Others’ intellectual authority has defined our existence


In the coming months, I will join the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder’s family of thought leaders in bringing information to you in our community about my discoveries on the power of culture as a resource for health and healing.

For over 30 years I have been studying culture as a set of symbols, a knowledge system that we have created, and practices that provide us with a way of knowing and a way of explaining life as we live it. The study of culture began for me when I first realized that the history of Black people as it is currently written and taught is imbedded in a timeframe that keeps us tied to other people’s historical and cultural narrative about their own existence.

This current narrative is written by people who have intellectual authority over what is known and what is accepted as knowledge. This narrative is rewriting our existence as a people all over the world.

We as a people are being asked to live within the limitations of the current understandings of who we are. The events that are often described in the historical documentation of the Africans existence serve to make us ashamed of who we are in many ways. This shame is unspoken and passed from generation to generation.

An example is the story that a group of children shared with me about the way the enslavement of Black people is taught in their schools. This tragic period — with all the images that record the events, including scenes of our men being hanged in public — is presented in the classroom. The presentation happens in some cases in a social studies class where our children are one or two of 20 students in the class. The children are then asked to discuss this information.

My question of the children about how they felt caused them to relive the moment and tears came to their eyes. The emotional experience of looking at these scenes is not dealt with and the information is not presented in a context of healing from these experiences but in a context of history as a detached event that happened to us at the hands of those who we are now living with and looking to for our knowledge of ourselves.

Even as we demand that our history is taught in the schools, we have not spent enough time deciding how to edit and or describe the scenes of our past in ways that give us strength and health.

The example cited above is the type that we will unravel in the coming months as a way to begin building a core set of ideas, concepts and practices for and about health and healing. We will move our community narrative about “Who are we and who are our people” into a dialogue not about race and the consequences of a racialized relationship with others, but to a narrative based in African culture and resiliency.

In an attempt to put the awful terror that we have lived through in a timeframe of human history and in an attempt to place these experiences where they fit into our redevelopment plans, we will begin to study our definitions of cultural wellness.

We have a vision and a purpose that will bring wholeness not just to us but to others on the planet. We have a path, a track record of resiliency, perseverance, courage and wisdom. We have a sense of the creator that requires us to live in harmony with all else in creation.

In the coming weeks please plan to be in dialogue with me about the heritage, culture and the health that we have inherited and want to leave for the next generation. We will also offer references about rituals, ceremonies and daily practices that give us the personal and collective capacity to do what we do competently and with grace.

Hotep (This Egyptian words means to be satisfied or at peace.)


Elder Atum Azzahir is executive director and elder consultant in African ways of knowing of the Cultural Wellness Center. She welcomes reader responses to atum@ppcwc.org.