AfroHerbalism. A community response to culturally appropriate health promotion and disease prevention.

What if African-American children were oriented to plant medicine as part of reclaiming cultural identity and to improve health outcomes?

Photo of Karla Mitchell
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

A child born with cerebral hemorrhage, severe meconium aspiration, persistent pulmonary hypertension, and kidney failure defied the odds of his prognosis using natural means of health promotion and disease prevention. The severity of a traumatic birth should have rendered him asthmatic and plagued with developmental delays. Now 6 years old, the child continues to thrive without Rx medication or diagnoses. Underrepresentation of blacks in herbalism and healing arts is affirmed, as is the lack of trust in the methods because blacks are not seen using, teaching or practicing – nor are they seen affirming the benefits of its use. In my community, children and families do not realize that health can be managed and/or improved via natural means; that evidence based practice abounds in these arenas; or that service providers who look like them are available. Even more, philanthropists and benevolent collaborators are not aware of the magnitude of health injustice, the demand and interest for alternatives, or of the population of committed and skillful black service providers willing to serve the community - The Afro Herbalists. Google herbalism. We are not present in conferences, summits, meetings, classes, fairs, discussions, media – yet we exist. The project seeks inspire use and trust, document efficacy and the practical application of herbalism. It also seeks to build a relatable culture of health and wellbeing in underserved African American communities.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)

Website This is the natural healing practice that continuously seeks benevolent supporters of community outreach initiatives. We do not have websites for individual outreach projects.

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Healthcare is complex, inconvenient and inaccessible in underserved neighborhoods due to the prevalence of income inequity, social exclusion and no sense of efficacy. Families are not in "right relationship" with providers who create/preserve a culture of health or wellbeing. Moreover, the children severely lack cultural identity, sense of belonging, personal resilience, belief that they can affect positive change in their lives or own that process, they lack hope. They are deeply impacted by adverse childhood experiences. Their identity is claimed from mass and social media - their worth displaced. Some are underfed. Others overfed and undernourished, misdiagnosed and overmedicated. They are holistically ill. Some families have given up on medicine and doctors while others are overly dependent. Afro-herbalism is a PANOPTIC community-led response for reawakening and resilience.

AfroHerbalism is a culturally competent and innovative solution to health inequity in African American communities.  Using education, very hands-on activities and employing community resources instills a sense of ownership and control over their health - knowing where to go and what to use redefines accessibility.  Participants acquire a new skillset, become teachers and learn to exert their own influence over their health and that of others.  In this way, each participant takes responsibility for improved health outcomes.   AfroHerbalism inspires and esteems identity by teaching herbalism in a relevant historical context.  We believe that this helps to build a strong sense of  self. Learning new skills that can be shared with others, family and/or fellow youth, provides a sense of purpose and responsibility. 

We also find AfroHerbalism timely and innovative as we enter the International Decade for People of African Descent.  One of the many aims for the United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/237 is to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of [societies], practices and disciplines.  We believe AfroHerbalism successfully achieves this end.

We found that community-based educational intervention is an effective way to inspire health-related behavioral change.  Promising aspects from engaging in this program are its positive and sustainable influence in the following areas:

  • Personal Resilience/Self-concept
  • Knowledge, Attitudes and Beliefs
  • General substance use
  • Health-risk behaviors
  • Physical Health Conditions and Symptoms
  • Parenting Behaviors
  • Family-child Relationship
  • Healthy Relationships
  • School engagement (Potentially)
  • School climate (Potentially)
  • Cannabis (non-medical) use and disorders (Potentially) 
  • Social competence
  • Self-regulation

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

We have piloted two approaches with this solution: The Urban Herbalists Internship (School-Based) and the Seasonal Herb Series (Community Based). Where appropriate, we focus on herbal solutions to health concerns of the participants. Otherwise, we have used a first-aid, common health conditions approach within an education and activity based model. At the end of each model, participants have developed their own herbal first aid kits. A participant is engaged in an ongoing learning process: nature-based walks, tactile herbal instruction (see, taste, chew, feel) about specific herb qualities and use, medicine making and trial, and show and tell - which is an opportunity to tell friends and family about what they have learned and applied

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

100% of participants reported increased knowledge, and improved attitudes and beliefs about herbalism as a viable adjunct to conventional medicine. Participants reported that they were more apt to adhere/comply using herbal remedies. Participants self-reported success and improvements during community-led meetings, where things gone wrong/things gone right were captured as part of the development process. Some adopted herbal practices that reduced the need for asthma inhalers and topical eczema applications. We are in the process of formalizing a logic model and a plan for community-defined participatory research, which we believe will improve our ability to capture the impact of the program as well as how to ensure participants retain and apply skills post education. We are excited about the outcomes we project as positive future impact (see promising aspects listed above).

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We hold great hope for an endowment that funds a new public health approach in perpetuity; though we have envisioned a social enterprise profit generator model. This model engages in cash based concierge care and fee-for-service activities, making a profit and then transferring profit to fund a free herbal clinic and community-based programming. This past year, we started an in-house apothecary, that retails handmade herbal products/remedies.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

AfroHerbalism is singularly innovative. It provides direct service in ways that traditional and conventional healthcare cannot. It effectively addresses affordability, accessibility and availability in a way that is culturally relevant. It enables youth and their families to reclaim ownership of their social and physical health and their cultural identity. It has potential to reach those who may have un­detected risk factors. We are present, familiar & de-institutionalized within the community. Others promote health via food/farming/gardening - this is food security not health & healing.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Computer modeling as a methodology has emerged as a fresh approach to evaluating solutions for complex social issues (MSU). Children's wellbeing and public health may and/or should benefit from such examination. Ultimately, those solutions that avert the impact of adverse childhood experiences (CDC-Kaiser Study) and embed the Center for Social Policy's Protective Factors in its approach to better health outcomes exist apart from convention and should absolutely be considered thought leaders. Indeed, smaller organizations, not institutions lead in the propensity for social influence

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Article in the news

Program Design Clarity

This is a culturally relevant, 12-week, community/school-based, hands-on and instructional program for school-aged children and their parents. It is designed to increase awareness and improve health-related behaviors. Sessions are manualized according to a syllabus and occur for 1-3 hours on a weekly basis for 12 consecutive weeks. Session activities include assigning/reviewing homework, presentation of session content, supervised group play/interactions, discussion of parent roles and tracking progress of applied skills. A qualified herbalist/naturopath is intended to deliver services.

Community Leadership

Our community led skill-shares are what help to define and preserve a strong shared vision for this work. Shared stories of improved health, self-sufficiency and less reliance on medicine create a sense of personal and collective efficacy. Social connectedness and the cohesion of the community have been shown to have a direct relationship to good health. This! encourages more civic participation in changing conditions that affect group goals.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Public Awareness and spread is our focus, extending beyond increasing numbers to include spreading ideas, beliefs, values, and principles that support this effort being brought fully to scale. Sustainability is a key focus that ensures this idea retains meaning over time; building support of benevolent givers and collaborators. Continued community leadership that creates the needed shift in reform ownership at the ground level is also a focus.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We adopt an each one-teach one ideology in our work. Personal resilience and self-concept are key elements of our program. We establish ownership and "an identity" (afro) within applied self-care (herbalism). I can take care of myself and teach others resonates loudly in this model. Our work is informed by the CDC-Kaiser study on early childhood experiences and the impact on lifelong health.

Leadership Story

Personal health experiences and exit from conventional care inspired a career transition from automotive new business development to naturopathic healthcare in private practice. Ongoing efforts in community outreach and education led to an increasing understanding of health inequity and disparate health outcomes in African-American communities. Ultimately, the death of Grace Lee Boggs, an iconic activist here in Detroit, catapulted new directions in my evolution as a social change agent. Her works and legacy provide ongoing insight and inspiration from a historical and broader social context.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Carissa Purnell

We live in a system that has taught us to let go of our roots that tie us to the world around us. In communities of color our historic values tie us to the earth, but we've strayed from the healing that should be accessible, that should be a practice of how we live our lives. With everything going on I feel  hope in a program like this that heals as it educates and transforms both the bodies and spirits of those that come to you. 

Here where I am, poverty has left families consuming poisons. Filling their bodies with preservatives, fats, GMOs, pesticides, and unnatural food choices. There is a reason diabetes, heart disease, and asthma are destroying so many in our communities, so thank you for the effort to shed light on a way of life that can potentially push back on the destruction so much commercialism and capitalism has caused for our families. 

Photo of Karla Mitchell

Thank you for your remarks.  We share a very similar sentiment.  Disconnected - in a word - is how I describe what has happened in communities of color. Most are inter-generationally disconnected and heavily system dependent.  This program inherently seeks to re-connect them while promoting a new level of self-sufficiency.

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