Jesse Brown on Championing Community-Based Education
by Nadirah Sabir
Dr. Jesse Brown, ND, owner of the 33-year-old Detroit Wholistic Center and Wholistic Training Institute, wants to see a healer in every home—especially in hard-hit, black communities. Brown and his staff offer a diverse naturopathic curriculum with nearly 100 courses such as Herbology, Aromatherapy, Nutritional Counseling, Flower Essence, Muscle Testing and Iridology, and pair each assessment with services such as colon therapy, reflexology, reiki, weight management, food prep, private consultations and community outreach events.
How did Black communities in America begin to lose value for herbs and whole foods?
A lot of this knowledge goes back to ancient Africa, including Egypt, where you have The Ebers Papyrus. This earliest book of medicine describes the use of castor oil, numerous herbs and plants for healing. And so these canons of knowledge made their way to America. In the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, I remember seeing signage that alluded to the slaves saying, “The white man takes his medicine and dies, and the African uses herbs and gets well." So this has been a part of our culture.
At the Wright museum, there was a list of jobs African Americans had. Amongst that you will see herbalist. Our ancestors were the ones who primarily worked the land, grew the food, understood how to heal using nature. For instance, George Washington Carver spoke about crop rotation and the power of the peanut, the soybean and the sweet potato. He also used herbs for healing, including on himself. But we didn’t preserve, protect, promote, perpetuate and pass that along—much less profit from it. We went from the plantations around the country to the auto plants. As we got away from the land to a more suburban lifestyle, our health began to decline. Now there’s a resurgence going back to a plant nation, and it’s a multi-billion dollar growth industry.
When did this resurgence start?
Somewhere in the 1940s to ‘60s there were people who came up from the South and they didn’t go into these manufacturing plants. They were people like Dr. Frank and Mother Elizabeth Bracey, in Detroit. Dr. Frank Bracey was a chiropractor. Mother Elizabeth Bracey was a homeopath and an herbalist. They worked with people naturally to improve their health. We had Dr. Alvenia Fulton with the Fultonia Health Food Center, in Chicago. She taught Dick Gregory health principles, who influenced thousands, if not millions, of people to become vegetarian. He was leading social justice causes, as well as advocating health; he wrote Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for folks who eat, and later formulated the Dick Gregory Bahamian Diet.
Though he had no degree in nutrition, he became a major health advocate who used comedy, culture and his connection with people. He used “cause” in order to make differences. He marched with Dr. King. This lasted through the ‘70s. The Black Panthers were feeding people throughout the country through their school breakfast program and addressing systemic discrimination in the medical field with free health clinics. So this whole era of rebellious movements included food, health, self-sufficiency, doing things naturally, being good to people and the Earth, educating our children. The wholistic health movement was born out of that.
What drew you into the field?
I got sick my senior year in high school, and I started questioning things. I stopped eating meat; started studying dietary laws—Christian, Muslim—and the two were not conflicting. Later, I had a communications degree from Eastern Michigan University working as a sales manager at MCI and took my first class in healing, pain therapy and then nutrition, colon hydrotherapy and reflexology. I was a chiropractic assistant with Dr. Bernard Matthews, DC, and a nutritional consultant with Dr. Herman Glass, DC. Once MCI closed in 1986, I took my then 9-year-old daughter Keyah to Disney World, traveled and reset. The next year, I cashed in some stock, reduced expenses and moved into the basement of the two-family flat that became the center.
We opened in September 1987. Licensing the Wholistic Training Institute was a two-year process, and we accomplished that in 1999. Over 60,000 people have come to Detroit Wholistic Center. At the Wholistic Training Institute, we train an average of 100 people a year, and 40 to 50 percent of those start their own businesses. 2019 was actually a damn good year. In the first quarter of 2020 we were as busy as ever, but by March 21 we had to close due to COVID-19. We took a break and focused on training. Our most requested area of interest is herbalism, hands down. So we put it online this winter and I have students from all around the country. This month, we debut our WTI Podcast. But you gotta give more than just the information. We’re nurturing sustainable businesses and building community partnerships. What drives us is making a difference in people’s lives so they can help themselves, loved ones and heal the community.
The Detroit Wholistic Center and Wholistic Training Institute is located at 20954 Grand River Ave., in Detroit. For more information about online courses, visit WholisticTrainingInstitute.com.
Nadirah Sabir is a freelance writer.