Cover Story: Mandisa Walks on the Bright Side

With Life’s darkest clouds far behind, the Grammy-Award winner return with new music, a new podcast and a talkshow growing in popularity

Tex by Judith Manigault photographed by Sara Krauss

I liken her to a ray of sunshine. The fresh face beauty with a megawatt smile arrives for our zoom chat enveloped in the kind of warmth you would extend to an old friend. In her signature, inquisitive manner, she quickly asks about my last name (Manigault). We chat about possible connections to other public figures. After a good laugh, we settle in for our chat—and that’s when our scheduled interview evolves into an experience. You certainly wouldn’t know by her warm smile and welcoming demeanor that she has weathered her share of storms. The Grammy Award-winning Artist’s ability to see past life’s darkest clouds is merely uncanny. From anxiety and depression, to her struggles with body image, Mandisa’s faith keeps her hopeful.

Besides working on new music (be sure to check out, You Keep Hope Alive, a new collaboration with Pastor and Worship Leader, Jon Reddick), she has launched a new podcast, Mornings with Mandisa & Friends, and a talk show on YouTube entitled, What If We Were Real, which explores topics such as interracial dating, sex, and the importance of physical attraction in relationships—a subject matter she grapples with. “I have done a lot of studying about this,” Mandisa explains. “1 Samuel 16 verse 7 says, a man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And while I know God says I am beautiful; the words haven’t made the 18-inch journey from my head to my heart. As I continue to study, I’m beginning to realize that man looks at the outward appearance—so there’s nothing wrong with taking care of your outward appearance, because that’s what my future husband is going to see.” Like millions of American women, Mandisa continues to wrestle with real issues surrounding body image. “I really struggle with everything about my appearance,” she says. “From my weight to my skin, and a bottom bigger than I would rather have,” she laughs. The 44-year-old also voices concerns about being part of an industry where youth is still pre-eminent. Yet she reflects, “God reminds us that beauty does not come from the outward appearance, such as the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes and elaborate hairstyles. But instead, from the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in God’s sight,” she cites. “It’s funny, my first album was called True Beauty, and while I knew that God was trying to teach me that at that time—it’s ironic that He would use my own music to do so,” she laughs. Of course, as women of color, our chat would not be complete without discussing hair. Gray hair to be exact. And like ‘Sistas’ do, we agreed we’ve all used the strategies of tucking it away by braiding it, coloring it, or rocking a great wig to keep it at bay. “You know, we play around, and we say ‘black don’t crack,’ but I really think that the juxtaposition of gray hair and smooth skin (Yes! We thank God for melanin) serves as a great metaphor for how God preserves us. He calls us to be salt and light in a fallen world,” she explains.

The connection between depression and community

“I used to live in Antioch, Tennessee, which is kinda in the hood. After doing American Idol, I got some money for going on tour, so I brought a house in Antioch around 2007 and was there until January of this year. [There was a] shooting that happened at the Waffle House, and as I recall, there was a young black man who saved the day. Well, that was a mile and a half away from my house,” she explains. “I would hear gunshots. Someone broke into my house in 2009, and I was right upstairs, and though I knew God was telling me to leave, I was resistant for a long time. I knew God said to go last year when I came to terms with my battle with depression and anxiety. I then began to realize that community played a big part in why I have been so susceptible to depression. As a single woman, I was by myself, so I would isolate. When you do that, you start listening to the lie from the enemy—which I had done for most of my life.”

A New Outlook

Today, out with the old and in with the new seems to be the recurring theme in her life. “God is doing an upgrade in my life,” she says. She recently bought a new car, sold her first home in Antioch, and has set her eyes on a new place in Burbank CA. Mandisa discloses how God is trying to reframe her thinking into a space of abundance and not lack. “I’m scared of lack,” she says. In the past, she has kept every stitch of clothing just in case her weight should fluctuate. “I have every size in my closet, from my biggest, which is a size 32 to a size 12. But I now feel like God is saying, ‘No going back there, let’s get rid of those size 32s!!! Because when you get rid of the old—you are making room for me to fill it with the new.’’’ Not a proponent of the prosperity gospel, Mandisa explains that her parents tend to occupy very opposites sides of the spectrum, (dad embraces the more affluent lifestyle while mom is thriftier), yet she understands that God is moving her to the center of things. “I can hear God saying, ‘I want you balanced. I want you right here in the middle.’ And, right in the middle, God has times when he will call me to give, and times when he calls me to receive,” she explains.

New Horizons

As we approach the end of our chat, her eyes gleam with excitement as she shares what God is doing next. “I recently did a Zoom meeting where I talked about this vision I had of something I’m going to call, Mornings with Mandisa & Friends,” she says. Her new podcast is scheduled to air on the 24th of each month. “The centerpiece of this whole thing will be this beautifully decorated table where we break bread together (based on Acts 2, verses 42 to 47). We’ll talk about what God is doing, we will teach, and we’ll worship.” She further explains, “This is a discipleship movement—a Joel 1 movement where God pours out His Spirit on all people. Older women are discipling young women, and older men are discipling young men. It is racial unity, it’s black, it’s white and not just American—but it’s Puerto Rican, Australian, and Italian…because God wants to show us what unity looks like—and what it looks like to be brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Mandisa likens the need for community among believers to the camaraderie and natural teamwork of geese. “When geese fly in a V formation, [throughout the journey], the one at the head interchanges places and another bird in the formation comes to the front—which helps the flock save energy and go further. As they migrate, the lead bird takes the brunt of the drag—and the journey gets heavy— but that’s when having help nearby makes the difference. That’s what itlooks like if you are walking through depression or anxiety, without isolating and trying to do it yourself,” she reflects. “It’s like linking arms with your brothers and sisters, it’s a safe place.”

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