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Washtenaw United: Using Holistic Healing To Cope With Racism-Related Stress

Roxane Raffin Chan
United Way of Washtenaw County

Many communities, including Washtenaw County, have declared racism a public health crisis. There are no simple cures for such a crisis, but holistic nursing consultant Dr. Roxane Raffin Chan has been providing services to help people cope with the racially-charged incidents in their lives. Dr. Chan explains how she and her company, Chan Body Energy, have responded to the United Way's 2021 21-Day Equity Challenge in a chat with WEMU's David Fair.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'




David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU and I'm David Fair, we are in the midst of social change and the voices calling for an end to systemic racism are growing in number and in volume throughout the country. And here in Washtenaw County, racism in many communities has been declared a public health crisis. And that's the focus of today's edition of Washtenaw United. Joining me is Dr. Roxane Raffin Chan. She is owner of Chan Body Energy in Saline. And thank you so much for the time today. I appreciate it.

Roxane Raffin Chan: Well, thank you, I'm happy to be here and talk about this topic.

David Fair: Do you agree with the statement then that racism is indeed a public health crisis?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, yes, the topic of racism and public health is enormously, enormously complex, but it really sits at the crossways of social cohesion and social capital and really drives people's health in the whole community, thus driving all of our health.

David Fair: At what point in your educational and professional life did you come to that conclusion?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, I've been a nurse for a long time, about 40 years, and I've been able to work across the country in rural and urban areas and worked a lot with disadvantaged populations and really seen firsthand the consequences of people who aren't part of the social fabric and what happens to their health and the difficulties they have in maintaining their health.

David Fair: Now, chambering energy is about holistic healing. And as you've mentioned, you have worked across the spectrum across the country. Do you find that the matter of race is dealt differently in the holistic realm, as in the traditional health care realm?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, I would hope not. I don't know all the holistic nurses that are in the United States, but having a holistic stance means that I work to generate a sense of presence with the people that I'm taking care of, which includes a nonjudgmental attitude. So I work, too, in order to see the person as they are. And we now in nursing have a full understanding that race is a social construct. There really is no physiological differences between people based on their skin color. The difference that we understand is from their experience of life, which creates added stress and trauma to them, which then drives morbidity and mortality. But there's no physiological difference.

David Fair: So that takes us back to the learning process and how we tend to identify ways to overcome these issues. You got your undergraduate and master's in nursing and nursing administration while you were in Illinois and then your Ph.D. in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan with a particular focus on health improvement and health risk education. In those experience, did you find there was enough educational focus on health care access and racial equity and equality in care and treatment?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Well, there is educational focus on that area, and I've taught those classes at many universities. The problem lies in the need to refocus our public policy and spending to get public health nurses in the community. I spent three years being a parish nurse, and that was a way to have a nurse out in the community that was not dependent on a public health nurse salary. So we really need to put our money where our needs are in addressing the social determinants of health.

David Fair: 89 one WEMU Washtenaw United in our conversation on racism as a public health crisis continues with the owner of Chan Body Energy. That is Dr. Roxane Raffin Chan. Now, you've mentioned health outcomes become different. Let's talk about access to the health care system in your years of learning and working. What about the policy that you were discussing? A bureaucratic process of health care allows for such disparity.

Roxane Raffin Chan: Well, I think I think we have an overemphasis on a focus on access to health care proper, like medicine, physicians, nurses, procedures, really what we find is health is more driven by the social determinants of health, where someone lives and works their housing, their clean water, their healthy food, their education opportunities. So we really need to shift our focus to providing mental health care in the community and access to good education and housing that really drives health more than access to medications and procedures and doctors. So I think that the shift that we have to go.

David Fair: As we discussed that kind of shift, it comes down in great measure to compassion and empathy. I think it was Che Guevara who said the concept of love is critical to revolution, saying you can have no revolution without love and love is where all revolutions begin. Then in one of his many memorable speeches, Dr. Martin Luther King referred to these systemic issues of separation and inequity for people of color as the other America. And I think that was all the way back in 1967. It's 2021 and we aren't there yet and we have a long way to go. Can a revolution of love get us there and erase the boundaries of that other America?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, absolutely. I'm just reading a new book by Michael Lerner, and he is so bold as to talk about social energy. And that is what happens when we have a system of racism, is we have a rip in the social energy that we all live in, which lowers everybody's level of health. We need to focus more on interventions or activities that create a new social energy or a new way to relate to each other. So programs like True Racial Healing and Transformation that run racial healing circles is critical to repairing our ability to be a community, to develop social cohesion and social capital together for everyone.

David Fair: Washtenaw United. In our conversation with Dr. Roxane Raffin Chan continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. What you just said is fascinating. Kind of informed me a little on that truth racial healing and transformation program.

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, absolutely. So this program is actually nationwide here in Michigan, we have three cities that are consciously building racial healing circles and extending out in the community Kalamazoo, Lansing, Metro and Flint. And I'm part of the Lansing Metro Organization, which is under the umbrella of One Love Global and is funded by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation. You go to four circles once a month for 90 minutes, and it's a way for people to tell their story, to dip into some realization about themselves. Implicit biases are very sneaky. We have to ask them for a long time and we don't know our implicit biases unless we bump into them or we take some time to really converse with other people. So we've been running these circles and in fact, we had one in Saline over the winter, which went very well. Now that we can do them virtually, we can really reach out to a lot more people a lot more quickly.

David Fair: Is talking or listening more important in this process?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, definitely the listening, nonjudgmental, listening, listening with compassion, the nonsexist is really what's important, because when someone listens to you without trying to fix you or change you, you're allowed to hear yourself talk and come to your own realizations. You may not come to it when you first say the words out of your mouth. It might be a day later or two days later that something comes to you based on what you were able to share with someone else without that other person judging you or pushing you back or giving you advice. And that's where the real growth comes, that we are now able to see our implicit biases, to see how to develop real friendships and alliances with people that we might not have done so in the past because of structural racism and other marginalization based on religion or gender identification or sexual orientation, whatever, whatever walls we put around ourselves.

David Fair: That is almost contradictory to what we do. If we are to engage in that way and allow for such personal growth and then build a community from that growth, we then elect people and put them in office and ask them to fix things, listening, interacting, expressions of kindness, having open minds, suspending judgment, all key aspects of the racial healing circles you just described. Where do you find those attributes being effectively applied in the bureaucracy of government and the health care system?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, that's a really good question. I think bureaucracy in the health care system is just as stuck in the beliefs of disserving as any other aspect of our country. And unfortunately, we do know that this is getting perhaps worse, but. I think if we look, we can see that people are genuinely good and it's just a matter of giving opportunity and validating when someone shares their feelings or a different viewpoint or being more inclusive. All we need to do is actually let that happen again. That's the best validation.

David Fair: Again, accepting the concept that racism is indeed a public health crisis, what level would you rate your personal optimism that we can and will overcome?

Roxane Raffin Chan: Oh, I'm highly optimistic. And I think because of my experience of being a nurse, I had the wonderful opportunity to be really at the bedside or in the home of so many people and during so many intimate occasions, death, birth, recovery from severe illness. And you really get to see people that they're really, inherently good and loving. And so I know that's the truth, that people are inherently good and loving. We just need to create space for that.

David Fair: Well, thank you for sharing your time and creating space for me today. I do appreciate it. Dr. Chan.

Roxane Raffin Chan: Thank you very much for having me. I believe this message is very important today.

David Fair: That is Dr. Roxane Raffin Chan, owner of Chan Body Energy in Saline. And to find out more about the work Dr. Chan is doing at about today's subject matter, visit our website at WEMU dog and will connect you to all you want to know. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. And you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair and this is your community NPR Station, Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD, one Ypsilanti.


Roxane Raffin Chan, PhD, RN, AHN-BC is a holistic nurse consultant with her company, Chan Body Energy. Dr. Chan received her PhD in community health promotion from the University of Michigan where she conducted an NIH funded study on the use of mindfulness practices in persons with chronic disease. Over her career as a nurse, Dr. Chan has directly cared for patients in acute care and community settings across the United States, held positions in nursing administration and taught nursing at major universities.  Her overall focus in nursing has been in vulnerable populations, which led her to develop a specialty in holistic nursing.  Currently, Dr. Chan is the president-elect for the American Holistic Nurses Association, is actively involved in facilitating racial healing circles for TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation), and is faculty for the Episcopal Pension Group delivering wellness retreats for ordained clergy across the country.


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"Race is a Social Construct"

"America by the Numbers: Surviving Year One"

"Racial Differences in the Biochemical Effects of Stress in Pregnancy"

"Social regulation of human gene expression: mechanisms and implications for public health"

"Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Summit - Closing Video"

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Dr. Gail Parker

Diasporic Soul


Roxane Chan is a volunteer with United Way of Washtenaw County who leveraged her expertise in healthcare as a content editor for the 21-Day Equity Challenge: 2021 Edition for sections related to health inequity in our county.  

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him atdfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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