‘Infamous Mothers’ creator announces 45-city book tour

The free and virtual 'Nothing's Wasted Tour' will highlight Dr. Sagashus T. Levingston's new book while connecting entrepreneurs to bridge health and wealth gaps for Black mothers
Dr. Sagashus Levingston looking directly at the camera in a white and black blouse with a black tie at the neck
Photo courtesy of Little Creek Press and Infamous Mothers LLC.
Dr. Sagashus Levingston's new health and wellness journal, "Covet," launches with a 45-city tour.

Today Dr. Sagashus T. Levingston announced the 45-city “Nothing’s Wasted Tour” to kick off and create conversations around her new book, “Covet: The ‘Disrespectful’ Health and Wellness Journal.”

Unlike a traditional book tour, Levingston will appear in-person and virtually in conversation with more than 180 female entrepreneurs representing more than 100 organizations across 45 U.S. cities to draw attention to critical health and wealth gaps for female entrepreneurs, particularly Black mothers.

“This tour is about building community around women that we often are unaware of, women who are carrying responsibilities that we’re often not privy to, and it’s about telling their stories,” says Levingston, adding that for every $42,000 Black women raise in venture capital, white men raise $1 million. “My hope is this tour challenges the idea of who we see as innovators in this society.”

This latest evolution in Levingston’s Infamous Mothers journey started with “Covet” — a book she never planned or even particularly wanted to write.

“I never intended on writing a journal,” she says. “That was never my goal. But I saw that there was a need.”

“Covet” began as a tool for the “Infamous Mothers” that Levingston served — “IMpreneurs,” she calls them. She created and wrote the journal for them — women like those she’d sought out, interviewed, photographed and amplified, first with her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, then the 2017 “Infamous Mothers” coffee table book. The ambitious, evolving project was adapted for the stage in 2018 and opened to sold-out crowds, introducing even more people to the stories of entrepreneurial Black mothers who’d overcome brutal circumstances, and challenging everyone to view them as assets. The project Levingston founded as a single mom of six became Infamous Mothers LLC with a full team and a mandate to further develop the brand for the original women it served — and those women wanted more.

“They said, ‘OK, you told our stories, you’re inspiring us and you’ve inspired other people, now what?’” Levingston says. “Now that we’ve come out of the belly of hell and brought something good back, what do you have that’s going to help us continue and grow and develop in our journey?”

Levingston and the Infamous Mothers team responded by developing the Third Space virtual coworking space and other programming in which to support the women in developing wealth — but they quickly noticed something else.

“They were telling their stories about entrepreneurship and then they’d also talk about their health,” Levingston says. “They would casually talk about how they don’t have time to work out, or the sleep they’re not getting, or feeling as if they are overweight, or their diabetes. They would talk about their mental health and how they went into dark places. So I started doing some research.”

That research turned up some damning statistics about higher rates of infant and maternal mortality for Black moms, mental health challenges and the toxicity of certain workplaces — all of which was aggravated when the pandemic hit. Inspired by work coming out of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness and sponsored by a UW Health grant, Levingston and the Infamous Mothers team developed new programming that led a total of 150 women in small groups of four to 20 participants each through a health and wellness curriculum. They were given Fitbits and they’d meet up for walks and talks, plus virtual workouts, a water challenge and more.

“But none of the women could remember why they showed up to do the workouts or to drink their water or to monitor sleep. They couldn’t keep track of what their ‘why’s’ were, other than they just wanted to feel better,” Levingston says. “The book became the missing link. It was the idea that if they had a place to archive their journey, then it would bolster them when they were ready to quit.”

These were women who already felt shut-out of the traditional health and beauty industry’s chirpy messaging and found strength and representation in the Infamous Mothers community — so those cutesy gratitude journals and workout logs on the market weren’t going to cut it, and the initial Google Sheet that Levingston created was “too boring.” So she drew on the same themes, inspiration and linguistic twists that the Infamous Mothers project had clarified, ultimately creating a unique journal filled with R&B and hip-hop lyrics and quotes from powerful women.

“We created this thing called the ‘Dirty Word.’ Quotes that had a little sass to them, a little attitude, some that were funny, some that might even be controversial,” she says. “Or quotes that were never meant for us, that were created without us in mind—we revamped them and created the gratitude prompts.”

Sagashus Infamous Mothers

Photo by Chris Charles.

“Covet” had always been kind of a dirty word for Levingston, who was raised Catholic, as in, “thou shalt not covet.” But when she looked up the word in the dictionary for the first time, she realized it basically just meant “to yearn” and she immediately recognized the ways in which the term could be flipped to become empowering, much like she’d done with “Infamous Mothers.”

“A lot of the women in our workouts were full-figured women, and when you talked to them about their why, they always seemed to show a lot of deference toward someone else, someone skinnier, someone they imagined to be prettier. It was almost as if their health and wellness journey couldn’t be activated until they reached a certain level of pretty or looked a certain way,” she says. “So ‘Covet’ became about yearning for the best version of you. Like seeing you as something that is beautiful and worthy and deserving, and yearning for you to experience those things.”

But through all of it, Levingston was dealing with mental and physical health stressors of her own. She was running a business while navigating the pandemic and grieving a series of losses, plus working on a memoir called “A Pot to Piss In” that comes out this fall and a podcast called “Bullets, Books and Babies” — so she didn’t have the bandwidth to drop everything and write a health and wellness journal. But the process of writing “Covet” turned out to be exactly what she needed herself.

“I was doing it in service of our women, and then I saw how it worked for me,” she says. “I became a believer in the project and saying, ‘I think it’s going to be important that we make this book not just for our women, but for other women, because I see how it made a difference in my life.”

The “Nothing’s Wasted Tour” kicks off June 20 and runs through Feb. 28, 2023. It will include in-person and virtually streamed events and a combination of interviews, talks, workshops and mini-courses. ‘Covet’ is available for purchase from Wisconsin-based publisher Little Creek Press and on the Infamous Mothers website.

Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine