Lestraundra Alfred ’11 saw that women of color were disenfranchised in the wellness space, so she launched an online platform, including a podcast series, tailored just for them.The result has been an extraordinary point of connection.
Before she begins a new podcast interview, Lestraundra “Les” Alfred ’11 likes to start with the “review of the week.” In the “Kombucha for the Culture” episode, she reads a letter from a junior in college who says the podcast changed her life. “It’s nice to hear about wellness from a black girl, because the space is so white,” the writer says. “It’s nice to know that many black girls also feel like this, and there is a community. Keep up the good work—this podcast is honestly so important.”
This kind of love letter isn’t rare for Les, who founded Balanced Black Girl, a media company that encompasses a blog, podcast, book club, and weekly newsletter, in 2018 to make wellness more accessible and relatable to women of color. Within her first year, she gained more than 2,700 followers on Instagram and logged more than 50,000 podcast downloads. All of the podcast guests—an impressive lineup of entrepreneurs, life coaches, powerlifters, activists, therapists, and more—are women of color, and they speak directly to an audience who has been largely disenfranchised in the wellness space. For Les, Balanced Black Girl is an exercise in community-building and advocacy—and it’s also an astute business venture. As a savvy “side hustler” and a self-made media mogul, Les has managed to carve out a niche in wellness aligned with her values.
She has also managed to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs who share her mission. One of her podcast guests, Cultured Kombucha founder Milan Durham, says she founded her company to make wellness products more accessible to nonwhite audiences, and she named her kombucha flavors after ’90s R&B and hip-hop songs in order to make their health properties more fun and approachable.
“For winter, one we have is ‘Bug A Boo,’ obviously a Destiny’s Child song,” she says during the podcast interview. “It was pomegranate-thyme, and I was looking for two ingredients to couple that were good at getting rid of bugs. Pomegranate’s got a lot of antioxidants, and thyme has a ton of antiparasitic properties. The other one is ‘Golden,’ and that’s ginger-pear-turmeric—Jill Scott song—and turmeric is really good for getting your glow on. Everything anti-inflammatory ... really does help you glow.”
“Well, I love that,” Les says. “I mean, I am just the biggest R&B/pop culture junkie, so anything that can combine wellness [with] that pop culture element is brilliant. It does take us back to a time in our lives where we loved those songs ... and it helps kind of build that accessibility factor.”
In another episode, “Protecting Our Melanin,” Black Girl Sunscreen founder Shontay Lundy discusses the fact that most sunscreens aren’t created for dark skin tones and [have] a “sticky, pasty consistency.” She says that in her house growing up, they didn’t use sunscreen at all. “It was a foreign thing that our lighter-skinned counterparts would use going to camp and running and playing outside, and we just didn’t use it,” she says. “I have a very diverse group of friends, and they would always suggest I should wear sunscreen, and I would be like, ‘Yeah, no. I don’t want that toothpaste on my face.’”
“That’s what it’s like,” Les agrees, laughing.
It wasn’t until Shontay found herself participating in outdoor activities and started getting sunburned that she realized how badly she needed a sunscreen conducive to her skin tone. When she came up short, she was inspired to work with skincare experts and start her business. Her products contain natural ingredients that boost melanin production, protect the skin from UV rays, and can be fully absorbed without leaving a residue.
Beyond products, Les and her guests explore wellness topics such as mental health and self-care. Before she started Balanced Black Girl, Les worked as a personal trainer and found that the most difficult part of helping people get in shape isn’t the workout or diet—it’s negative self-talk. “We beat ourselves up a lot, and it’s really hard to grow and thrive if you’re constantly being hard on yourself,” she says. For that reason, her content is largely focused on cultivating a positive mindset. (In one episode, she playfully refers to herself as “woo-woo adjacent.”)
Consider the episodes “Rethinking Body Image” and “Pretty, For a Black Girl,” in which Les questions narrow definitions of beauty ideals and where they come from. In another episode, Shanna Tyler, host of the Self Soul Sport podcast, explains that she’s come to love strength training for the way it makes her feel, which can be transferred to other areas of her life: “If I can pick up this amount of weight, I can pick up anything,” she says. In another, Maria Rodriguez, founder of Fear Her Fight Athletics, says that powerlifting had a similarly galvanizing effect on her: “All of my confidence I had built, I was so proud of, and I took it everywhere.”
That’s how Balanced Black Girl manages to own the wellness space for women of color and also to transcend it. Les has built a platform that speaks specifically to the needs of her listeners, and as a result, creates an empowered community.