The disproportionate burden of SARS-CoV-2 on racialized and ethnoculturally diverse neighbourhoods, (1,2) coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement and related global protest against police and state brutality, has helped raise awareness of systemic anti-Black racism and related health inequities. Across Canada, Black-led advocacy for racial justice and health equity has fostered support for and adoption of race-based data collection, explicit attention to diversity and inclusion in hiring and retention, recognition and celebration of Black excellence and joy, and contributed to growing calls for culturally relevant, anti-oppressive, trauma-informed care grounded in an Afrocentric approach. We describe the Afrocentric approach to health used by TAIBU, a community health centre that serves Black-identifying communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
What constitutes an Afrocentric approach?
Molefi Kete Asante (an American professor and philosopher and leading figure in the fields of African-American, African and communication studies) (3) defined Afrocentricity as "a mode of thought and action in which the centrality of African interests, values, and perspectives predominate." In essence, Afrocentrism asserts and celebrates the right of people of African descent to strive for self-determination, which in turn implies a need for Afrocentric ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies and metrics.
Founded on the philosophy and practice of ubuntu and on the Nguzo Saba or "Seven Principles," TAIBU (an Afrocentric nonprofit community health centre [CHC] in Scarborough, Ontario) has taken up this call. TAIBU is a Kiswahili greeting that means "be in good health." The CHC's aim is to end systemic anti-Black racism and promote and preserve Black health through an intersectional, equity-based, anti-racism and antioppression framework that exposes and disrupts the violent effects of racial privilege. (4)
Ubuntu is an ethic of justice and collective or shared humanity (5) that roughly translates to mean, "I am because we are"--a knowing of oneself and humanity by seeing and nurturing the humanity of others. The philosophy and practice of ubuntu, found in many African countries and traditions, captures the relational spirit of an Afrocentric worldview. (5) In a 2019 systematic review, Ewuoso and Hall explained that ubuntu prizes relationships of "interdependence, fellowship, reconciliation, relationality, community friendliness, harmonious relationships, and other-regarding actions such as compassion above all else." (5) However, in a 2016 discourse about ubuntu ethics, Ujomudike described ubuntu as centring on "reciprocity, common good, peaceful relations, ... human dignity, and the value of human life as well as consensus, tolerance, and mutual respect." (4) Ubuntu is considered essential to self-actualization, and living a good and principled life. (4-7)
In a 2016 article, Maulana Karenga described the Nguzo Saba as "standards for personal and social excellence directed towards building and sustaining moral community and strengthening and maintaining the community's capacity to define, defend, and develop its interest in the most positive and productive sense." (8) The principles are drawn from diverse African cultures and traditions and include Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination or the freedom to define, name, speak, advocate and create for oneself); Ujimaa (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (co-operative economics); Nia (collective purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani...