Ihotu Jennifer Ali, MPH (pronounced “ee-ho-too”) is Founder and Director of the (o-SHOON) Oshun Center for Intercultural Healing located at the Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis. As Clinic Director, Ihotu practices and teaches a blend of modern and ancient healing: medicine, massage, womb care and birth support in a biopsychosocial health care model. She combines western biomedicine with Chinese, Maya, and African Indigenous healing techniques into a trauma-informed practice addressing chronic physical and emotional pain around childbirth, family and community.
Ihotu brings over 10 years of experience as a doula, maternal health researcher, and former United Nations consultant in emergency obstetric care. She is also a doctoral student in chiropractic medicine, member of the MN Maternal Mortality Review Committee, and Research Editor with Evidence Based Birth.
Ihotu was raised by a multiracial family and travels often to visit family in rural Minnesota, New York City, and Nigeria (where her grandfather practiced traditional medicine as Ichama (E-chamma) Village Chief), and enjoys time with her extended family, caring for elders and children, relaxing in saunas, and walking at lakes.
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Ep 108 – The Radical Pursuit of Simplicity in Healthcare with Ihotu Ali
[00:00:00] Cynthia: You are listening to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. I’m your host, Cynthia Shockley, and I’m here to learn alongside you through meaningful conversations with health and wellness practitioners. This is your time to experience some mindset shifts, learn practical tips, and get excited about what is possible.
[00:00:22] We want you to own the power of choice in your personal wellbeing journey. Let’s discover what’s possible right here in our Twin Cities community.
[00:00:33] Hello, and welcome to the Well Connected Twin Cities Podcast. I’m your host, Cynthia Shockley, and today I get to speak with Tu Jennifer Ali. She is founder and director of the Ocean Center for Intercultural Healing. Located at the Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis as clinic director Iho do practices and teaches a blend of modern and ancient healing.
[00:00:59] Medicine, massage, wound care and birth support In a bio-psychosocial healthcare model, she combines western biomedicine with Chinese, Maya, and African indigenous healing techniques into a trauma-informed practice addressing chronic physical and emotional pain around childbirth, family and community. Etu brings over 10 years of experience as a doula, maternal health researcher, and former United Nations consultant an emergency obstetric care. She’s also a doctoral student in chiropractic medicine, member of the Minnesota Maternal Mortality Review Committee and Research editor with evidence-based birth.
[00:01:41] Etu is raised by a multiracial family and travels often to visit family in rural Minnesota, New York City, and Nigeria, where her grandfather practiced traditional medicine as e Chama village chief and enjoys time with her extended family, caring for elders and children relaxing in saunas and walking at lakes.
[00:02:01] And here we are with I Hope to so happy that we can have you on the podcast and just have a conversation together. This is wonderful.
[00:02:12] Ihotu: It’s so good to be here. Thank you.
[00:02:14] Cynthia: Yes. And I know yo too is a very busy woman and so there were a lot of back and forths and we were able to figure it out and I’m just really grateful that we can have you because you know the work that you do, it is just.
[00:02:31] Incredible. It’s revolutionary in the most grounded, amazing way. But I also was hoping we can just ask first, what brings you joy? What brings you meaning in this life? Just getting to know you just as a human being.
[00:02:47] Ihotu: Sure. And thank you so much for your patience with me. And it has been A journey these last few years making decisions around how to spend my time and be really really honoring of myself as a human as well as the work I do.
[00:03:03] And also wanting to give a lot of time and connection with other people. And I would say that I’m in a hustle season right now, but this is very temporary. There is an exit strategy and I have really been wrestling with how to. How to be good to myself as well as a passionate human being.
[00:03:19] And I feel like that’s something that a lot of us are trying to figure out right now. Me as a human I always say I moved back to Minnesota for the land. I spent many years living in New York. I’m originally from Minnesota my great-grandmother was born in Blue Earth, Minnesota. My dad was born in Nigeria.
[00:03:37] West Africa. My parents met at a bar in southern Minnesota, like Waseca going out dancing. And that says a lot about me. Like I love the land, I love travel. Where my dad is from a small village. So that was like very land homey, big community kind of space. Like I also love dancing and the city and the energy of the streets and all that.
[00:04:01] Came back to Minnesota to slow down. Which I’ve been not slow in the last couple years, but I can’t wait to get back to that. I really love the lakes here. I love having moments of quiet and that like sense of timelessness. I really love community too. Like I’m a. I am like part introvert, part extroverts, so I really love my alone time, but I really love my extended family and I feel like family and community has gotten a lot closer for me since 2020, which has been really special.
[00:04:35] And I’ve been in more intergenerational spaces with children and all those of us who are aunties, taking auntie time and giving parents a break and just. I don’t know. We’re recording this in summer and it’s like I’m loving just the summer in Minnesota and all that means for getting to connect with each other and just like dance and play.
[00:04:58] But then also it’s like really just be quiet with the land and the sunshine and the green grass.
[00:05:03] Cynthia: Beautifully put, I was spending some time out on the lake yesterday and my friend and I, we were just floating in the lake and just. Talking about how this is the unknown. Dream, like there’s like the American dream of the white picket fence, et cetera, but to have access to water, to have access to nature, and the way that we have here in Minnesota, it’s this like secret hidden gem of what it means to be alive and to to be rich.
[00:05:35] You know?
[00:05:36] Ihotu: It’s like beneath the American dream. My American dream is so material. And I feel like this is like the indigenous kind of version of this. And I mean that in a global indigenous way. Like how are ancestors? I feel like, found that most content, like the D type of contentment and happiness is like that.
[00:05:56] In my family be like, it’s a day out on the lake fishing. On my mom’s side at least, it’s. Yeah, it’s that like we’re okay, we have abundance, we have all that we need. We don’t maybe have a ton extra, but like we’ve got everything that we need. And isn’t that. How it should all be.
[00:06:14] The birds have what they need, the oceans have what they need, the humans have what they need and we’re happy and we’re together. Like I’m a very simple minded person in that sense. In my dad’s village that picture is the sitting under the mango tree and that mango tree is the image where the ocean center logo came out of.
[00:06:36] My sister, who’s a graphic designer, drew it. And it was based on, there’s this tree that in the middle of our how we call the compound. So my grandfather was the village chief for many years till the end of his life, a few years back when he passed. And so in that compound, people from all over the villagers come and sit and they drink palm wine and they eat a little food.
[00:06:57] And yes, there’s some gender dynamic cuz it’s mostly men, but sometimes women would sit there too. And we’d just sit under the mango tree and talk. For hours.
[00:07:08] Cynthia: And I feel like that’s something, you mentioned you’re simple minded. I wouldn’t say simple minded in the that typical adjective sense, but best kind of simple minded, simple like hearted.
[00:07:20] I don’t know. Because it seems like the work you do, it, it seems radical right, to how we stand today in society. Whoa, what are these ideas that yo j’s having? And yet it’s. Rooted in such simple truths and I actually, I read your article in the Minnesota Women’s Press and I, it brought me to tears because I was like, gosh, how simple it is to actually see this vision and it just makes so much sense.
[00:07:53] I was actually wondering if you can even read that vision that you shared in the article, because the way you phrased everything, it was just beautiful.
[00:08:03] Ihotu: Oh, I would love to. It’s been almost a year since that, and I’ve been using that a little bit as a blueprint for what we’re creating at Ocean Center.
[00:08:12] And yeah I have a little part marked. So this is a little bit toward the end when I’ve talked already about how healthcare education in particular had changed through the 20th century and how that took basically, Devalued certain types of healers over others. So homeopaths, women, healers, black healers, midwives, all got devalued based on the type of standard that they applied to medicine.
[00:08:42] And so this is where I’ll pick up and I’ll say that white supremacy culture teaches that there is only one gold standard, one perfect way above the rest. But what could have been had the biomedical model not been held up as the only legitimate pathway to healing what could have been had, reading, writing, and licensing exams not been the only pathways for training.
[00:09:09] I invite you to travel with me now into the future, into a new era of care that the ancestors call us to imagine. Here exists a tender motherly relationship between doctors and their patients. In this era, the doctor brings their wisdom about the body and the patient brings knowledge of her symptoms, her story, her priorities, and the doctor is a consultant offering a menu of options and a teacher from the Latin word docere.
[00:09:46] Where a doctor comes from, meaning to teach, helping their patient learn and make choices, the doctor is calm, unrushed, and trust that their patient knows best. In this era, a variety of people are nominated by the community to become doctors and paid a living wage. To study an apprentice informed consent is a series of conversations, not simply a paper to sign. Obstetric violence is a relic of the past. And the right to bodily autonomy is an unquestioned standard part of healthcare, and all providers are taught social frameworks like reproductive justice, disability justice, healing, justice.
[00:10:36] At the start of this new era, doctors and administrators stop trying to fix all of the systems at once. Instead, they find small cracks to let the light in one patient at a time. Smaller health centers begin to have more autonomy. Clinics receive grant funding from health justice philanthropists to become trauma informed and to subsidize costs for low-income patients.
[00:11:04] And extra funding allows providers to spend more time with each patient and reducing staff workloads. Clinics begin to work in partnership with community organizations, fitness centers, churches, health coaches, schools, doulas and daycares. Feedback forms and complaints are taken seriously by senior leadership and met with transformative justice and healing sessions.
[00:11:32] Things change. We start to put our wealth quite literally into our health. Neighbors of local clinics call private donors. They make t-shirts, hold big sales, organize monthly membership programs, and I can see into this new era because it has already begun. This is the blueprint for year two of the Experimental Ocean Center for intercultural healing.
[00:11:57] Cynthia: And. Here we are about a year after our article. How is this, tell me about this vision. Like how is this coming to life at the Ocean
[00:12:08] Ihotu: Center?
[00:12:09] It’s coming. We are trying to move at the speed of wellness. Speed of mental health or Adrianne Marie Brown. We would say that we’re a tree with one root, but two branches.
[00:12:22] So our one root is that. Culture is a part of who we are, the decisions we make, the behaviors we have. And so that’s an important part of healthcare and it’s important part of our healing to call on our culture, right? It’s a part of how we relate to the world around us, and that matters, especially not just for our physical health, but for our emotional health.
[00:12:45] So then our two branches, one is the clinic. Which has been new over the last year. And then the other one is a training center. we’ve realized that in order to get to these very lofty goals, could easily take several generations to get to. We have to Do both at one time, which is part of why it’s a difficult process is we’re trying to work on change that requires healing and we’re trying to work on healing that requires change, if that makes sense.
[00:13:14] So at the clinic we’re working with people one-on-one to try to. Break through the internal blocks, the socialization, right? The harms, the violence that we’ve experienced. The fact that we never feel like we have enough time or we don’t have space for ourselves. We can’t have healthy behaviors or do our activism because we’re so blocked internally.
[00:13:36] So that’s internal work happening in the clinic
[00:13:38] Cynthia: So I also know that the Ocean Center has a couple of programs in the works. Can you share a little more about what these programs look like?
[00:13:50] Ihotu: So of the training programs Sweetwater Alliance for Changemakers in Health and Wellness is our flagship program. So this program was named in honor of water goddesses like oun that exist in European cultures and cultures around the world. So this program is supporting the clinic as well as offering holistic leadership training.
[00:14:17] So we are working with a group of mostly white allies who we’re going over the research on implicit bias and health disparities. We’re going over, especially models and walking them through different ways that they can apply and build their leadership around health equity. So we’re looking at how do we do more compassionate workplace policies around time.
[00:14:42] And then we take a step back in those monthly meetings and we say, how did we grow up thinking about time? Do we feel like we have enough time for ourselves? And if there’s no time for us, then it’s okay for us to not make their time, be time for someone else who comes in late. So we’re doing this really internal work and then applying it to how do we make more compassionate policies?
[00:15:07] For our clients that also benefit us and change our worldview and get back to that simplicity. But I was talking about that timelessness of sitting under the mango tree. So time is just one topic that we look at where this month in June, we’re looking at sliding scale pricing. And how to come at it from a way that is abundant and sustainable and actually allows ourselves to have more financial abundance.
[00:15:34] Can we do fundraisers? Can we get additional sources of income and we give from a place of abundance rather than a place of scarcity or being scared or feeling like we don’t deserve anything. So we give it all away.
[00:15:49] So in addition to the Sweetwater Alliance, I have a series of online trainings that are coming out that are available, will be available to the public. This is my How I Healed From 2020 In a Nutshell Medicines.
[00:16:06] So I had created an ebook in 2020 called Seven Portal Sky that was looking at seven different layers of healing that I was working through to get myself back to a place where I had my feet on the ground after the uprising. They were all very powerful for me to move through these phases, and they aligned with the chakras, seven of chakras as well as seven Orishas, which are the spirit healers of the African EFA and Yoruba tradition, which of which hun is one Orisha.
[00:16:38] So we moved through from first Chakra. Also talking about Ogun as an Aisha and use that as a frame to talk about burnout and the medicines around that and some of the research around that. And what’s a Western perspective for addressing burnout versus eastern and indigenous perspectives for looking at burnout.
[00:17:01] And there are seven different categories. So we go into grief, we go into conflict, we go into birth justice and womb healing. We go into digestive issues and anxiety, and so anyone can choose any of these trainings, any seven of them or do them in some combination to explore more of the medicines that I’ve been working with and I’ve been seeing and doing research on these last few years.
[00:17:27] So it’ll be a. Continuation of the personal and professional work that I’ve done over the last few years. So that’s a little bit what’s happening.
[00:17:38] Cynthia: Such important concepts.
[00:17:40] I think especially for healers, right? Who might fall into that trap of, oh, I’m here for others, I’m here to serve give. And it can become a really big source of burnout. It sounds like you at Ocean Center, your team, You’re working on ways to prevent that, to take that holistic approach as business owners as well,
[00:18:08] Ihotu: right?
[00:18:08] Because so many people in 2020, in the years since have either said, that’s too much work. I can’t do it, any of the justice work, or they’ve given everything to it and they’ve completely burned out, and I can put myself in that category too. And we wanna get back to what’s simple, what works, and actually is visionary and life-giving for all of us.
[00:18:30] Like this, if this work isn’t life-giving, we shouldn’t be doing it. But if it’s life-giving, we should all be doing it to some degree. We’re all, everyone has different time in their life, but if you’re working in. A healing profession, wellness, healthcare, you probably wanna be healthy yourself in your work, you probably wanna make sure that you’re creating opportunities for people to become more healthy around you, and you’re
[00:18:56] role modeling that.
[00:18:58] And actually the problem that we all see, and we don’t really know how to fix it, but we all see the problem that healthcare as it is in the United States makes us more sick. The providers are sick. The patients are sick. The administrators may be wealthy, but they may also have sickness too. And so how do we have to, I can’t change the system.
[00:19:19] I’m one small, pebble in the river. But what we’re trying to do with some of these online programs and trainings, Is create spaces where we can be cross culturally in conversation with each other, learn what we each have learned from our different cultures, which have varying degrees of understanding about this, and like peel apart the layers of why were we taught that there’s no time for us?
[00:19:46] Why were we taught that there’s no money for us? Why are we taught that healthcare requires you to be cutthroat? Let’s unravel because the unraveling is a cultural practice as well. Like we are rebuilding culture to be healthier for ourselves as practitioners. And then how do we extend that to our clients and our patients.
[00:20:07] So that’s when I say the idea of letting the light in one patient at a time, one practitioner at a time, one training at a time, one treatment room at a time. We’re finding the light and finding ways to just. Just do the best that we can, within the system.
[00:20:22] Cynthia: Yeah. And trusting that there’s a ripple effect.
[00:20:26] You change one interaction and the culture of that interaction, and then that just has a ripple effect to the next conversation, the next interaction. And I love the grace you give yourself in saying it might not be this generation that. The vision that you so beautifully painted comes to life, but you’re doing the work now, you’re creating those little cracks for the light to shine in so that this can continue to build into that vision.
[00:20:57] Ihotu: Absolutely. And pieces like community supported healers is something we’re really sitting with. How do we create more support to bring that next generation right of healers up and. Just keep looking ahead. Doing the best that we can and just looking ahead and the grace is huge.
[00:21:18] I think that’s come up a lot in our in my work with the practitioners. We have eight practitioners of color at the clinic. We have over 30 sponsors who are part of the Alliance program. And I think that’s, so much of it is, Noticing a block that we come up against and then giving ourselves kindness.
[00:21:36] I think white supremacy culture has taught us to be so hard on our, on ourselves, and then we’re hard on each other, and you can be firm and set boundaries, but not be hard. And that has come up again and again in our conversations.
[00:21:53] Cynthia: Yeah. Just recognizing it starts. With you, the culture breakdown the unraveling as you say.
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[00:23:01] Cynthia: well, I know a part of the vision at Ocean Center is to really take this. Integrative approach, which you know well connected. We always talk about the integrative approach. The integrative approach, and I think for me, and probably a, most people in this space, we think of integrative approach and we think Eastern Western care, right?
[00:23:23] We think. Very like traditional Eastern western care. And then what gets left out of the conversation is indigenous care, indigenous modalities of healing. And that’s something that you are bringing back in very intentionally. And this is a. Not a very well paved path, if paved at all. It might be just like wild and covered in all these all these foliages.
[00:23:49] And so I’m curious for you, what inspired you to start and continue down this path?
[00:23:56] Ihotu: I would say my. My cultures in a sense, as a mixed race person it only makes sense for me to integrate things that don’t seem to mix.
[00:24:07] I’ve had many years of figured out, what the heck is it to be white and black in the same body and Western and African, in the same body and. It. It just it. This is something that I feel like ancestor I was just drawn to. It’s just something that comes easily to me, and I think that’s so important.
[00:24:28] I had a conversation with a client at Ocean Center yesterday who I was like, it’s just so important that we figure out who we are and what it is that we came here for and do that, and everything else becomes a lot easier. Not to say that was easy to figure out. It didn’t take, it took me many years to get there.
[00:24:46] But I had some really beautiful family models that I followed and I’m grateful that I knew my family and have mostly good relationships in my family. My maternal great-grandmother was born in southern Minnesota. On a farm, and she was a preemie baby. There were no nicu. She was born in 1900.
[00:25:12] So they put, her and I grew up with this story. They put her in a shoebox and fed her with an eyedropper and kind of put her with some cotton balls as a diaper. And she lived to be 99 years old. Wow. She could never hear or see fully. But she was a farm lady outlived her husband raised many children.
[00:25:41] And so I always grew up with that sense of we can survive off the land where resilient people and the land gives us that too. And then my grandfather on my father’s side, Was the chief of our village in Nigeria from before the time that Nigeria became independent from the British. And he was known just as such a respected chief.
[00:26:06] He had a council of elders where they did conflict mediation work, if there were any kind of civil disputes. He. Mediated that. And so I learned a lot of, I learned a lot from hearing the stories about how he would mediate. Conflict. So that’s something that we, you’re gonna see if you follow Ocean Center.
[00:26:28] You’ll see that we’ll talk a lot more about conflict. Conflict is the major portion of the Sweetwater Alliance conversations happening in the fall, because that continues to come up as well in our communities that, we. We’ve gotten to a place where we have really strong opinions and now we just yell at each other for them.
[00:26:47] We haven’t figured out how to have conversation and listen and set the boundaries around, okay, are we agreeing to we, do we value the relationship enough to continue trying to find a middle ground between us? Are we willing to compromise? And hold our values, but sometimes keeping the relationship is more important than anything else.
[00:27:07] And so deciding when we’re in that state and when we’re not. Yes, when it comes to violence in our communities, healing as well as justice living with the land valuing the bodies that birthed us, even if we’re not in good relationship with any them anymore, understanding, even if we don’t have a good relationship with our ancestry, understanding that formed us to some degree.
[00:27:34] We took those values and we kept some of them, maybe we reacted completely opposite to those values. Like we, those did play some part in our Who We Are, right? And so I think it was a combination of all of that created that Birth. The Ocean Center was, it was just things that were always in my head that I didn’t see anywhere out in the world and I felt It deserved to be out in the world because it, in some ways, there were answers that I was seeing between cultures where the questions kept coming up, oh, what do we do about this?
[00:28:10] What do you do about this? And I was like I’ve seen enough of these pieces that I wanna, I feel like I’m in a place to offer, this is part of my gift. This is something that I’m here to do, and so I’ll just do the best that I can.
[00:28:22] Cynthia: Yeah, just the. Your own personal ancestry and the stories you grew up with, the lessons you learned, just embodied in a physical space and practice.
[00:28:36] And I know you’re also. Currently pursuing your doctor of chiropractic degree, which is adding a little less simplicity to your life
[00:28:49] Ihotu: to put it well,
[00:28:50] well said.
[00:28:52] Cynthia: So I’m curious, how has the training been feeling and, how do you see this education and this skillset playing into your future?
[00:29:01] Ihotu: The systems complicate everything.
[00:29:03] I can say that so much of, I’m sharing a lot of kind of personal family pieces here because that’s, Become more important to me lately. But the last, 10, 15 years has been me working with United Nations and doing research and working with evidence-based birth and going into this Doctor of chiropractic program in the height of the pandemic because we were all home and George Floyd had been murdered.
[00:29:29] And I felt like we need doctors in our community. We need folks who know how the system works, who also. Know what life is like outside the system. And again, like I always get into these roles where I’m translating between communities, it’s a funny memory of translating between my mom and my dad when I was younger, when they didn’t understand each other’s cultural, phrases and proverbs and things.
[00:29:51] And I was like, dad, this is what she means. But, so here I am between community and, really getting very deeply into medicine. And I will say, you chiropractic is a very westernized form of indigenous medicine. Extremely westernized, but it’s root’s rooted as really in body work. And massage and all of these things that traditional healers have done for generations.
[00:30:12] I think a lot of my career has been trying to find language to legitimize what I see in spaces where there’s not usually that legitimacy. Ooh.
[00:30:26] Cynthia: Ooh. Finding the language to legitimize what like the truth, the simple truth.
[00:30:31] Ihotu: The truth, the simple truth. Truth. Like explaining to people like you.
[00:30:35] Here’s the rest example I’ve been saying for years. It’s so lovely. It’s been one of the most, be the most healthy practices of my life to be with my family in Nigeria, sitting out of the mango tree, doing nothing all day. Now, 10 years ago if I said that, I’m I with the labels that could come up over me.
[00:30:54] I’m lazy, non-productive wasting my life, right? But in the past, since the pandemic in particular, we found this love of rest, and now there’s research and books and. Trending Twitter, comments about how rest is resilience and resistance and reparations and good for your brain health and good for immune system.
[00:31:19] Now, how many things do you think exist out there in indigenous world lands that if we did the research, it would be. Mind blowing. There are benefits that Western medicine just hasn’t seen yet. So part of me going crazy and trying to finish this degree is the ancestors on my shoulders saying, you’re in a unique position.
[00:31:43] This is part of your path. To struggle through the system, it was not gonna be easy for you. This place was not made for you. It’s not made for adult learners. It’s not made for learners who have family or children to take care of. It forces you to finish everything on very strict deadlines and doesn’t really give you a lot of space.
[00:32:04] But if you can make it through, And use all your practices that you’ve gathered to this point to make it through. If you can bring in the research, the language, the legitimacy, which we don’t need, but we need, do you know what I mean? To expand the field of what we already know is true.
[00:32:22] Yeah. And that means like potentially more funding into spaces where we already know it’s true. Potentially more respect, right? More ability to create life giving sustainable economic opportunity for people who already know what it’s true, right? But right now there’s a narrow field.
[00:32:46] Right where money and livelihood is concentrated, and if it’s possible for all of us to not only be able to be practitioners in more sustainable ways, but also to let all of our patients, all of our community, have access to these medicines, that’s what’s really important to me.
[00:33:07] Cynthia: And I just have to.
[00:33:08] Commend you on staying so anchored to your own values as you move through the system to recognize that this is the path to your greater mission. I took a peek at your Instagram and I saw you have this like little doll that’s. There to visually remind you of
[00:33:31] Ihotu: your Oh, I needed something. I needed something.
[00:33:34] I was getting really tired.
[00:33:36] Cynthia: Can you tell us how this doll tell us about the doll and like what she does for you?
[00:33:41] Ihotu: Yeah, sorry. This little doll named Aisha, which I love the name Aisha for forever. And I just, I was going through really hard times, so I will tell you this winter 2023, I almost quit school.
[00:33:56] And I, I don’t know that I’m fully out of the woods yet, but I’ve learned that because I’ve been taking it at the pace of wellness slowly, and now I’m hitting there is what they call a timeout limit where I can only take so many years to finish the program. And if I hit that time and I haven’t finished it, I lose everything.
[00:34:15] This is something that apparently is the case for healthcare programs all over the country, that you can only take so much time with it. I’m passing all my classes, I’m learning, I’m making progress, but I cannot take quote too long. So I think this is interesting because I. I’ve heard that in Europe their medical training is somewhere around 10 years long, and I think that’s appropriate because it’s really a reshaping of the entire way you see the world.
[00:34:45] Now I see the world, I have this matrix screen, that like runs in front of my, cuz I see I, I’ve learned so much basic sciences and I see the electrons and I see all the different attachment sites of the muscles and I see the nerves. And it has taken years for, to get my brain to turn that way.
[00:35:04] I was a liberal arts major, okay, taking time, but I think I’m gonna make a really excellent doctor, but I need time. And so at, six years total for me, and they actually just reduced it now to five years total. If you hit that timeout limit, you’re done. You lose all your money, you would’ve to start over again.
[00:35:27] It is unbelievable and it’s something that actually, this is another piece that we’re gonna be talking about with the alliance community, about how do we raise this as an issue. And when we talk about how do we support community healers, if we want to nominate community healers or have folks like apply and step up and we give them more publicity and fundraising help to get them through it because, This is really hard for someone who’s not 18 to go through.
[00:35:55] And I think we deserve to have healers who have a life outside and then come into this work and be licensed. So anyway, I realized I had the conversation, I learned about the timeout limit and I was like, I don’t know if I can finish. And so what it looks like is for the next year, I will have to really reduce some of my work and rearrange some things with O Ocean Center.
[00:36:17] Hopefully get some extra funding so that I can go full-time until I finish. So that’s why Aisha. Was born to help me through this really hard time. And I honestly I, I bought her from Target. She, I was like walking through Target and I saw these cute little black dolls, black girl dolls, and one of ’em had glasses and I just love that.
[00:36:40] So I was like, I’m like the sciencey, I wear glasses sometimes and I was like, I need a reminder because this is no longer worth it just for me. To keep going like this. It’s as exhausting. I had an injury as well from an an adjustment. And so I’ve seen how adjustments don’t work for everyone and there is a lot of masculine energy in that field.
[00:37:07] And, I was like I can do this, but it has to be bigger than me. So I have to do this for the future. If I go down, okay. I’ll go down, but I’ll do this for my future and as someone who has been a doula for over 10 years. Nice. Still get messages from the kids that I was at their births.
[00:37:32] Sometimes when they find the birth stories that I wrote for them, one of them just messaged me the other day. But it was incredible. She was the very first birth I was ever at, and she sent me a message like I found my birth stories You gave to your mom? They’re my mom. Oh. But. I don’t have my own children.
[00:37:50] And so maybe that’s a part of why I care so much is these are my, this is my baby and I don’t know if I’ll have children. Life has been interesting for me in that way and I think the passion that we put into our children is evident, and this is very much my contribution to the next generation.
[00:38:10] Cynthia: Beautiful. And Aisha’s there to remind you. This is I’m here for it. And I, and so you’re gonna be buckling down and you’ve got the Ocean Center, but I know you’re also, gosh, just to add, you are also a co-founder of the Minnesota Healing Justice Network, and I was able to just, Explore that a little bit.
[00:38:34] It’s on the website it describes itself as an intergenerational community of healers, cultural workers, that center black and brown wellness through mutual aid, holistic care, and solidarity work. So tell us a bit more about who this network is for specifically. How can people get involved?
[00:38:53] Ihotu: Absolutely. And this is a network that came up a few years before the pandemic as a space that I was creating to allow healers of color in particular to rest. So again, coming back to that simple, sitting under the mango tree, I, I moved back to Minnesota from New York. I had a great community of black and brown doulas that we got together and we hung out and we, support each other through births.
[00:39:20] I came to Minnesota, I didn’t find that, and so I felt wow, everyone’s just tussling here and the land is so calling to us to be quiet and be with each other. And I thought, let’s just go out to retreat spaces, go out camping, that’s the Minnesota thing, and give ourselves time to just get to know each other.
[00:39:41] And that was a radical thing at that time because people loved it. Who wouldn’t love that? And through the. Through the pandemic. We focused a lot on rest and training. We did some postpartum doula trainings and we had done some fundraising so that we could do additional training for healers to move into other fields, even though we couldn’t do hands-on work during the shutdowns.
[00:40:06] And then after George Floyd was murdered, we had access to a few retreat spaces that had opened up for healers of color, and so people could give us a call and reach out to us. We were placing them at retreat spaces in across Minnesota and also in Wisconsin.
[00:40:22] As well as doing work on the front lines with the uprising. And so that continues to be a place that focuses on rest for healers of color. They give up microgrants to healers at different periods throughout the year. And then I would say that, Oun Center developed a little bit in another pathway off of that in that we’ve noticed everyone had gotten so emotionally involved and so really burned out from the uprising in particular that we said, okay, every, all y’all rest.
[00:40:56] And there were a group of us that eventually turned into the Oun Center that said, but we still need some healers to keep Keep offering care to community, or at least taking sabbatical time away, but then coming back and really creating an intentional community that could continue to hold the healing that people continue to need.
[00:41:17] We can’t all rest at the same time. We still have to show up for our community. So how we’ve been building the clinic at O Ocean Center is focusing on, so we have eight practitioners right now. We are in the process of developing a program that will take on more practitioners that will also include.
[00:41:36] Training around self-care, community care, when to take your sabbaticals, how to financially plan to take a sabbatical. How to build up a practice sustainably with sliding scale pricing, but also third party payers. How do we develop more referrals in our community so that. Folks who are learning new services.
[00:41:59] Like I’ll be teaching abdominal massage and wound healing reproductive justice work in pregnancy and pediatric care. So when we have more practitioners that can offer these services, how can we make sure that birth centers are referring to us? Midwives are referring to us. They’re not just coming to me.
[00:42:18] I, we have this thing I think in. As humans, we find our favorite people, we don’t wanna let go, and I’ve gotten to know so many white ally healers and birth workers, and I need to really, for my own wellness, create a team of folks who can see the folks who refer to us, right? I’m in a space where I’m moving into a little bit more teaching and training and that kind of next generation.
[00:42:48] Phase, and I’m really hoping that people will refer folks to Ocean Center, come in for your own sessions and try out seeing brand new practitioners who are coming. This is the next generation, right? Like I don’t want to get to the point where my hands are so tired, 10, 20 years from now, like my hands will be tired.
[00:43:07] I won’t be able to do this work forever. I want so many other people to be doing this work, and Making sure that our apprenticeships are including people of color in them. Our trainings are including people of color in them and, creating spaces for us to have these intercultural. Social network building spaces, right?
[00:43:29] Like our community acupuncture nights in partnership with the Y M E C A and acupuncture student volunteers at Northwestern Health Sciences Universities. Coming back this summer, we’re gonna be doing a little more programming, and that’s an awesome way that people can plug in. We’re always looking for volunteers, as a way that we can be together, get to know each other better.
[00:43:52] Teach and learn from each other and build that intergenerational community, which is what raised me, which is essentially what I’m trying to create here. Yeah.
[00:44:02] Cynthia: Ah, beautiful. And so people in the community who are interested in, Free care to sample things out or who just need support can come to Ocean Center and so can healers.
[00:44:17] Is that what I’m hearing? So it’s the two arms?
[00:44:20] Ihotu: Yep. The two branches. Learning and experiencing your own healing.
[00:44:25] It’s practices that are unexpectedly simple. Tease time together, laughter, song, acupuncture, things that are often free low cost, fun even. That have profound impact on your nervous system. On your immune system, on your muscle tension, on your emotional health, on your sense of connectedness and belonging in the world, on your sense of purpose, on your sense of energy and motivation to get up every day on the way you set your boundaries, on how fierce you are with doing what you know is right on how you stand up for people around you, on how courageous you can be in a moment when injustice is happening in front of you.
[00:45:13] All of these things. Are impacted by the practices that we’re doing that are deceptively simple.
[00:45:21] Cynthia: Deceptively simple. Yes. It’s something, yeah, it’s right there, right within reach, and it’s so easy to put those simple things off because it doesn’t feel like enough.
[00:45:37] Ihotu: Because There’s not a western legitimizing of it. Through research, through systems, through licensing there are plenty of really important medicines. I am not in any way saying you can heal broken bones or from cancer, from these things I’m saying we deserve all of the medicines. And I can pull a quote that we use on the Issu Center website that says, we believe that no one should have to choose between Western, Eastern, or indigenous medicines.
[00:46:15] Our pain and illnesses are wide and varied as our medicines should be, and we deserve options, informed choice, and affordable access to them all. We deserve care that heals broken hearts as well as broken bones. And so we try to imagine what US healthcare would look like if it had developed evenly and fairly acknowledging the influences of folk medicine, midwives, and homeopaths, indigenous American healing techniques brought over by enslaved African doctors and healers, bone setters, spiritual guides.
[00:46:53] And so by. Telling the history of medicine’s colonization in this, in the article that came out a year ago and the work we’re doing right now to imagine re reimagine its integration. We’re hoping to bring healing and justice to everyone, right? So Ocean Center is not just for people of color, even though we center people of color.
[00:47:17] It is really a space where we can come back to who we were before Colonization divided us, right? We’re we are one community. We have our differences, we have our disagreements, and we have our trauma histories, we have our anger, right? We have our not safe moments with each other. But for that to divide us even further seems like we lost, not that we won.
[00:47:42] And so it’s there’s been so much these last few years of trying to identify problems and take out problems. That’s really important. Work our rage, all of that is really important
[00:47:54] Cynthia: to stay with it and find a solution.
[00:47:58] Ihotu: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I feel like. Has been my spiritual work the last few years.
[00:48:03] These last few through the pandemic and the year of being quiet and sitting and watching and reflecting has really I’ve had so much talk in my. This feels silly to say this, but like keeping an altar for a year, and I have not always practiced this way, but just keeping a very simple altar for the year.
[00:48:27] The voices become so loud that we’re in a space now of recreating. We’re in a space now of re-envisioning, reclaiming, and we can’t do that alone. So Ocean Center is one, like many different groups and collectors around the Twin Cities that’s really trying to say, Hey, we wanna do this together. We wanna be in conversation, we wanna do the healing together.
[00:48:53] Come join us for one of our training programs, join the Alliance, join one of our, wellness and free acupuncture nights. Come and be a part of what we need in our healing. That’s more than just broken bones. Let’s do that and do it from a sustainable place that’s rooted in ocean, who is a water goddess, right?
[00:49:16] The cleansing, the sitting at the lake, that feeling, that’s her. And she’s someone like her exists in cultures all over the world. This is something we all have access to without appropriating. We all have this in our spirit, in our line. And from that place, I think I’ve seen really powerful shifts in myself, in some of our practitioners, in our clients.
[00:49:49] And I, it’s slow going in the beginning here, but as we bring more people on into our community continues to grow, and that’s one thing that’s been undeniable over the last year is more and more people have wanted to connect and find value in these conversations that we’re having and ways that. I’m more compassionate with myself around time.
[00:50:12] I’m finding better boundaries, like I’m seeing the change in my own life. And that’s what helps me get through this experience of going through medical school and licensing.
[00:50:23] Cynthia: Beautiful. And I am just so grateful that you are bringing all these worlds together, acting as that bridge. And it’s much, it’s what’s needed, right?
[00:50:36] It’s what’s needed right now. It’s what’s always been needed. It’s that simple truth, right? So if you know anyone listening is interested in the show notes, there will be links to all the things that Ito’s been working on. The Ocean Center her own personal website, Instagram, all of that along with that article that she read a bit from.
[00:51:02] If you can please give that whole article a read. It was really eye-opening about how colonization has impacted our healthcare system and how, there are efforts to bring us back and bring us back into alignment. So thank you so much Utu, for everything that you’re doing to really bring us back into that alignment and into that truth.
[00:51:29] Ihotu: Thank you so much. So nice to sit with you today.
[00:51:33] Cynthia: Thank you so much for listening to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. Did you learn something new? Did you feel that spark of hope and excitement for what is possible? Because so much is possible. Tell us about it. In a review on Apple Podcast, not only would we absolutely love hearing from you that these reviews help our ratings and help other curious minds like you find this resource.
[00:51:58] We are always better together. Thank you again and see you next time.