The Healing Souls of Black Folk
By: Ashia Gallo
My interest in wellness and healing really exploded during my time living in Mozambique, an African nation along the southeast border of the continent. I was a Health Outreach Peace Corps volunteer in my mid-20s; my main work objective was planning public health projects for the local hospital in my rural farming community.
Understanding the role of traditional healers, or curanderos, and their contributions to how health and healing was approached in Mozambican culture was essential to my role. While encouraging locals to visit the hospital for drugs that would save their lives after HIV and malaria diagnoses, I quickly learned of the distrust and inaccessibility to Western medicines many Mozambicans faced. Thus, exploring how to integrate natural healing with public health education became an essential part of my work.
Black folk around the world have experienced unique threats to their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health for generations. The diverse ways in which cultures have survived and thrived despite these realities across the Black Diaspora spans multiple continents and generations elicits awe. The lasting traditions carried forward by descendants of various cultures from mainland Africa can be seen in the food, dance, rituals, innovations, and folklore of Black people around the world.
In terms of food, Black cultures across the Americas created everything from life-saving medicines to world-renowned cuisines, all from the natural herbs and products of their lands. The comfort and resourcefulness of soul food evolved from Southern slaves’ determination to make magic out of scraps, and to use delicious flavors to bring families together in nourishment and celebration. Farmers, cowboys, and creole cooks also add to the mosaic of cuisines.
Music and dance have also always been tools for expression, spirituality, and unity in Black communities. Gospel music sustained sacred space for oppressed communities. Soul and hip hop emboldened Black self-love and revolution. Dance is another healing modality that has been used as an expression of joy, sorrow, pain, and freedom through Black bodies. From ballroom to break dancing, there is no space where Black stories haven’t been told though the art of movement. Black culture has always been embedded in popular culture worldwide.
Spirituality and religion are forms of healing at the crux of many Black cultures. Traditional and ancestral belief systems integrate with larger organized religion throughout the world. Fixed creeds like Christianity and Islam have strong footholds across the Black Diaspora. The abundance of ways that traditional African spirituality has conceived ancestors, deities, gods, and spirit beings also runs through.
The trendiness of “wellness” is something I look forward to challenging as the coordinator for Mosaic Georgia’s Wholeness Collective programming. The facets of Black culture that have been commodified and repackaged for a mainstream audience have frequently undermined the purpose and purity of these modalities’ origins. It is my hope that Black dance teachers, cooks, artists, and other healing practitioners continue to offer their gifts to our clients from a gentle and informed space that makes trauma survivors feel safe, seen, and soulful.