents close to them in age so they were raised like my mom is my best friend rather than my mama. The millennials have an opinion, and my mom was like, ‘I am your opinion, don’t say nothing, and better yet, don’t even breathe.’ (Laughs) They are very opinionated so for that reason, they are more conversationalists than we were back then because they have more to talk about because they were introduced into society so much earlier. I have encountered a lot of traumatic things in my life and a lot of the millennials may look at me and think,‘Well, how did this lady make it through this, all of the media scrutiny, only to bounce back like that?’ I think because many of the millennials want to know how I did it, it gives me an opportunity to help them understand how to do it. You can go through something horrific and continue on in your true identity.
As a woman who has never had natural children, but many spiritual children, what do you think, or what would you like your legacy to be?
I would like my legacy to be a legacy of survival. A legacy of bounce back, tenacity, strength, and focus. A legacy of strength to try again. A legacy of courage to build it again, to get up, and keep getting back up. Every failure, every set back, is an opportunity to re-evaluate. Someone said to me during my experiences, ‘How do you feel going through trouble?’ I kept hearing the word: ‘That Dr. Juanita Bynum was in trouble.’ So I went and looked up the word “trouble,” and the definition said that trouble is when something is out of order. Trouble is when things are chaotic. But when I saw that “trouble” was giving me an opportunity to redefine what is out of order and put it back in order. So from that point on, I began to say, ‘I am not in trouble, I am in transition,’ and that is how I have lived the last ten years of my life. The definition of who I am today was a gift from trouble.
As a woman in ministry, how do you think you have impacted ministry and those women coming behind you?
I think that of course you have some women who have been inspired to pick up a microphone to preach or speak. I think that I would have wanted to inspire them to become all of who they are. Prior to my transition, I could have said, ‘I am just a preacher. I am just a singer,’ but there was something else that I needed to do as far as my calling was concerned. When you are called to speak and to change lives, there are other means of doing that through your spirituality. When I took on my career as a Right Brain Practitioner, it helped me to expand myself. So I am praying that some don’t begin to duplicate who I was. That is very important to me, and I see it a lot. What some are duplicating was what I was, and I would like for them to feel inspired to find their own route. We are inspired by people all the time, but you don’t become them. You don’t become a replica of them. You can have a scent of someone who inspires you, but you don’t steal their identification. You go on and take their scent, and allow that scent to help you blossom into who you are supposed to be. That is my desire for them–don’t just stop at the preacher, but go on to become the fullness of the person.
How have you impacted men and their understanding of women in ministry?
Oh wow! I think some of them wish I had never…(Laughs) I think with what God used me to accomplish in ministry is very rare for a woman, a single woman! I think I had to be the one to sit on the front line to say that God isn’t about a gender, the spirit of the Lord is not a gender, but it’s an assignment. Whom He calls He justifies and qualifies. I think my prayer was that I do it with such a spirit of excellence until even if you don’t like me, you have to respect me. I was told when I started out, ‘Well, leave your conferences in a ballroom in a hotel. You don’t want to jump out there and do nothing major because it takes a lot of mental strength, and women just aren’t built for that.’ I had to take one for the team. I began to think like this…How is it women aren’t built for this when 90% of your church are women? It’s the women that orchestrate every vision that you have. So then I thought to myself, ‘If all the women decided that one Sunday they were not going to church in the whole world…It’s women’s day and we’re all going to stay home.’ Or we just decided the month of April is women’s month and there’s no church for women, Pastors would have a caravan and orchestra to welcome us back! They’d be like: ‘Come back my daughters.’ We’re doing it through another man’s vision which means we’re qualified to do it and have the tenacity to do it. Like I said, I just had to get out there and close my eyes and just jump. Everyone told me you’re crazy, it’ll never happen, you will never do this, you will never do that. After my transition, they said: ‘You’ll never do it again.’ And I said: ‘Just keep watching.’ If it’s your identity you can’t be anything else but that. I don’t care how bad it’s been for you, I don’t care if you hit the ground, I don’t care if you’ve made mistakes, your true identity will stand you up again every time. But if it’s stolen identification you’ll continue to lay there. I never looked at myself in that respect like: ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ If God gave me the vision and said do it, I didn’t think one way or another. I didn’t think, ‘I’m a woman,’ I just did it. So obedience is the key to success for anybody, and if God can get you to obey, you’ll do phenomenal things. I had to get out there, I think that’s why I named my women’s conference “Women on the Front Line.” We are the first ones to take a hit, the first ones to stand on the front line, ready for the battle. So we have to be willing to die for what we believe in, and I am.
You’ve had the privilege to minister outside of the country, enabling you to have global influence. How do you see the impact of this influence in other nations?
It’s going to greatly influence other nations. I became a UN Ambassador for the NGO. That’s one of my goals, to help people around the world understand how to calm the emotional side down. Jeremiah 1:5 says: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and I called you. You were introduced to God for the first time from a mindset. The call of God I have on my life is to merge spirituality with sound mindedness. A balanced brain is something needed around the world. The testimonies are out of this world, unbelievable. People are saying,‘I never thought I would have this much peace.’ The spirituality connected to it teaches you how to make it work for you. If God made our brain, how can we know how to navigate it without Him? You have to go back to who created it, and I firmly believe that’s my job – to get you back to who created you, God.
Do you desire to remarry?
Do I desire to remarry? My brain balance is telling me…. I lost $50 million the first time. (Laughs) It’s not a present desire because I’m so excited about what I’m doing right now. I’m so engulfed in what I’m doing and I’d keep feeling as if marriage is a distraction right now. Anything can happen though, never say never. I wasn’t fit for anybody while I was on the journey of rehabilitating my brain. However, now if he comes, I am more sound and can go in a corner and give myself therapy if need be.
You experienced a lot of public hurts, from a highly publicized divorce years ago, to defamation of character. How do you stay strong and unshakable?
I have a strong belief system, and it’s because of the word of God and because I know who I am. I have a sense of my own identity. When you know what and who you are, you don’t entertain the gossip and negative criticism. I know that when you talk about me, you’re killing you. If I respond to what you say, my DNA starts changing, and you start putting my life to death. So that’s a good reason to ignore it, because I want to live.
What are a few things you wish people knew about Dr. Juanita Bynum?
I don’t walk in fame…My father said you can taste it but don’t swallow it, because you’ll be full of yourself. I like to live my life as normal as I possibly can. I am very simple. I like to eat at the same restaurant and my favorite sitcom is Frazier. I love classical music and I love to dance.
So I heard you have a new book coming out, My Brain Changed, that deals with different stages of trauma in the brain. Was this book inspired by any events in your life?
My book is my journey. I broke down different sections of the brain, and what their functionalities are, and how that portion of my brain was malfunctioning. I wrote about the experiences I had during that time; how I’ve corrected it, and to maintain what has been corrected. I believe a lot of people will be able to identify with it. I’ve had people offer me money for my book to tell my story. I didn’t want to tell it in a way that would offend anybody. I don’t believe you have to put anyone down to build yourself up. It was an unfortunate situation…Do I believe that person would do anything like that…Given the time and the situation of where everything was, it happened… I don’t want to bask in anyone’s past experience, but I want to talk about my journey through it. You have a lot of women and men who have gone through domestic violence, people who have gone through traumatic situations in life–whether the death of a child, or the loss of a job, whatever it is. Because we live in a trauma driven society, everyone has experienced trauma. My job in this book was to show my trauma, and show the process of what trauma was doing to me at that time. Encouraging people to know you can change your brain, your brain is plasticity, it can change if you put the work in. I wanted to write my story based upon me being able to help people, and not bring any degrading reflection on anybody, but to take my story and have women to lift themselves up and say, ‘OK, if she can do it, then I can do it too.’
It’s been 13 years since your “Women On the Frontline” conference, and it’s returning in 2020! What can we expect?
For years, people have been asking me to bring it back, but for legitimate reasons I didn’t. Some of those reasons were because I am just integral like that, I had times where I pondered, ‘Well, am I a woman on the front line? Do I still want to be on the front line? Am I mad with God? Am I mad at situations, and am I going to get back up?’ I wasn’t sure. So I wasn’t going to put on a fake conference for the sake of the tradition of it. I wanted to wait until I was a woman on the front line, and now I am a woman on the front line. I know now that I can lead women and cause them to get back up on the front line. The conference this year is going to be very emotional for me because it takes strength, it takes focus, it takes a futurized brain to be able to stand up and say I am not done yet. So Women on the Front Line is going to be an unforgettable experience this year.
What gives your life meaning?
Doing what I am called to do. I have taken in many young women, and they will tell you that from the time they go to bed, I am at the desk reading, and by the time they wake up in the morning, I am back at the desk reading. When I go into my time of meditation, I don’t read the Bible to preach, I read it to live. I read to strengthen my belief system. Then when I come back to my desk, I read so it can be a blessing, and an encouragement to people when God gives me a revelation on what to speak. I am driven by that. That is my identity, I am driven by my calling, and that’s what keeps me going.
What do you think God has given you to help with the changes needed in our community, churches and people as a whole?
I am Native American as well, and especially for Native Americans, the suicide rate is very high, and it’s just a lot of turmoil that people are going through in this hour. I really feel strongly that my whole study and career of combining spirituality with mental health is what is going to be strongly recognized in communities around the world. I had the opportunity on August 28, 2019 to speak at a very large women’s conference and that message ripped the building, and it was titled, “Run the Maze.” It was about a mouse that scientists did a study on and they were feeding the mouse information, and the mouse’s mind was running. At the end of the night, when they put the mouse to sleep, the doctors saw that even though the mouse was sleeping, what was in the mind of the mouse was still running the maze because it was in its sub-conscience. My message “Run the Maze,” says, ‘It’s in you, it’s just buried underneath, and if you just start moving, you will run out of the maze–run out of the entanglement and all of the shackles in your mind. If you start moving in your purpose, all of that will just fall off.
How did you discover your Native American roots?
I always knew we were native. I just knew that I was of the culture of women of color, and I just never really talked about it. My mother is Chahta and my father is Creek. Once the diversity in society becomes more and more prevalent, you realize that you can’t just keep calling yourself something you really aren’t. So we are all descendants of Africa, the whole bloodline of the universe is from there, and we branch out into different cultures, and so here we are.
What else can we expect?
Yes, I have a new album coming out at the time of the conference. My new book, My Brain Changed, will launch then as well. It’s going to be a big re-launching of Women on the Front Line, as well as Dr. Juanita Bynum International Ministries. I also have a bath line and a candle line, The Bee Balanced Collection, which will also be available at the Women on the Front Line conference. The brand is a reflection that we are who God is going to use. You may not think you are good enough, educated enough, or of a certain caliber, but God is choosing you because of what He put in you not because of who you are right now. You are evolving everyday.
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By Eboyne’ Jackson
Fashion Stylist: Tim B.
Assistant Stylist: Rhonda Sampson
Makeup by: Tiffany Garlick
Hair by: Karen Mitchell
Photography by: Sailey Williams