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Better for Everybody: Meet Hakim Tafari

Hakim Tafari's journey to self actualization took 48 years to realize and he's still learning. Read how the marathon runner, vegan, musician, father, spiritualist, and martial artist embraced self-love and worth.
Hakim Tafari smiling wearing a white jump suit and yellow hat and holding a can of Better Booch
Hakim Tafari's journey to self actualization took 48 years to realize and he's still learning. Read how the marathon runner, vegan, musician, father, spiritualist, and martial artist embraced self-love and worth.

**CW: Thoughts of self-harm

 “Second chances are like rainbows,” Hakim Tafari wrote, “they don’t happen too often but when they do you have to capture the full essence and love on it as much as you can.”

Hakim, a 48-year-old spiritualist, marathon runner, vegan, musician, father, and martial artist, seized the opportunity of two second chances at pivotal moments in his life when darkness threatened to bury him. He’s made an unofficial career out of reinventing himself and both times it was a changing wind — the first whispered from a cousin and the second through a white Buddhist abbot — that challenged him to listen to his inner voice.

“There’s so much beauty in suffering,” Hakim said. “When you go through the suffering, you go through such darkness that you learn to have gratitude for the smallest thing.”

Hakim’s first reckoning came when he was 17 years old, squatting with a cousin in his hometown of Ipswich, England, and juggling attending art school and washing dishes at a restaurant while running with “Bohemian cats” who dealt and did drugs like hash and ecstasy. Another cousin who lived in London convinced him to go to his parents’ home, where they offered him a green card to take a 180-turn in his environment. The bombastic beats and budding hip hop culture in early-90s Brooklyn lured Hakim away to a new land.

Hakim had visited Brooklyn before, but moving to Flatbush at 18 years old at the height of the 1991 crack era ended up overwhelming him. He moved with some cousins to Austin, Texas, until 1998, and it was in this southwestern bike-friendly, Starbucks-free (at the time) town that Hakim learned about herbs, Eastern martial arts, vegetarianism and veganism. He did street promotion for hip hop bands and worked the club scene to promote new artists on the scene. But, at 260 pounds and struggling with irritable bowel syndrome and constant heartburn, Hakim sought a restorative lifestyle that reversed the damage of the late night party culture of music.

He discovered acupuncture, Chinese herbs, kung fu, yoga, and tai chi. He embraced sobriety, vegetarianism, and cleanses. “I was looking at the landscape, and saw there are a lot of Black folks doing different things and acknowledging the East and how the Silk Road came through Africa and China,” Hakim recalled. “There was a close synergy between African and Eastern culture.”


Enlightenment Through Eastern Medicine and Spirituality

Hakim followed that Eastern wind all the way to Florida, where he moved in with his parents and started an intensive six-month program of massage and traditional Chinese medicine. He started meditating. This immersive year of study sparked creative growth, and Hakim released his first record.

The once “half Muslim” studied Eastern religion and philosophy, particularly Daoism and Buddhism. Hakim was raised Christian by his Jamaican parents, but was unsatisfied with it. “The spiritual connotation through Islam and the 5% nation taught me the discipline to study, he said. “I wanted to go deeper and that’s when I found Daoism and Buddhism. I was seeking myself out but seeking how to become the person I am today.”

Ironically, Hakim met and fell in love with a white atheist at the age of 30. They married and, instead of going on tour and promoting his new album, they started a family and settled into suburban life. “I got blackballed by the community for marrying a white lady and I could hardly believe it,” Hakim recalled.

His wife wanted to be a stay-at-home mom — they eventually had three daughters — so that meant Hakim had to work three jobs to pay the mortgage, buy a minivan, and support the family. His weight crept up to 220 and he abandoned his spiritual introspection. His wife, a former triathlete, got back in shape and would go to the gym every day. Hakim’s resentment grew.

Hakim had to take back control of his health. He started jumping rope and training with kettlebells. His wife encouraged him to run at a time when the barefoot running trend peaked. Hakim bought Vibram five fingers and leaned into this new form of Zen.

The revival didn’t last long. Hakim recalled losing 10 people he cared about in the span of a year, divorcing his wife, losing the house and the kids, and torpedoing to rock bottom.

The Liberation of Hakim Tafari

Hakim’s second reckoning came from the esoteric words of a white female abbot. He was parked outside of a Buddhist temple in Orlando he’d never been to before and, after arguing with his ex-wife about needing more money, he hung up the phone and took out a gun he’d put in the glovebox. He recalled looking from the gun to the front door of the temple several times, contemplating which act he would commit that day.

He went inside the temple.

Inside, white Buddhists were chanting in Korean and he sat with them in silence and stared at a wall for 90 minutes. After, he told the female abbot his story and she replied, “I don’t know if today is going to be it for you. You’re gonna realize sooner or later if it really was.”

It wasn’t. He left the temple feeling as if he’d had an experience as profound as the buddha under the bodhi tree. He sat with his suffering in silence and accepted a guiding principle for living the rest of his life:

“My constant battle with weight as well as my battle with my ego and having very limited self-love has been ongoing since I was born, because I’ve never felt like I am enough.

But thanks to suffering, I was able to really have a difficult conversation with myself as I constantly do, but this convo was different. I urged myself and willed myself to get back to therapy, took the time to be in silence for days and zoom out.

In the silence I didn’t cry. In the silence I looked at everything.

My kids, my parents, my relationships, myself, and came to peace that I am flawed, I am broken, I am scared of failing, I’m scared of not achieving… so I met those feelings head on and made peace that these feelings do not define me. Evolution and abundance comes from work and inner strength, and I am enough.

I am enough

You are enough

We are enough!”

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