Who are you, where are you, and where are you going?
I am Reverend Dr. Love Holt, and I was born and raised in the Berkeley/Ferguson area of St. Louis. I work at Abortion Action Missouri, but when I graduated from Berkeley High School I had a whole different idea of my path, like most young people. I thought I was going to be an attorney, an environmental law specialist. And somehow that was going to cross paths with my career as a radio personality!
I married young and started a family young. And I found myself becoming hyper-fixated on vaginas, which put me on the career path to what I currently do. It started after my separation from my partner at the time. I was struggling with my health, having some really bad physical responses in my body, and I was like, oh no, I’ve got to take my power back.
I had not trusted medical systems for quite some time. I had actually gone to school to be a pharmaceutical representative, but when I found out about the tactics that pharmaceutical companies use to market their products, I was so disgusted. I still have $22,000 of debt from those three years that I cannot get back.
So I was like, I’ve got to take the holistic path, because this is crazy. When I found out that I might have cervical cancer, I ended up working on myself and my body, and I started living a more holistic life. I needed accountability – I couldn’t do it by myself. So I started doing groups and circles where we would talk about vaginal wellness. I started a womb circle called the Sacred Seat and spent about four years focusing on herbalism and family planning.
At the time, I was going to school in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I came back to St. Louis, friends connected me with some work in HIV prevention and education. And that's where I got my nonprofit legs, my corporate legs. The job was through the CDC. It was Black owned –African masks and plants everywhere in the office – and I was like, girl, this is it. This is your life.
The Executive Director was super professional and worked directly with the CDC. She knew what that required, because she was a master facilitator. And she helped us embrace this idea that corporate is not white exclusive or Black exclusive. It's Black inclusive. So my personal aesthetic – how I already dressed, my hair, everything – was just accepted immediately. They was like, “You don’t have to code switch with us, honey. This is home.” That helped alleviate a lot of my corporate trauma. It was two years of being immersed in an environment that was very professional, very respected in the field, but also very Black and authentic.
While I was wrapping up my doctorate degree in divinity, I had loosely accumulated this huge following, because I would go around town talking about vaginal health, about HIV and testing, about safe-sex parties. My goal was to make sure everybody could be safe and we wouldn't get an influx of HIV or STD cases in the coming months, because that's a huge issue here in St. Louis. It got me ostracized from the church I was working at. I had always worked in the repro health field, and they already knew I was the crazy vagina lady! But when I started working for the CDC and getting more recognition, more accolades, they pushed back, saying it should just be a hobby. But it was my life.
I wanted to join Action STL's BOSS fellowship, but my boss didn't want me to leave. So one day I just started the program and did not go to work. During the fellowship, they place you on like a six-week internship to get your feet wet. Literally my sixth day on the job, they had me give a story on the old courthouse steps here in St. Louis, alongside Yamelsie Rodriguez, who is president of the regional Planned Parenthood here. There was also Tishaura Jones, our mayor, Cori Bush, our congresswoman, and the beautiful and illustrious Cora Faith Walker – may she rest heavenly. I was in such awe of these amazing individuals, who I had just started growing an admiration for in the past six months, and then – BOOM! – I am doing what I love with them. I’d gone from talking at open mics about sitz baths to being in a professional field talking about abortion and bodily autonomy.
But what really happened was I had come from a job where I’d been immersed in Black corporate culture. The CDC used to drop in on us all the time, so we had to look professional. On outreach days we were more relaxed, but a lot of the time you had to come in full business wear, ready to facilitate or speak in really important places. Because we are melanin rich, we are stigmatized in America. And we wanted to prove them wrong. We wanted to look good. We wanted to prove that Black people with locs and gold teeth and tattoos could achieve amazing professional success. So we did that. We rocked it out so hard that our organization ended up being granted millions more dollars to do the work they currently do. I'm even subcontracted with them today – a CDC initiative carries my program the Brown Girls Brunch. I’m marinating in this sauce of Black excellence.
Now, in organizing and politics, I’m still pushing the envelope. I'm wearing two-piece and three-piece Ankar suits. I have my locs down – no slicked bun. I'm doing my thing. When the mayor signed my legislation, Board Bill 61, I wore an African look straight from Togo, with these loud, bold colors. And recently when I went to Washington, DC, and made history as the first woman to tell Congress the story of her self-managed abortion, I wore a Togolese jumpsuit and a velour smoking jacket. And it was just everything.
How does your personal style express your approach to work?
I have a seamstress named Adjo Honsou who owns Tribe 228. She makes all of my suits and most of my gowns from Ankara fabrics. I told her we needed to exude Afro-professionalism! She asked me what I meant, and I was like, “We're creating it. Little do you know, every time you give me a suit, every time I'm on TV or speaking, wearing these garments, we are minting Afro-professionalism. We don't have to code switch. We can be nappy-headed. We can wear our long nails. We can wear our eyelashes. We can wear our giant door-knocker earrings and still show people that our quality of work is not watered down.”
Afro-professionialism is so potent, it starts movements and oils the wheels. And this needs to be accepted in every area of corporate professional life. It needs to be a part of the standard that we need to erect for Black and Brown people. White people have their own idea of professionalism – slick hair and blue, black, tan, or brown suits – this monotone way of modeling what professionalism is for the country: don’t wear too many loud colors, try not to stand out too much.
But we are in a space, in a place in time, honey, where Black people can do things unapologetically and wear what we want and just knock things out of the park like no other. We have to respect those platforms that give us our money, and deliver on our promises. So I am glad to be driving the ship that takes us all to a place where professionalism is what it is, bringing power and the potency to get the job done!
I love this Afro-professionalism moniker. And Rev. Dr. Love Holt is a very iconic name. Where does it come from?
When I was born, my Auntie Cherice named me LiTrease. (She named all of her nieces and pretty much all of our kids.) During my health struggles, I was also going through a separation and divorce, and at the time I was so devoid of love. I felt like it was missing from a lot of things: work, friendships, relationships, being a neighbor. Just organic love, love because you exist. Not because I know you. I just love you. We don't have enough unconditional love. And I felt nobody had any love to give, because they weren’t getting it. So I started off just calling people love. “Hey love!” “What's up, lover?”
People thought it was so weird. Why is she calling her friends “lovers”? But we exchange love. Not like I sleep with them, but I love them, and they love me back. After a while, my friends started introducing me as Love. Soon it became a personal brand. When I started doing public speaking, I went by Love. Someone was teaching me about structuring a business, and they said entertainers adopt new names. They're not really Gucci Mane or Diana Ross – that’s a persona housed in this name, and that name is a business. So I ended up asking the Secretary of State to make my name a business. And now I'm Reverend Dr. Love Holt, legally. I've operated it as a business for about 15 years.
What is your craft, if you think you have one? What medium do you work and create in?
I think of craft as something you do because you love it. It may not be your full-time job, and you may not even be good at it. In that sense, I have two crafts. First, I take pride in the craft of healing. I call it my therapeutic vibe. I could be with anybody, in the car rapping tunes, driving around thrifting, just being together, and they’re going to feel my positive energy for them, my genuine love. We could talk about a problem, and they can walk away and start chipping at that issue.
The other thing would be herbalism. I’m that crazy concoction lady. When my kids were little, they used to hate it. Now they’re like, “Where’s my stuff?” My friends reach out to me for all types of concoctions for health and wellness. And that craft goes hand in hand with the healing vibration that I carry.
Do you think of yourself as a medicine woman?
Absolutely. Absolutely I do.
Did you always know about this healing vibe, or was it something you grew into?
As a small kid I knew I was different. When I was two, three, four years old, I used to have these weird spiritual encounters. I was always wise enough to understand that I couldn't tell nobody, because they would not get it. But I started actually delving into it when I was 16 or 17 years old. I was the niece, but all my aunties would confide in me. Adult people would just dump their life secrets on me, and I was somehow capable of handling them, even a young teenager. I always knew I had some special gifts, and I finally started growing in them. I started understanding that they were a gift and they wanted to be utilized. Did I know where those powers would reside? I don’t think anybody does until they trial and error, until they believe what they're experiencing is real and doesn't make them crazy, doesn’t make them weird, but actually helps them find fulfillment and bring happiness to other people's lives.
What is your calling?
I used to think I was going to be a spiritual ambassador at some mega ministry. I guess that’s what I am now, but as the pussy priestess of the world! I’ve arrived and finally put both feet into the shoes of my calling. I have so much experience, so much Googleable history, that people can trust the things that I’m saying and doing. I'm here to raise up a great army of warriors who will fight for matriarchal energy to be protected, respected, and reigning.
I don't know when and where the coin will finally flip for the matriarchal energy that has nurtured and healed everybody since the beginning of time. We have resided in a patriarchal reign for quite some time now, implemented by the Romans and the Anglican and Catholic churches.
But if you look at ancient Africa, you understand there was more balance and more community. The matriarch is about community, nurturing, mothering. In African villages, they breastfeed each other's babies. With our economy imploding and our politics crazy, our bodily autonomy under attack, our identity under attack, we are going to need much more community. We're going to need to know the people we live next to. We're going to need to know who we buy our goods and services from. Because it'll be more important as this world becomes more unpredictable. And my calling is to help restore this.
What games are you playing and what games are being played on you?
The games that are being played on me? Socialism, capitalism, consumerism. That's what's being played on me.
The games I'm playing – haha! I'm playing the games of the universe, using God's rules and laws, like alignment, like divine timing, like faith, like knowing. Knowing is a game like no other, baby. Mmm! All you have to do is turn it on. Even in the face of the biggest challenge, you just need to stand there, fight your fear, and know how it's going to go. Demand it and command it. And I'm telling you, it's going to happen every time. Every time.
Is knowledge created or discovered?
I have researched a whole lot, and I have found that knowledge is indeed a discovery, because it has to be tried over and over to become something you know. You have to create a body of knowledge, right?
Knowing and knowledge: they are of the same, but they're not the same. I walk around with my knowing. But knowledge is proven data that several people acknowledge. This could be the universal laws of the natural world or beliefs that seemingly exist across many religions, like that there is a God.
There are laws of attraction, for instance. I can only attract if I'm aligned. How do I align? Well, some people align with prayer, some with meditation. No matter how they do it, the goal is to open up a line. That body of knowledge came from data that was discovered. But knowing is something that we generate for ourselves.
We have a quote here from James Baldwin, "'Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.'" What are we not facing in America?
One thing that we have not faced here in America is our inability to support humans. You discover you need a lot of healing – mental, physical, emotional – after you try to adapt to capitalism and consumerism. But America’s structures don't support healing. It’s actually traumatic to experience them. It's unhealthy that we have to work to pay for food when we should be able to grow our food and share it. It's unnatural to work from nine to five, or even 60 hours a week. Whatever you get paid, it's unnatural.
So I think we need to face the fact that people make this country go round. As mental and physical breakdowns continue to happen, all of the systems that run this country will be struggling to maintain. And as we all seek support and lean towards a more holistic, healthy lifestyle, as we all lean towards freeing ourselves from capitalism and corporate abuse, they will be forced to face it. And there will be nothing they can do to change it.
But that's why Afro-professionalism is so important to me, because I need people to see people like them doing great-ass shit — authentic and unapologetic. It speaks against the advertising and structures that depict or anticipate Black folks in a derogatory way.
When I made history in Congress, I did not know that that was on the table. I was just answering a call from somebody I respect. At the time, me and my children were homeless. Not because we couldn't afford rent, but because we had run into slumlord after slumlord. One of them tried to sue me because I broke a lease early, and then nobody wanted to rent to me. It was just so traumatic being in Congress and thinking, man, my kids are all at my mom's house right now.
I thank God she was able to have them there, because otherwise they would have been waiting at a hotel while I did something for underrepresented Americans. But as is the life of most Black people, no matter who they are, a lot of times they're fighting systematic oppression while they are still being great. And so keep that in mind when you are looking into the faces of people who may not always look as great as they actually are. I would like to share that with anyone reading this. Just make sure to let down some of those preconceived notions about individuals, and open your heart up to the idea that we all are fighting something. Our fights are a little different, but we all deserve compassion and understanding.