The prevailing worldview in my African American family of origin supported holism and connectedness. My northern Virginia-born grandmother and my sole caretaker from infancy believed in the connectedness of mind, body, and spirit, as well as the human connection to the nonphysical world. She accepted intuition, dreams, and spirit communication as legitimate ways of knowing, and experience was always given more credibility than what was written in books. She believed that if people had only read about something but had not experienced it, then they did not really know it. What they had was “only book learnin',” she would say, “They don't really know what they're talking about.”
The education I received from elementary through graduate school taught me that “modern ways” based on Western science and derived from use of the scientific method were superior to all others and that my grandmother's practices and ways of knowing lacked legitimacy in dominant culture. By comparison, her prayers for insight and healing, homemade honey and onion cough syrup, and our daily doses of cod liver oil were inferior practices. Although this dominant narrative undermined my confidence in my cultural knowledges, it was inconsistent with my experiences as a young adult. I began to gain verifiable information through precognitive dreams, which had not been derived from objective observation and that defied rational explanation. For example, I had dreams of events I had never witnessed, such as seeing a bright light moving in the sky that illuminated the dark alley behind our house. A few nights later while awake, I saw a police helicopter with a bright light searching the area. I had never seen this occur in my neighborhood before that night. To understand these experiences, I began to study ways of knowing and healing that were unsanctioned by my Western education and professional social work preparation. I learned meditation, methods for sharpening my intuitive knowing, and several forms of energy medicine, including reiki. These knowledges became critical components for maintaining my well-being.
In the 1980s and during my first tenure track position at a Midwestern research university, I received very clear messages from mentors and other senior faculty that spirituality, healing practices, and ways of knowing that were not sanctioned by Western science were not welcomed into discussion, even as areas of study. As an untenured professor and woman of color in a predominantly white institution, I felt vulnerable. The legacy of slavery's persistent narrative of inferiority of African Americans creates perpetual concerns about maintaining credibility, particularly in predominantly white institutions. The combination of dominance of the scientific paradigm and dominant narrative of inferiority of African Americans made higher education an unsafe space for me to explore IMBS practices as an educator and researcher.
For more than 30 years, I continued to study and use these knowledges and practices, but they remained separate from my academic and professional life. Although I wanted to integrate these knowledges, my life reflected a dualism, similar to Du Bois' (1897) concept of double consciousness, along with the compart- mentalization and absence of holism that is characteristic of Western education (Smith, 2005). The dominant discourse and operations of power in the academy had me living a disconnected life, which is not uncommon for people of color and women in higher education (Gregory, 1999; Wiegman, 2002; Jones, 2001).
After moving to a new region of the country and beginning my current position as dean and professor, the desire to bring IMBS to social work education continued. To deepen my knowledge of IMBS practice, I began graduate study in IMBS health and healing at a progressive institution of higher education. This program used the cohort model, which enabled me to interact frequently with colleagues who shared similar interests. Opportunities for learning and conversation in this supportive context created re-membering experiences, which helped me to thicken and more richly describe the narrative of my preferred identity as a holistic, IMBS educator.
My most powerful re-membering experience occurred during this graduate program. I regained an appreciation for my grandmother's knowledges and skills as a healer and made the connection between my engagement in IMBS practices and my cultural heritage. I had a new context for understanding myself that strengthened and further legitimized my sense of identity. Rather than seeing myself as an IMBS educator on the margins of academia, I was developing a more powerful self-perception that placed me in the context of my ancestral lineage. I began to see myself as continuing a tradition of healing ways, like my grandmother and her mother before her. I shared this new perspective in an international conference presentation (Raheim, 2013), which further supported my preferred identity. As narrative practice theory asserts, having others witness the re-storying of one's identity is strengthening and liberating. My voice was no longer silenced.
Finally, working with Jack Lu, the the co-author of this chapter, was an important re-membering experience. When we met, he had been an IMBS practitioner for many years and was enrolling in the school's doctoral program. Subsequently, we codesigned and cotaught the graduate course discussed in this chapter. The impact of designing and teaching this course is discussed later in this chapter.