restricted access 5. The African Body Resistant
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5 The African Body Resistant The CWC's folk notions of history, identity, and the body were integrated into its guiding policy statement, called "a people's theory of health and wellness." This "people's theory"wasseen as providing the CWC's rationale for its particular approach to "cultural wellness"—the building of consciousness of heritage and its application of specific cultural healing practices that purported to promote wellness and prevent illness not only for individual people of African heritage, their families, and communities, but for the edinically diverse constituencies represented by individuals and families of the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods. The people's theory was created by the precursor organization to the CWC, Community Health Initiative,1 and noted that The CWC wasborn from the ideas of citizens and health practitioners in the community who had been meeting in CHATs (Citizen Health Action Teams) as part of Community Health Initiative. It was a two-year initiative [1995-1996] funded by a major area health care foundation, the Allina Foundation, to engage citizens to work together to improve the health of the community. Forty-one ideas were generated at those meetings, including a Farmers Market,now in its third year,and the CWC, where many of the other ideas are still being carried out. One of the major conclusions from the work of CommunityHealth Initiative was the importance of culture and community upon health. Again and again, wedocumented that people need a strong networkof relationships in order to be healthy. When these community and cultural connections are broken, people's personal health and the health of the entire communitydecline. When people are engaged in their own healing, have kinship networks,participate in communitylife, are connected to their culture and heritage, know their neighbors, are closely connected with and take responsibility for generations other than their own, and have a spirituality that connects them to something beyond themselves, then personal health and community health flourish.2 The CWCsought to nurture links to others, to the past, and to spiritual growth. Community people, working in Community Health Initiative and now the CWC, had created a bridge between the conventional health system and cultural and alternative health practices. The CWC saw itself as cultivating an organic community care-giving system where people could be in 82 Across Diasporan Space/Time touch with the resources they need to heal themselves and their community . In the people's theory of health, a downward process of illness and disease , community violence, and decay was produced by a combination of factors: individualism, loss of community and culture; loss of a sense of belonging and worth; isolation and disconnection from community, and depression and lethargy—all seen as the results of a technologically driven, individualistic, capitalistic Western society. As succinctly stated by the CWC's director in a community forum about funding community-based health programs and announcing a major public study on minority health: 'The people said that individualism, the loss of community, and the lossof culture can make you sick."3 The CWC's work was to stem the tide of ill health, disease, and community decay by promoting an "upward process of health and wellness within a safe, flourishing community. A philosophy of community embraces a positive sense of belonging and worth, interaction and connection (i.e. strong families, elder, and neighborhood networks); optimism, energy, and power."4 The CWCboard, which included medical doctors, high-level public health officials, and community healers and activistsof various ethnic backgrounds, had developed a policy statement articulating its Principles of Community/Cultural Health Practices. It stated: Cultural health practices exist within a knowledge system founded on a set of underlying assumptions. In this system, life is not limited to the aliveness of the physical body. The person is understood as a reflection and an extension of his/her place within the universe, the environment, the communityand the family. The person is the place where powerful forces of relationships intersect. These relationships include interactions with family, elders, children, community, as well as with work, nature and the invisible elements. Cultural health practices are based on a relationship wayof thinking where disease which expresses itself at the physical level has parallel manifestations in the emotional, mental and spiritual. Healing at any level would then also have parallel manifestations at the other levels. More than the causation of disease, cultural health practices focus on "the message" inherent in a particular disorder for other aspects of a person's life and vice versa...


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