The Femtourage had the honor of speaking with Tamika Harden, personal fitness trainer, mother, and coronavirus survivor, about her unexpected, recent battle with COVID-19. 

During our conversation, we discovered that Tamika is no stranger to putting up a fight. Here's more about the fitness trainer and health advocate, and how she fought against the deadly diagnosis. 

Who is Tamika Harden? 

Growing up in South Jamaica Queens, NY, Tamika defeated becoming a stereotype and maneuvered her way into reaching success she once only dreamed about. 

At an early age, Tamika knew she was unhealthy. She recalls being overweight most of her childhood and getting teased continuously by loved ones (who ironically were also overweight).  

Not wanting to live a life being unhappy and unhealthy, Tamika began her fitness journey at the age of 16. Faced with many setbacks, Tamika could've easily given up, but she made it a mission to join a gym and lose weight. 

At the time, Tamika needed a bank account to sign up for her local gym and searched endlessly for a bank that would issue her an account. She found one, and it allowed her to focus on her health.  

She lost an astonishing 40 pounds! And by the age of 19, the New York native was managing health clubs and helping other women reach their fitness goals.  

"My family had no clue what I was doing," says Tamika. And knowing how great of a cook her mom is, Tamika admits it was hard to shake the habit.  

She drew strength from knowing how bad those Sunday meals were. Luckily, working at the supermarket allowed Tamika to eat healthily and purchase her own meals. 

But Tamika confesses that she does indulge every now and then, enjoying meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. "For me, the desire isn't there as much because I know what it tastes like already," says Tamika. 

She reveals that naturally, the longer you are on your fitness journey, the more willpower you have. And that's what makes it easy to say no to temptation in the form of food.  

Throughout her 16-year fitness journey, Tamika has been able to completely transform the way she looks and eats. She's now a pescatarian and incorporates vegan dishes into her meal plans. 

Flu or COVID-19? 

Despite being in the best health of her life, Tamika was one of the thousands of people affected by coronavirus. However, she wasn't immediately made aware.  

Initially, Tamika believed she had the flu. And when she placed a phone call to get tested, she didn't receive a call back until 3-weeks later. Her symptoms got worse, so she went to the nearest testing site but was denied for not scheduling an appointment. 

Tamika learned that a trauma unit was going to be set up around her neighborhood the following day. It was her best bet of walking-in and getting a test. 

Within five days, she got the news and tested positive.  

"It felt like I had got hit by a truck," Tamika explains. "All I could do was sleep; I could barely drink the tea my family was giving me." 

She describes it as being a wake-up call.  

"I have to get people healthy!" 

Tamika says she no longer doubted her purpose; she knew that without a doubt, getting people fit was her God-given mission.

She was knocked down for about two weeks from COVID-19, but was able to shake it. 

And she credits her lifestyle as being the reason she was able to survive the virus. In fact, the first thing she did once she got healthy was exercise!  

Before contacting the coronavirus, Tamika was training over 200 women per month. Instead of letting the virus keep her or her business down, Tamika tells how she ran a virtual aerobics class just 4 days after feeling better. 

Her clients had no clue that she was just getting over the deadly disease! 

Surviving COVID-19 

Tamika is now more open to telling her story because she sees it as a way to motivate others to get into shape. 

As a successful fitness trainer, Tamika Harden has built a career around being mentally and physically strong. But when faced with a deadly virus – nobody is immune to feelings of fear and anxiety. 

When asked if things would have been different had she learned about her condition earlier, Tamika says she thinks her attitude would have changed. Initially concerned, once her diagnosis was confirmed as positive, Tamika was mentally strong and had a sense of gratitude.  

With daily news surrounding the tragic effects of coronavirus, Tamika knew how deadly the virus was and thinks it would've caused her more panic had she been aware she was battling it from the beginning. 

"The moment I felt better, I just felt like it was my responsibility to just get back to what I was doing and help people," exclaims Tamika. 

Fighting back the tears, Tamika says she is 100% sure that her calling is to help her community and to give people the resources needed to live a healthier life. 

Want to get healthy? Start NOW 

The time to get serious about your health is yesterday, but seeing as how we can't turn back time – Tamika urges you to start now.  

"Working out has a way of stimulating you mentally, "says Tamika, as she invites you to attend her virtual workout class. But it's not only for weight loss but also for mental strength – both are linked to one another. Tamika reminds us that because of where she was physically and mentally, it made her more successful at beating COVID-19. 

"Surviving COVID-19 did something to me mentally and emotionally. It said to me, 'your life was spared because you have a greater purpose.'" 

Her advice to the women and men looking to make a change: write down every negative word on a piece of paper. "I'm overweight, I'm not good enough" -- throw it away. She says our baggage and insecurities tend to hold us back. 

Identify what's holding you back and then explore options that can help you, like fitness. 

Fitness allowed her a way out of the crippling cycle of self-esteem issues and negative thoughts – and she knows it can work for you too. 

You may be tempted to give up, but don't. Just reset, and try to have fun, Tamika advises. "As long as you don't quit and you don't stop, you're never going to go back to where you started from." 

"COVID-19 has made me fearless," Tamika proudly states. And she's now more committed to helping others reach their fitness goals! 

Her goal for the rest of 2020 is to keep people encouraged and to reach people all over the world by teaching aerobics.  

You can find her on Instagram and Facebook at BodyByTamika and

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there’s likely been no other time in recent history when caring for one’s mental health has been so crucial. One of the most acutely impacted demographics during this time? Black women.

Thankfully, black female leaders are recognizing this overarching problem and how it can be exasperated during the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re doing something about it. Most recently, actress and philanthropist Taraji P. Henson launched a COVID-19-related free virtual therapy initiative through her nonprofit organization, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation.

Photo: The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, Instagram

The Foundation aims to eradicate stigma surrounding African-American mental health issues and provide support and awareness to the same community. Founded in 2018 and named after Henson’s father, the foundation recognizes the African-American community is the least likely population to seek mental health treatment, even though one in five of all Americans, regardless of race, suffer from mental illness. The foundation points to fears of being labeled as weak or inadequate and a need to appear strong and capable as one of the reasons why mental health care is not sought out on a wider basis.

The COVID-19 free virtual therapy initiative is easily located on the foundation’s resources page. All one has to do is apply for services and then choose a clinician and participating COVID-19 support provider in their state.

Unfortunately, the free services are being offered in “rounds” and the first round has been closed, with the second round opening at an undisclosed date. The foundation urges those interested to keep an eye on the website for updates. Those with the means can make donations to the cause (as the initiative is paying licensed and culturally competent clinicians for their provided services).

“It’s our priority to provide care to those in need, who do not have accessibility or the ability to afford culturally competent therapists. We also need to remove the stigma around mental illness. It’s OK not to be OK,” Tracie Jade Jenkins, executive director at the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, said shortly after the initiative was announced, in an article published by Black Enterprise.

Henson has long advocated for the destigmatization of mental illness in the black community. (Photo: Public Domain)

“They are told to be strong and tough it out and told that you’re weak if you have issues,” Henson also said, separately, to The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re all human. We’re all in this thing called life together, and it is tough. We’re not afraid to talk about having a root canal or there’s no shame in having a thyroid issue or even cancer. Why can’t we talk about mental health in the same way?”

While Henson’s quote above referenced black men, the same can be said regarding black women.

According to an article from John Hopkins Medicine, women are twice as likely to experience major depression as men, but black women are only half as likely as white women to seek professional mental health care help.

“Too often, women of color try to muscle their way through depression and anxiety on their own,” says chair and medical director of the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Erica Richards, in the same article.

“We…are conditioned to soldier through and roll with the punches of life,” adds Crista Glover, PhD, LPC.

Additionally, if a black woman does try to seek mental health care services, she may quickly become deterred.

“Culturally, African-Americans are among the top race who prefer to have a clinician who looks like them. The inability for individuals to find providers who fit their preferences can cause them to give up on therapy in general,” says Candace Carter, LPC.

Whoever the impacted individual may be, however, now’s the time to seek mental health care.

“I view the coronavirus [pandemic] as a giant pressure cooker. It has turned up the heat and is testing the limits of an already precarious situation by shining a light on health disparities that were already in place. Individuals who have historically struggled to access quality care to address their mental health concerns must now compete for space with individuals who are newly entering the system because the pandemic has pushed them to their breaking point. The system, pre-coronavirus, was not prepared to handle the massive influx of clients we are seeing with trauma, depression and anxiety-related symptoms,” said Martina Efodzi from Aya Healing Arts, LLC, in a recent interview with The Femtourage.

Danielle Jones, founder and CEO of Love LLC, agrees: “I have had an increase in clients since the coronavirus pandemic started. There are more people recognizing that they…need extra assistance… From my clients and interactions with friends, family and coworkers, it seems to be increased anxiety across the board. Everyone is attempting to learn to adjust in the best way possible for themselves.”

You can find more information regarding the resources offered by the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation on the foundation’s website.

Your physical health isn't the only thing under threat. Photo: Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in rising death tolls all across the globe, but not all of those deaths are a direct result of an individual being infected by the virus. In some instances, just the pandemic’s mere existence plays a role in related deaths. Mental health issues are exasperated, resulting in suicides, like that of Jo’Vianni “Jo” Smith, a Stockton teen who was found dead following stress caused by coronavirus lockdowns. In some instances, when mental health issues are exasperated, others take the fall, with domestic abuse and child abuse cases rising, which can also result in death. And this isn’t an issue that will go away when the pandemic wanes; experts predict COVID’s toll on mental health will last for years to come.

It’s only expected, then, that populations that feel disparities in the mental health care realm on a normal basis would now see those disparities exasperated.

“Unfortunately, racial disparities are quite frequent in many phases of mental health,” explains Bryan Sackey, founder and CEO of Pharmacy Initiative Leaders, Inc. “There is good research to show that African Americans are more likely to be misdiagnosed which often leads to mismanagement of their true conditions. One research shows blacks are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, which then leads to prescription of antipsychotics and these agents may unfortunately worsen pre-existing metabolic issues (i.e. diabetes). Additionally, cultural misunderstanding of the black population may lead to under or over-treatment by providers in this community.”

Sackey says, since the coronavirus pandemic began, he has noticed an uptick of anxiety and panic attacks in his patient population, but across all patient groups, regardless of race or age. But, he admits, his black patients have been exhibiting a different trend.

"I have seen more of my black patients cancelling..." Photo: Pexels

“I have not noticed a particular distinction based on race,” he says. “However, I have seen more of my black patients cancelling their appointments (despite being conducted via video). I presume this is related to a common issue I often see in the black population: internalizing pain and opting to solve problems on their own rather than pursuing professional help. I believe we as a black community tend to go into survival mode during times of uncertainty and neglect very key aspects of wellbeing to include mental health. I hope to educate and help ameliorate this issue in our population.”

Other providers, however, say they’ve seen increases in mental health issues and disparities among black female patients specifically.

“I am definitely seeing an increase in anxiety and depression-related symptoms among the black womyn that I work with in therapy,” says Martina Efodzi, of Aya Healing Arts, LLC. “Mounting pressures at work and at home [and] limited access to traditional coping methods such as friends, the gym and places of worship have made the isolation that comes with being quarantined even more acute.”

“From my current experience outside what has been reported, low income minorities are definitely impacted more,” adds Imani Hines, LPC, regarding the way demographics are possibly impacted more acutely or uniquely by the coronavirus pandemic. This, she says, is “due to a lack of resources and struggling with financial concerns prior to the pandemic.”

Some mental health care professionals also point out that the coronavirus pandemic has made disparities across the board more obvious, beyond mental health care. Crista Glover, PhD, LPC, says she hasn’t necessarily seen a more acute impact on certain demographics’ mental health over others’ during the pandemic, “but that could be because we (I identify as a black woman) are conditioned to soldier through and roll with the punches of life. What I’ve seen is many more layered dynamics than just managing the public health crisis. These shelter-in-place requirements, while necessary, are also revealing how some home environments truly aren’t safe. There could be family dysfunction or even domestic violence dynamics that make home psychologically unsafe. Also, if there are pre-existing health conditions, then coronavirus is very threatening to the black community and not something that you can readily ‘bounce back from’ if diagnosed. It really comes down to the difference of being merely inconvenienced by this global crisis or it being truly a matter of life and death. This pandemic has highlighted the disparities that have always existed. Now, it’s just more obvious.”

Black mental health care professionals are taking a proactive approach to assisting their patients. Photo: Pexels

Regardless of how black mental health care professionals are seeing coronavirus pandemic-related stress and anxiety manifest among their patient populations, all the providers that we spoke to are taking a proactive approach to assisting their patients during an uncertain and very difficult time, pre-existing mental health condition or not.

“I am attempting to be more available for my clients when they are in crisis. Also, I am allowing them to deviate from their treatment plans to discuss more about the pandemic and how it is affecting them. I have also been assisting my clients with finding resources for their situations and making sure to share information as I receive it that may help them during this time,” explains Danielle Jones, founder and CEO, LOVE, LLC. Jones says she’s seen an increase in clients since the pandemic started, with more individuals recognizing how they might need extra assistance with their mental health.

“What I’m doing as a mental health professional during this time is offering support as well as tips to people who are struggling with managing their stress and anxiety levels,” says Candace Carter, LPC. “This support can look different for different people, but it could be offering a listening ear, referring a friend or coworker to their own therapy [or] offering support group resources. I’ve also created a COVID-19 action plan to help people create a personalized strategy to manage their stress and anxiety levels. It’s important to remember that although things may seem chaotic right now, there are steps you can take to lighten the negative impact and help you focus on what you can control.”

If you’re currently suffering with your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, the mental health care professionals we spoke with offer some advice.

“My clients and I frequently discuss the difference between ‘being alone’ and ‘being lonely’ and how technology and creativity might open up new possibilities. I have also found myself encouraging these clients to remember that, as descendants of enslaved people, we have a history of resilience that enables us to breathe life into captive spaces. What lessons can we pull forward from our ancestral traditions that would allow us to dream, plan, grow and thrive in spite of the limitations placed on our freedom of movement? Whatever those lessons are, we need to embrace the spirit of ‘sankofa’ and ‘go back and fetch it!’” explains Efodzi.

“I am encouraging my clients and community to feel all the feelings. We cannot change what we are unwilling to face, so getting honest about how we are processing this experience is the first step towards healing. Second, I encourage my clients and community to acknowledge that what we are all going through is traumatic and should be viewed from the lenses of trauma, grief and loss. Many of us are just trying to get through the day without breaking down. In speaking with my clients this week, we discussed how important it is to give yourself permission to rest, to grieve and to mourn. No one expected that 2020 would roll out the way that it has, or that our relationships, institutions, rituals and routines would be tested in this way. In times like these, I invite folks to have a ‘mini funeral’ for their shattered expectations and focus on the present moment,” she adds.

© 2018 - The Femtourage