Holistic Healing: The Call for Black Alternative Medicine

Adia Ayanna
The Comeback of Culture
4 min readApr 22, 2021

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Growing up, my dad was the black sheep of the family. Unlike his Catholic siblings, he had accumulated crystals, a certification as a Qigong Master, and a bold perspective on what it meant to preserve physical and mental health.

Deeper than an absurd identity, my dad, Dr. James Carter, swears by his holistic health style after witnessing disease as a child.

“All my aunts had breast cancer, my father passed from pancreatic cancer, and there was a lot of heart disease,” he tells me when thinking back to his early life. However, it wasn’t just physical health that my dad turned to holistic healing for.

It was racism.

The peak of COVID-19 was splintered by police brutality, causing an upsurge of Black Americans to reconsider how they soothe their emotional wellbeing . Holistic health isn’t just a fad of pretty crystals and guru-status; its an alternative way to prioritize Black mental and physical health.

As tissue-hoarding hysteria came to an all-time high, Americans began to question Western medicine legitimacy. How do we keep our bodies strong from disease? Are there natural ways to fight disease? Back in 2001 when my dad decided to become a student of Qigong, he had no idea that the tiny movement that alienated him from his family would resurface.

With over 20 years of Qigong experience, my dad was an unlikely contender to holistic health as an emergency room doctor. Interesting enough, the Qigong Academy of Holistic Health, founded by Sifu Nemo, my dad’s late Sifu, created a small army of Black doctors turned holistic believers who rejected modern Western medicine. Of the small group, only three remain: My dad, Funmilayo Wilkins, and Dr. Adam Finch.

“We were taught to look inward for health,” Dr. Adam Finch explains as he holds up an identical Qigong certification to my dad’s, over FaceTime. Looking within is crucial when it concerns black bodies that experience consistent trauma in White America, making Black holistic health the key to translating the effect of black pain in America in ways traditional faith couldn’t.

Black Americans historically found solace through Baptist worship where joyous singing and praying were integral parts of community worship. These theatrical displays weren’t just for show, as most preachers claim the displays are necessary for spiritual breakthroughs. But to the holistic minds, the healing through the church is only surface level. Religious crowds began to severely dwindle as many required a healing that reached deeper.

Deeper healing, like what was needed after Derek Chauvin’s verdict, points to the ability of grappling with grief. Funmilayo Wilkins had just turned 37 when she was introduced to holistic living. As a Mississippi native, she knows better than anyone the role holistic healing plays.

“Grief is in our bones,” Wilkins dramatically whispers over our zoom call. She poignantly recalls how she “stitched herself back together” with holistic medicine after years of living in fear of being killed by racist police officers. Physically, Wilkins had crippling anxiety that pushed her to commit to daily meditation and Qigong exercises. Through deep breathing and focusing on the areas of body experiencing pain, Wilkins halted the progression of long-term ailments that most Black Americans collectively suffer from.

“Hypertension and high blood pressure are leading causes of our deaths,” my dad points out. His earlier medical practice was riddled with diabetes, heart disease, and in black women, fibroids. According to SAMSA Office of Behavioral Health ,Black Americans don’t just experience trauma through racism, we become it — and it manifests through disease.

Wilkins’ also points out their Qigong School’s message of resistance that urged the students to not engage emotionally in the country’s turmoil.

“It’s not passive as some black folks would say,” Wilkins promises. “when we get riled up about stuff out of our control, it adds more mental stress.” The emotional baggage that follows protesting and political activism is also taxing.

It’s not just discrimination in the streets that requires holistic medicine’s aid — the hospital also houses its own version of prejudice.

Medical discrimination.

America’s dark past of racist health work will never be swept away when it still occurs today. Overwhelming amounts of black women have sworn against giving birth in hospitals, and plenty of other black American patients confirmed they didn’t receive correct diagnosis. Holistic medicine then becomes more than a fad trending on social media. It becomes a shot at surviving life threatening diseases.

Teresa Louis was stunned at her diagnosis of breast cancer early February 2019. The soul crushing dilemma only worsened when COVID started to affect millions of people. With the guidance of my father, she prioritized a plant-based diet, meditation, and Chinese herbs like astragalus. Not only did her breast cancer go into remission, but she felt better than she had in her twenties.

With COVID vaccinations being handed out, my father and his colleagues have a surprising recommendation for Black Americans: take it.

“Hysteria is the reason why people started making up all these pointless concoctions in the first place,” Finch says. “When you’re caring for your health holistically though, the vaccine only adds to that.

Despite the world still being at a standstill, my dad sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He is, after all, a black man who survived the Civil Rights marches, SARS, and now COVID-19. Like most diseases in the world’s history, there will always be alternative ways to combat it. The essential knowledge to have is trust the professionals and care for your body like it could break at any moment.

“I like to remind people that I only started getting healthy at 53. I had seven children and years of health scares,” my dad concludes. “COVID shouldn’t be the end of anything. We all see how important it is to reject unhealthy living. Now we just need to stick to it.”

Holistic health has the power to change the inner worlds of Black Americans as we continue to strive for peace in American.

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