New magazine targets healthy lives for blacks Lifestyle: Michelle D. Wright is pushing for a healthier lifestyle with her holistic magazine, Natural Alternatives, which is nearly a year old.

July 24, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

No food from a jar, milk from a cow or meat from an animal should touch the lips of 3-year-old Alexandra Cruz-Wright so long as her mother insists on an "organic lifestyle."

"Cows' milk is for cows," Michelle D. Wright said. "And you know we're not cows."

Wright said people thought she was "crazy" when her daughter's birth encouraged her to adopt a healthier way of living.

But Wright has gone a step further by publishing Natural Alternatives, a holistic magazine aimed at persuading blacks to abandon the mainstream way of eating and living.

Almost a year into publication, Natural Alternatives has 3,000 subscribers from 24 states, Canada, Japan and Africa.

About 1,000 readers buy the magazine at businesses in the area, she says.

All are looking for articles on organic products and ways of emphasizing spiritual and physical balance.

The 32-year-old publisher said she has read other holistic magazines but none is focused on the black market. Burelle's Media Dictionary lists no other similarly themed magazine aimed at blacks.

Wright said going holistic for an African-American might mean cooking organic dishes from Ethiopia, braiding hair instead of using styling chemicals, and home schooling that educates children about African-American history.

Wright grew up in Frederick, received a bachelor's degree in English and art history from Dartmouth College in 1987 and two master's degrees from Ohio State University, one in black studies in 1990 and one in political science in 1992. She taught black studies at Ohio State University until the end of 1993 and came to Baltimore in 1994.

She and business partner Ashallah Stevenson, 30, an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University, founded the magazine.

Wright said Stevenson, who has since left the magazine to raise a child but still contributes to it, taught her about holistic living, which Wright said "just seemed natural."

They each pitched in $50 to create an advertising rate card and earned an initial $500 from advertisers, she said. The magazine has been breaking even ever since.

Profitable in year

And now Wright wants the magazine to make a profit, expand its readership and go online with a Web site by next year.

Articles in the magazine fall into nine categories, including organic foods and beauty products, natural healing, home schooling, starting a business, and bringing ancient customs into modern life.

The July-August issue contains articles about the rise in suicide among black males, the latest back-to-Africa movement and government regulations for organic food.

Many of the articles come from readers or advertisers, said Editor Ron K. Williams, a part-time actor who also writes many of the articles.

Williams, 29, works on the magazine as a sideline to his hTC administrative assistant's job at Hopkins, where he also is pursuing a bachelor's degree in liberal arts.

He met Wright at a poetry reading last year. Living "naturally" appeals to him, he said, but he is still making the switch to organic eating.

"It's not complete for me," said Williams, who grew up in Washington and moved to Baltimore in 1992. "I'm coming from being a junk-food junkie. I've almost abandoned the McDonald's for tofu, but I still have the ice cream and cookies."

Changes visible

Williams appreciates the changes the magazine fosters in readers.

"It's great to see that people can come back and say, 'Because of the magazine I became a vegetarian, I started my own business, I use natural products in my hair.' "

The bimonthly, 8 1/2 -by-7-inch, black-and-white publication will have a full-color, possibly glossy, cover for the September issue, Wright said.

The publication might offer full color on its inside pages next year, she says.

Wright said the average reader is a middle-class black woman, between the ages of 25 and 50, with some college education who lives in a city and volunteers in cultural activities and politics.

Readers can pick up an issue for $1.50 at businesses that sell holistic products or services in Baltimore, Catonsville, Pikesville and Frederick, Queens and Valley Stream, N.Y., and Washington.

Trina Smith-Oliver, a founder of the African American Homeschoolers Network, advertises in the magazine and appreciates its African-centered approach.

She said she has avoided dyes in laundry detergents and eats home-grown organic produce instead of food treated with chemicals.

"We need to move back to where we were years ago when we did live naturally," she said. "We didn't have as much violence when people weren't adding as many chemicals to their bodies."

'For everyone'

Natural Alternatives is sold at Touch the Earth, Theresa A. Mueller's store at 1016 N. Charles St., which sells holistic home and body products.

Mueller said people have come to her business for massage therapy after reading the advertisement in the magazine.

"What's interesting is that it's an African-centered guide," she said, "but the information is for everyone."

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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