Ahimsa is defined as universal love and compassion. The practice of which involves refraining from causing physical and psychological pain to any living being. Maintaining forgiveness, divine love and sacrifice. In short, the pure nature of veganism.
So what does this look like in our practical, hectic and demanding world?
When we shine a light on the life of Naijha Wright-Brown the picture becomes clear.
Naijha’s perspective on living a right life is infectious. I think we can all agree, gone are the days of questioning whether compassion and universal acceptance is the key.
No matter our past or level of entitlement, walking this path advances us towards the attainability of happiness. Ultimately, the world and those around you reap the benefits of what you project.
Fresh Air, Fresh Perspective
Naijha was born and raised in New York City. She spent most of her childhood with her mother and younger sister. Her parents separated when she was two; five years later her father passed away. Considered low-income, her family struggled, living on public assistance and subsidized food. There weren’t many table gatherings where food, or conversation, was thoughtfully shared.
“The food we ate…well, you could imagine.”
At the age of six, her mother enrolled her in a summer camp program, where she stayed with a new family in the countryside. Naijha’s bright spirit made such an impression on the family that the original two weeks became two months, which became holidays, that later turned into international travel. This family introduced her to fresh vegetables and fruits, collected every day from their family garden. This new style of food, culture, and breaking bread as a family was a whole new experience for Naijha.
In her mother’s words, Naijha was ambitious as a young adult. At the age of 14, she was already working and earning her own money. Her love of animals was also apparent. In the city, her family shared their small two-bedroom apartment with multiple cats, dogs, mice, and rats.
As an adult, Naijha set her ambitious goals on Wall Street and corporate America. If you were to take a look at her curriculum vitae including an MBA from the University of Phoenix, administrative professional for Chemical Bank managing private accounts for high-end clients, tech support specialist for Dow Jones Markets, and a supervisor for Verizon Wireless, you would be convinced that that is where she was headed.
Then, in 2005, the company that employed her at the time relocated Naijha from New Jersey to Maryland. As a testament to Naijha’s incredible work ethic, she launched two special event planning companies in Maryland, both producing events that bridge the gap between race and culture. This earned her Baltimore City and Organization Recognition Awards as well as a Baltimore Business Journal’s 2021 Enterprising Women award.
A Rude Awakening
At the age of 33 during a routine physical, she was diagnosed with acute Hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol. This was shocking to her. “I assumed I was healthy, going to the gym regularly and eating all my protein,” says Naijha.
Her cholesterol was so high, her doctor said if she didn’t do something about it immediately, she would be placed on medication.
“This was a real problem for me,” Naijha said. “Coming from an inner-city background it was normal to pop a pill for any kind of pain, but as I reached my mid-twenties, I became aware of the downside of drugs and stopped taking anything that wasn’t natural.”
Not willing to take any pharmaceutical drugs, she consulted Dr. Google for advice. She tried to make some small changes to her diet, switching to skim milk, adding garlic pills and other “remedies,” but this wasn’t creating the results she wanted and desperately needed.
About a year later, after a promotion, she met a new associate. Greg and Naijha were positioned on the same leadership team.
During the time they spent together, Greg, already a vegan, would share his dream of one day opening a vegan restaurant. Consistently bringing home-cooked meals to work every day, Greg and Naijha would strike up conversations about lifestyle, food, culture, and health.
When Naijha shared her health concerns with Greg, they engaged in conversations about Seven Day Adventist and Hinduism. Naijha had never met a vegan before. This would be Naijha’s introduction to the philosophy of the vegan lifestyle and its many benefits.
Meeting Greg and learning to use food as medicine would drastically shift Naijha’s life in a direction she would never have imagined.
“If vegans are a minority group, holistic vegans are even more marginalized.”
She began to educate herself in the other aspects of veganism. All the problems that it could potentially solve – world hunger, animal suffering, global health concerns, and environmental decline. She was amazed how these carefully woven issues were so interrelated and how they could potentially impact one another.
Naijha’s network was growing. Her exposure to others, not only engaged in the lifestyle but actively involved in campaigns, programs, organizations, and events, was exponential.
25/8 Vegan Stamina
Her first co-creation along with one of Baltimore City’s most beloved food justice activists, Brenda Sanders was Vegan Soulfest. Launched in 2014, under the watchful eyes of Naijha and Brenda, Vegan Soulfest has become Baltimore’s premier celebration of veganism and culture.
This activity exposed her to even more people, more organizations, more possibilities, and more questions.
Her successful corporate background, philanthropic heart, and passion for change had now become the perfect elixir.
Naijha says with a smirk: “People know what’s going on, they know what the problem is, why can’t we just get this fixed and get it fixed quick?”
Gone are the struggles she remembers when first going vegan. The search for good-tasting vegan food, cheese replacements, protein sources, and access to vegan meals in most restaurants just don’t hold weight anymore.
Naijha’s outlook on those making the vegan shift is compassion with a side order of pragmatic sensibility. “If you have a true friend, they will understand and support you whether they follow you or not,” says Naijha.
This in turn, of course, required a certain amount of understanding on our part, the vegans. We know that we cannot expect all others around us to follow our lead when it comes to making changes in our lives, but we should expect support and understanding, especially if it is a change for health reasons.
As a vegan mom who gave birth to a vegan baby, she has dispatched many questions and points of cynicism about her life choices. With a profound sense of compassion, Naijha says, “The vast majority has not yet been exposed to the truth.”
This is the beauty of Naijha’s light. Although armed with as much information as another highly educated vegan, she is constantly considering others and how it may look from their perspective.
Naijha takes one day at a time. With that said, depending on what day of the week it is, she’s usually in back-to-back meetings, taking back-to-back phone calls, or answering back-to-back emails, she humbly explains. This constant flow is a testament to her commitment to the vegan life and living it to the fullest. It also speaks volumes about others and their willingness to engage with her.
Maybe this is why she commands the respect she does, not only from her peers but also from those that know nothing about the vegan lifestyle. Bees to honey, she is constantly greeting non-vegans and vegans alike into the restaurant that she co-owns with her now-husband, Greg.
Yes! That Greg.
The Kingdom of Kush
Fulfilling Greg’s long-term dream, in 2011 the couple opened Land of Kush in Baltimore, Maryland. Now an award-winning vegan soul bistro, the restaurant has become a beacon of light, love and history for creators Greg and Naijha and their thousands of patrons. While 15% of all Maryland restaurants have had to close their doors due to Covid 19, Land of Kush is thriving.
As someone that has never been to the Land of Kush…yet; one can only surmise that the key to the restaurant’s success is two-fold; the food and the experience.
As Greg and Naijha put it, The Land of Kush inspires you to feed your spirit, and their vegan and non-vegan customers are eating it up. This is undoubtedly a result of the restaurants welcoming energy and tasty vegan authentic soul food.
A Yelp reviewer recently wrote, “Amazing food, yes. But the best part are the people.”
It seems the restaurant’s best ingredients are Naijha and Greg themselves, sharing their love for delicious vegan cuisine, community and each other.
In addition to being the co-owner of an award-winning restaurant, Naijha is also the co-creator of Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week (March 4 – March 27, 2022) and creator of Keep it Fresh Fest. She is also the Executive Director of the Black Veg Society of Maryland and the founder of her own personal brand, Naijha Speaks, a platform for interviews with inspiring individuals and businesses in the vegan movement. Learning more about people, she says, drives her to create even more solutions.
Naijha has been an honored speaker at ProVeg Africa 2021, Vegan World Convergence 2021, The Baltimore and Virginia Quakers Annual Meeting 2021, the National Animal Rights Conference in 2019 when Black Veg Society of Maryland was awarded by VegFund for its innovative work in the community, National Afro-Vegan Virtual Conference 2020, the 2nd Annual Reducetarian Summit in Los Angeles and the Baltimore Hip Hop is Green Dinner.
Inspired by other powerful activists such as Tracye McQuirter and the late Dick Gregory, Naijha is constantly creating ways to join forces with others to educate the masses and feed the hungry.
“I love connecting with people who care about putting in the work and who are passionate about what they do.”
Family is a big motivator. She and her husband share the perfect Yin Yang dynamic. As a mother, she says her daughter keeps her motivated and inspires her to keep pushing. “It’s about her and how she sees me in action,” says Naijha.
Her hunger for information and upward movement keeps her on the go whether it’s a new business opportunity or attending workshops and conferences. She is always reaching for that brass ring. Recently she earned her plant-based nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell’s Center for Nutrition Studies. Just something she did in her spare time!
“Spiritually if you are doing the right thing, without ulterior motives, it works.”
She is pleasantly optimistic about all the restaurants adding vegan options onto their menus. Even the fast-food chains, she says, ”This is what we asked for.”
In the spirit of capitalism, they will always strive to make money, and how can we say no. We want the change to happen and who’s to say how it will come about.
Until we get what we ultimately want, a vegan world, we cannot predict what each step of the path will be. Admittingly, not everything is for us and we must keep that in mind when we see ads for the Impossible Whopper, KFC Chi’ken Nuggets, or Chipotle’s new plant-based chorizo burrito.
“I’m not rushing to eat it, but if it’s the only thing available, there you go!”
Naijha is a peacemaker. She intentionally avoids conflict. She says It’s not her brand. She strongly believes in love and compassion and she walks that talk every day.
As a humanist, she understands we are all ourselves before we are vegan. Perfection does not exist, nor should we expect it. Vegans are a small group in comparison to the world’s population.
How do you suppose we reach our goals if we are fighting amongst ourselves.
Trying to conquer each other is detrimental to our movement. She suggests, stay focused!
Pick three goals and a “How To” approach them. Form a coalition with like-minded individuals and achieve them step by step.
When things heat up in the kitchen, do whatever you can to release. Step outside, cool down. None of us can carry this or any movement on our shoulders alone. That’s not a realistic approach to change.
Take time to recharge, whatever that means to you. Carve out some ME TIME and don’t give in when that phone rings or email comes in.
She suggests don’t buy into the toxicity. Find your authentic tribe and lean on them as you would have them lean on you.
Identify those that are ready for the change. Seek the signs. They will come.
Join Naijha and Greg on Tuesday, March 15 at 7:00 PM EST when they present The Top 5 Cooking Methods Every Vegan Needs to Know.
Follow Naijha’s journey on social media: