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Afrocentric Social Work

Abstract and Keywords

Afrocentric social work is a concept and praxis approach applicable in environmental and global settings where people of African descent are located. Using concept analysis as a methodology, this article explores Afrocentric social work theory and its applicability in the social sciences. Concept analysis is an examination of a thought or theory with the intent to create a more concise operational definition. Afrocentric social work not only is applicable to racial and social justice issues, it also is applicable to intellectual and philosophical discourses of social work, which has largely ignored Afrocentric social work as a viable theory and philosophical canon. The Walker and Avant method of concept analysis is employed in this article to provide a systemic discourse to define the attributes of Afrocentric social work, as well as its structural elements that scholars and practitioners utilize as a theory and praxis application.

Keywords: Afrocentric social work, Afrocentric theory, praxis, social work, Pan-Africanism, concept analysis, African Americans


A major idiom in social work is that theory drives practice. Researching apposite theory to apply cathartic and meaningful interventions encompasses a major portion of a social worker’s preparation time for a case, in order to effectuate change. A preponderance of theory application is the training that a social worker receives, as “being guided by theory has been strongly associated with the effectiveness of practice” (Fargion, 2007, p. 62). A social worker being knowledgeable about a theory, as well as the respect and value that that worker has for certain theories, will result in the application of said theory to practice, or practice theory. Theories are intellectual frameworks that explain a social phenomenon, either tested or untested; process models are an example of untested models (Nilsen, 2015). Discourses about theory remain contentious and are political. Moreover, engaging in social thought is a portion of the philosophical canon in social work, although given the emphasis on clinical social work, this aspect has remained stagnant and unengaged. For the efficacy of best approaches to be relevant to the populations served, engaging in social thought discourse is necessary. Intervening with people to help them reach their full potential, find meaning in their lives that have been laid barren to nefarious economic and political warfare as a result of generations of racialized policy and systemic formulas, and develop superior advancement skills under the weight of severe oppression “is to examine systemically what is real and tangible: human behavior” (Houston, 2005, p. 8). Social workers should seek theories with frameworks that include the ugliness of systemic bigotry, inequality, and suffering, with outcomes for populations that are extremely segregated and economically, politically, and socially excluded. This article explores Afrocentric social work, which is predicated upon Afrocentric or African-centered theory, defined as a codification of the cultural values of people of African descent into praxis attending for human transformation and potentiality who are grossly marginalized by racism (Schiele, 1994, 1996, 2000). The terms Afrocentrism and Afrocentricity were created during the Black Power and Black Arts movements (Thairu & Wahinya, 1975).

In social work, theories not only explore human behavior, but systems behavior, as well as the interplay of people and systems, through social policy ideology and implementation. “In the most fundamental sense, theories enlarge our fields of observation and broaden ways of seeing, understanding, and acting” (Forte, 2014, p. xi). There are a plethora of theories taught in social work; psychodynamic, psychosocial, systems, ecological, and feminist are among the most popular. Additionally, social work borrows theories from other disciplines, “such as sociology, gerontology, psychology, economics, and so on” (Gentle-Genitty, Chen, Karikari, & Barnett, 2014, p. 38). The only gateway of any culturally relevant theory is introduced is when race and culture is discussed in the guise of cultural competency or through critical race theory (CRT).

Although cultural competency directs social workers to possess specialized knowledge about the history, traditions, values, and family structure of various cultural groups, what is not associated with cultural competency are philosophical constructs that underscore beliefs, survival thrust, and best approaches. However, social workers, as applied social scientists, are duty bound to expand our theoretical development to develop the best approaches for empowerment and economic and social inclusion for those who have been racially demoralized. “Social work has a historical and mission-driven need to cross the boundaries of scientific and natural language and communities and cooperate with a wide range of partners” (Forte, 2014, p. xvii). Learning about Afrocentric social work bridges philosophical knowledge with praxis approaches, with the added benefit of advancing healing that is phenomenological.

Phenomenology is the study of human consciousness and lived experiences, which allows persons to look through an appropriate lens at their existence for maximum potentiality. Afrocentric social work is an effective theoretical foundational tool and praxis modality that is appropriate for strengthening a group’s interpretations and strategies to advance their quality-of-life issues, such as extended family stability, educational attainment, community and institutional development, religious and spiritual integrity, economic ownership and resource wealth attainment, policy implementation, and the ability to live securely and competently as people of African descent. When the field of social work ignores theories in their canon and refuses to articulate a more defined theoretical and philosophical framework that benefits those populations dispossessed due to the implementation of racial systemic behavior, it ceases to be a science of application and healing.

Dwain Pellebon conducted an empirical study examining the marginality of Afrocentricity in social work education (2012) and surveying the presence of Afrocentric content in Human Behavior and Social Environment (HBSE) courses in 120 social work programs. Four research questions were explored:

  • Are social-work HBSE instructors familiar with Afrocentricity?

  • Do social-work instructors teach Afrocentricity in HBSE courses?

  • Are social-work HBSE instructors able to differentiate Afrocentric from non-Afrocentric conceptual statements?

  • Will social-work HBSE instructors professionally support Afrocentric statements applied to a social-work context?

These questions were related to the use, knowledge, and support of Afrocentricity among 80 faculty (62.5% European American, 16.3% African American, 10% Asian, and 3.9% other races), with 77.1% being either assistant or associate professors, and the majority (57.6%) of the sample teaching graduate HBSE courses (Pellebon, 2012, p. 5). In short, a majority of respondents (63.7%) did not know whether statements on the survey represented Afrocentricity, and a greater majority (68.7%) did not support an Afrocentric perspective (p. 15). A high percentage (89.4%) showed unfamiliarity with the theory, and 76.7% of sample did not know Afrocentric conceptual statements. There was a consistent pattern of nonsupport across all four questions, demonstrating that the paradigm is marginalized in social work education. This empirical example begs the issue that a major theory and paradigm are elusive in social work education and are certainly underutilized in the provider community. According to Davis (2004, p. 238):

Communities of color need a social work discipline that is far more focused on its vision and goals than the exclusivity of one method or theory over another. Whenever a combination of social work methods can be applied to this vision, the effect is likely to be greater than when applied alone.

This article explores Afrocentric social work as a concept and praxis application. The methodology for exploring this subject matter involves concept analysis, a template for how a discipline defines and applies a concept that is unclear. It applies theoretical data to unpack a concept that remains elusive within a discipline, rendering it more relevant and useful in application and thought. “Concept analysis could be basically defined as an activity where concepts, their characteristics, and relations to other concepts are clarified” (Nuopponen, 2010, p. 4).

Concept analysis is utilized to create better and more informed definitions, an exercise that is imperative in social work because of the potential applicability of concepts within theories. Theories that have been culled through this intellectual process are advanced and normalized in higher education and the provider community. “The process starts with general considerations on various practicalities, e.g. delimitation of the field to be elaborated, sub-division of the field into smaller units, as well as accumulation and evaluation of documentation” (Nuopponen, 2010, p. 7). To satisfy this examination, the Walker and Avant process model (1995) shall be applied here, which includes the following elements:

  1. 1. Selecting the concept

  2. 2. Developing the aims and purposes of the analysis

  3. 3. Using the concept

  4. 4. Defining attributes

  5. 5. Constructing a model case

  6. 6. Constructing additional cases

  7. 7. Identifying antecedents and consequences

  8. 8. Defining empirical referents

Having addressed processes 1 and 2 in this introduction, we shall move to process 3 in the next section.

Understanding African-Centered/Afrocentric Conceptual Development

Afrocentric social work is best understood by explaining African-centered conceptual thoughts or frameworks as the thematic parent of Afrocentricity. “Afrocentricity is a paradigm that is birthed in African-centered intellectual critique, rooted in philosophies, cultures, and principles that analyze and apply theories to praxis” (Fairfax, 2017). Black studies evolved into African diasporic studies, or African-American/Africana studies, as Afrocentricity became a defining paradigm, “employing a certain African quality that is given perspective or approach possession” (Karenga, 1988, p. 404).

Not without its paradigmatic problems, Afrocentricity has consistently drawn criticism and support throughout academia. Molefi Asante popularized the term Afrocentricity, defining it as a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person, and in every situation, the appropriate centrality studies the world and its people, concepts, and history from an African worldview (Asante, 1980, 1987, 1991). Conventionally, a framework is a system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, and theories based on a set of beliefs which support and inform a pattern of research. Jabareen (2009, p. 50) explains it as a “network . . . of interlinked concepts that together provide a comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon or phenomena . . . that support one another, articulate respective phenomena, and establish a framework-specific philosophy, to interpret a social reality.”

For decades, African-centered theories, perspectives, and concepts have been advanced and refined with the chief goal of providing an interpretive lens of the social lived reality of people of African descent in the Americas, the Caribbean, and other parts of the globe. Pan-Africanism ascended in early-20th-century philosophy and economic-political movements, and it is the thematic framework or network. “Pan-Africanism acts as an umbrella term for a range of intellectual and political practices that seek to address the cultural issues of—and to unify politically—Africa and the diasporas, including African Personality, Negritude, the Pan-African Congresses, Afro/Africenterism, and Africana cultural/theory” (Janis, 208, p. 33). Due to global domination, enslavement, colonialism, and imperialism by European countries for the past millennia, all avenues of intellectual knowledge, economic and political systemic behavior, and other social institutions that underscore living, working, and creating have developed from the cultural vicissitude of European ideology and culture.

Forms of Pan-Africanism have been employed to conceptually develop intellectuality and praxis that prioritize life opportunities of people of African descent. Consequently, “the works produced by historians, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and diplomats have treated Pan-Africanism from different perspectives” of the lived experiences of people of African-descent (Tesema, 2014, p. 64). A noted observation is that Pan-Africanism’s initiation occurred outside the continent of Africa. “The transatlantic slave trade was a significant landmark in the annals of African history, [because] it produced the forced migration of millions of Africans as slave-laborers to Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, [carrying] African cultures to the ‘New World’ [keeping] alive their African roots” (Adogamhe, 2008, p. 8). Pan-Africanism addresses philosophical inquiries and human issues about poverty, education, housing, food security, cultural traditions, law enforcement/correctional violations, lynching, civil rights and social justice abuses, cruelly affecting Black1 people living in apartheid regimes, such as the segregated United States and South Africa. Early progenitors introduced a pan-African posture of unity, scientific and economic collectivism, and cultural/spiritual traditions (Hakim & Sherwood, 2003). These issues and other topics facing continental Africans were addressed at the African Association in London in 1897 and the Pan-African Conference in 1900 (Adogamhe, 2008). Pan-Africanism is also the thematic parent of Black nationalism. Historical figures such as Henry Sylvester Williams, W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques Garvey, C. L. R. James, Claudia Jones, and Kwame Nkrumah are key contributors in the early Pan-African movement.

Black nationalism, a brainchild of the Pan-African movement, is an ideology that has addressed race-based survival and cultural solvency in the United States. “Black nationalists advocate such things as Black self-determination, racial solidarity and group self-reliance, various forms of voluntary racial separation, pride in the historic achievements of those of African descent, a concerted effort to overcome racial self-hate and to instill Black self-love, militant resistance to anti-Black racism, the development and preservation of a distinctive Black ethnocultural identity, and the recognition of Africa as the true homeland of those who are racially Black” (Shelby, 2003, p. 665). The main thrust of Black nationalism is “to provide an opportunity for African Americans to reach their full potential and maintain their cultural integrity as a people” (Fleming, 2008, p. 2). Improving human potentiality with cultural integrity underscores the Afrocentric social work praxis. Pan-Africanism and Black nationalism are foundational to latter movements of the Black Panthers and Black Arts of the 1970s, the development of Black studies in higher education in the 1970s, and the African-centered educational movement of the 1990s and afterward. These movements target bureaucracies from their perspectives (Rojas, 2007, p. 8) to elucidate social conditions with tactical solutions.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s contributions to African-American history as a field of study are other important developments in African-centered thought. American history has economically and politically maintained social institutions that denigrated Black people, rendering them as innately pathological victims. Since the advent of global Western capitalism, history and philosophy disciplines excluded Africa as a contributory continent: “Africa’s indigenous cultures were, in both principle and fact, disqualified from an occupying place in the philosophical arena” (Hallen, 2009, p. 7). Woodson initiated two engines that exist today; in 1915, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and in 1926, he started Negro History Week “to celebrate black history through annual observances. He purposely chose the second week in February between the birthdays of [President] Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, to publicize the records, contributions, and accomplishments of Black people” (Reese & Simba, 2011, p. 17). (Negro History Week has become Black History Month, held throughout February in the United States.)

What is important to note is that this intellectual movement attended to restorative historical data and interpretation that have been maligned explicitly by social institutions due to racism. “Afro-American history shows that a group’s history is more than the sum of its oppression, that the history of culture (music, folklore, and the accumulation of tradition that Henry Louis Gates, Jr has called the ‘countergenre’) is also a part of history” (Painter, 1987, p. 111). By expanding historical data and interpretation to include Blacks and women, this movement has been an essential aspect of the development of African-centered thought. Furthermore, this field would be expanded even more with the contributions of African-American women historians, “in part due to professionalization standards that since inception were White and overwhelmingly concerned with issues important to men” (Reese & Simba, 2011, p. 22). The enduring role of race in every facet of society is the chief reason for the ascendancy of the African-American history movement and Africana (Black) studies as critical and affirming intellectual spaces for Afrocentricity. Exploring the interplay of sexism, gender, and race has pushed the examination boundaries of African-American history and culture:

[T]he apparent over-determinancy of race in Western culture, and particularly in the United States . . . has permitted it to function as a metalanguage in its discursive representation and construction of social relations. Race not only tends to subsume other sets of social relations, namely, gender and class, but it blurs and disguises, suppresses and negates its own complex interplay with the very social relations it envelops. It precludes unity within the same gender group but often appears to solidify people of opposing economic classes. Whether race is textually omitted or textually privileged, its totalizing effect in obscuring class and gender remains (Higginbotham, 1992, p. 255).

African-centered psychologists erected theoretical and practice models based upon the overdeterminancy of race in the United States. Due to the onslaught of racial and oppressive forces, the application of social and cognitive processes in interventions, best practices and approaches, and policy implementation emanating from African philosophy and Africentric/Afrocentric paradigmatic frameworks, addresses Africanity in unique and novel ways. In global history, “never before had the level and extent of such dehumanizing practices of physical violence and brutality disallowed access to normal family bonds, denied practice of indigenous language, religious rites and rituals, and engulfed the humanity of a people, their minds and culture with a subordinating color caste system which continues to reign” (Myers & Speight, 2010, p. 3).

The application of African philosophy generated new data about the cognitive processes and specific behaviors and social organizational variables of family, and the interaction of schools, community networks, business, healing and helping rituals, and political manifestations was theorized and researched. For example, to combat pathological social science applications, Wade Nobles challenged “major problems studying Black families, may not be intrinsic to Black families, but rather problems in or with the assumptions implicit in the theoretical analysis of the Black family, particularly when applying African philosophical concepts” to social examinations (Nobles, 1974, p. 11).

As a result of intellectual warfare in the history researched and taught in public education and psychological theories of pathology and stereotype, “such theories assert great emphasis on attempting to explain negative constructs of African American personality, such as self-hatred, low or exaggeratedly high self-esteem, negative reference group identification, low intelligence performance and low-achievement motivation, low frustration-stress tolerance (inability to delay gratification) and faulty coping skills, high anger, aggression and hostility, anti-social and criminally bent behaviors, low sense of personal causation/fate-control (high externality), etc.” (Kambon, 1992, p. 88; also see Kambon, 1998). Also, in public education, African-centered educational psychologists observed the dearth of understanding African culture in behaviors and learning styles resulted in stereotypical and harmful impact; “misunderstanding of cultural behavioral style has been shown to lead to errors in the estimation of a student’s or a cultural group’s: (1) intellectual potential (the consequences of which—mislabeling, misplacement, and mistreatment of children—are enormous); (2) learned abilities or achievement in academic subjects such as reading; and (3) language abilities” (Hillard, 1995, p. 163).

As in Dr. Hilliard’s example, African-centered scientists sought to study the social, family, and cognitive processes of Black people from informed perspectives emanating out of Africanity. Normalizing theoretical data on human and social patterns, while mitigating the impact of oppression and racism, is important to note, as the major thesis question is “What is the manifestation of Africanity among people of African descent?” By referring to the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma’at as a social, religious, and moral code of authentic African behaviors through 42 declarations, Ferguson (2016, p. 2) described it as a system

of “order,” “harmony,” “rightness,” and true witness. It is used in a wide range of religious, ethical, and cosmological contexts. Maat as a goddess and idea constituted a fundamental touchstone of ancient Egyptian religion and social life. It emphasized harmonious cooperation as a social idea but also represented the constant cosmic struggle against chaos and disorder.

When applied, it is a system that tutors justice, order, and morality among one another and with systems: “Maat provides a useful reflection point on human justice and relationship to nature and the environment” (Ferguson, 2016, p. 2). Thus, the instruction to create normative theories and practices of African-American behaviors and social systems relies upon the study of African philosophy. Optimally, so-called normal behaviors emanate an awareness recognition of one’s collective African identity, a priority value placed on African survival, racial-cultural self-knowledge and positive development, participation in African cultural institutions and their perpetuation, and resolute resistance against all anti-African forces (Kambon, 2003). Another value system applied is the Nguzo Saba of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African values that reinforces family, culture, and community (Karenga, 1996). These values are as follows

  1. 1. Umoja (Unity): “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race”

  2. 2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves”

  3. 3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): “to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together”

  4. 4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): “to build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together”

  5. 5. Nia (Purpose): “to make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness”

  6. 6. Kuumba (Creativity): “to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it”

  7. 7. Imani (Faith): “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Human values such as spirituality, collectivity, mutual aid, and cooperation are viewed as optimal behaviors (Myers, 1988) because resiliency rests on the group identifying and accepting its African heritage and manifesting behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that reflect its philosophical values and worldview (Harvey, 2003). Azibo (2014) developed a nosology of African cultural behaviors for clinicians to look for, which was based on Africanity. This is important to note because it shows how theoretical concepts are explicated to answer human condition questions. And there has been an effort by the National Association of Black Social Workers, through offering a certification academy since 1996, institutionalizing an Afrocentric orientation and character social work practice. The vetting process of African-centered concepts is important to how those concepts are explicated in application. These are examples of how social workers are utilizing African-centered conceptual principles in best practices, continuing education and professional development.

Afrocentric Social Work: Defining Attributes

The next stage of concept analysis is to define the attributes of Afrocentricity as an applied paradigm in social work. Given the African-centered movement of the last half-century, Aminifu R. Harvey introduced the paradigm to the discipline in his dissertation and in a 1974 presentation at the 6th Annual Conference of the National Association of Black Social Workers, as a paradigm characteristic to address male/female relationships. He offered that treatment modalities focus on sharing, interdependence, family and community, in relationship to male-female interpersonal relationships from a redefined philosophical underpinning (Harvey, 2018). In 1994, Jerome Schiele offered the paradigm as a theoretical foundation to uplift the oppressed and advance spiritual and moral development. The paradigm has three objectives: (a) to promote an alternative social science paradigm that is more reflective of the cultural and political reality of African Americans; (b) to dispel the negative distortions about people of African ancestry by legitimizing and disseminating a worldview that goes back thousands of years and exists among many people of African descent today; and (c) to promote a worldview that facilitates human and societal transformation toward spiritual, moral, and humanistic ends that will persuade people of various cultural and ethnic groups to share a mutual interest (Schiele, 1996). The paradigm may be applied to explain specific societal problems that have had grave consequences for society and people of African descent, with certain signifiers:

  • The Afrocentric paradigm does not claim universality and is particularistic.

  • By applying the paradigm in examining social problems, oppression, human suffering, and alienation are at the base of the existence of individual, family, community and institutional problems (Schiele, 1996).

  • Paradigmatic explanations may not be appropriate for persons in identical social situations, such as for every youth who commit violence or for all substance abusers (Schiele, 1994, 1996).

  • The paradigm asserts that the political-economic and sociocultural attributes of the United States are the bases for the existence of social problems such as substance abuse unemployment and poverty in the country (Schiele, 1996).

  • The paradigm emphasizes reciprocity, as the worker is not the only expert in the helping relationship, as the client/constituent is an equal person in the process (Schiele, 1996).

The global appeal of this paradigm in the field was revealed in Makeda Graham’s 1999 article “The African-Centered Worldview: Developing a Paradigm for Social Work,” appearing in the Journal of Social Work, which asserted the vitality of applying the Afrocentric paradigm because “the core principles of social work—social justice, equality, and self-determination—essential ingredients of all social work interventions . . . cannot be actualized when the social work knowledge base is dominated by a Eurocentric worldview” (Graham, 1999, p. 252). When applying the paradigm, the social worker becomes a policy practitioner, praxis, and community organizer, because focusing solely upon perceived individual deficits is insufficient.

Schiele also asserts that American social welfare philosophy and policy have failed to attend to tangible quality-of-life issues that are based on “individualism, materialism, and fragmentation” (1997, p. 36), as a result of racial oppression. Graham (1999, p. 264) states, “Anti-discriminatory and anti-racist social work practice models, based upon the premise of limiting the damage, with an underlying knowledge base confined to the parameters of racism and oppression, fall short of reflecting the worldwide and cultural values” of those that the worker will attend to. Best practice approaches use a multidimensional, polysense orientation to data collection; application of both quantitative and qualitative methods (especially oral histories) (Sherr, 2006, p. 15), to attend to community transformation and addresses systemic injustices and abuses of people of African descent. In short, applying Afrocentricity programmatically must incorporate spiritual, cultural, historical, and philosophical elements of applied scientific approaches. If all these attributes are not present when applying the theory of the paradigm, then the full expression of African culture is absent from the helping process.

Afrocentric Social Work: Model Cases

The next step in concept analysis is to offer model cases that reflect the theory and definition of Afrocentric social work. Social workers attend to human issues that create disequilibrium in human functioning, such as unemployment/underemployment and income, medical care and insurance, education, mass incarceration, home ownership, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, marriage rates, homicide and violence, suicide, mental health, poverty, and segregated communities, which have created hazards generationally for African Americans. Program implementation from an African philosophical and worldview foundation is required in order to maximize outcomes. It is imperative that theoretical praxis eminently respond to these disastrous conditions that render entire communities resource deprived, spiritually reticent, and humanly dispossessed of advancement on every level. Instructive examples to apply Afrocentric social work were analyzed by Gilbert, Harvey, and Belgrave (2009), who articulated the following as programmatic models of Africentric/Afrocentric attributes: “[M]ethods in the description of the programs were Africentric, including discussion of principles such as spirituality, collectivism, and transformation in the description of the background or conceptual framework of the study; infusion of Africentric practices (for example, unity circles, rituals, Nguzo Saba, Maat, African proverbs), in delivery of the intervention; and intervention components with their historical and oppression content” (p. 246), including triumphant historical narratives, community models of success, value-ethical judgment training and family structure as additional Africentric/Afrocentric program descriptors. In their analysis of evidence-based Africentric interventions, Gilbert, Harvey, and Belgrave (2009) that advanced the criteria of African-centered thought, offered eight programs.

A descriptor of one of these programs entitled the Kuumba Group, is a therapeutic recreational group intervention with an emphasis on Afrocentric values, providing mentoring for males age 9–17 who are in the care of relatives (i.e., kinship care) in Memphis. The project’s aim was to prevent males from experiencing foster care placement by infusing Nguzo Saba themes throughout interactions as an inoculation to counteract the values associated with self-destructive behavior and stereotypical media images. The program included previously tested comprehensive rite-of-passage program activities that addressed cultural identity, self-concept and exploration, value definition and clarification, and nonviolent conflict resolution (Washington, Johnson, Jones, & Langs, 2006).

Another case model explored by Gilbert et al. (2009) is the Healer Women Fighting Disease Integrated Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Program, which targets girls and women living with HIV who are in substance abuse recovery. Participants in the program, developed by Nobles, Goddard, and Gilbert (2009), are 13–55 years old and at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and transmitting HIV through unsafe sexual activity and substance abuse in San Francisco. Program participants are referred from agencies that provide services in primarily urban areas with high poverty and unemployment rates. The curriculum is based on African-centered precepts, values, and beliefs tied with a conceptual framework called “culture-cology,” which poses that an understanding of African-American culture is central to behavior and behavioral change (Nobles et al., 2009).

Through a process of resocialization, or “culturalization,” the program seeks to instill traditional African and African-American health-promoting values that can help participants overcome negative social influences. Goals of the intervention include increasing motivation and sense of self-efficacy, decreasing depression and feelings of hopelessness, and increasing knowledge about HIV/AIDS and recovery. There are four components of the program: (a) the African-Centered Behavioral Change HIV/AIDS and Substance Abuse Prevention Curriculum, (b) the Zola Ngolo Healing Ritual, (c) the Self-Healing Practice: Loving Oneself, and (d) journaling.

Program strategies address girls and women as whole persons in the context of family and community. These strategies include self- and collective-directed veneration, rituals of reflection and healing, and cultural realignment. The intervention, delivered in 16 weekly two-hour modules, is conducted by trained professional and paraprofessional women, assisted by a licensed mental health professional. The content of the modules can be augmented with input from the participants. The modules incorporate individual sessions and group discussions, behavioral skill practice, lectures, role-playing, viewing of prevention videos, and take-home exercises (Nobles et al., 2009). This program targets healthy development within an African-centered framework for optimal functioning, and it is an example of how a program developed within this theory is depicted. These programs embody the principles of African-centered thought, and the implementation of these are critical to the development of African Americans who are engaged in social programs.

Another aspect that models African-centered programming, offered by Goodard, Haggins, Nobles, Rhett-Mariscal, and Williams-Flournoy (2014), is community-defined practice (CDP), which features a program-based versus an evidence-based intervention, validated by the government and/or external institution outside the community. CDP is the preferred terminology for the scope of this discussion because it refers to strategies used, as opposed to the validation process for determining efficacy. CDP gives credence to the perspectives of ethnic communities. It reflects the values of a community and is seen as beneficial to the members of the group. In this sense community adoption, not an external agency, is the credentialing body for the practice. As such, community-based practices are more culturally congruent with the population receiving the services. A practice has been deemed community-defined if the community itself has vetted it. These CDPs are, in reality, best practices in the community (Goodard et al., 2014, p. 5).

The way that program participants identify themselves is crucial in the helping and healing process. Racial self-identification is necessary for the participants to openly engage in who they are and how the world sees and defines them, as well as how the community defines them. Also, the researchers view evidence as community validation versus government and/or external institution validation (Goodard et al., 2014, p. 17):

Community-defined evidence refers to the knowledge gained from a “community-placed” program or practice. Such knowledge is in the form of “evidence” that is obtained and gleaned through the analysis of the experience in community. Such data are often obtained from observations by program staff, participants, and members of the community who are relevant to the experiences of the participants in the program (e.g., teachers, parents in a school-based program focusing on students), the notes kept by the program staff, and records from other parts of the agency implementing the practice. Community-defined evidence should be a correlate of community-defined practice. As such, and given the requisites of African American cultural congruency, a critical feature of both community-defined practice and community-defined evidence is the open acknowledgement of its African/Black cultural identity and image and the creation and adoption of what constitutes evidence of the experience from that cultural grounding.

These programmatic features frame how programs work best when applying the Afrocentric paradigm in praxis. Developments in articulations and research conducted to establish programmatic criteria for Afrocentric/African-centered interventions continue.

Afrocentric Social Work: Constructing Additional Cases

The next phase in concept analysis is to uncover case examples that are either borderline, which may contain some of the critical attributes but not all; related cases that do not contain critical attributes; contrary cases that are casually assigned; invented cases that are socially constructed but do not relate to real-life experiences; and illegitimate cases of the concept that are improperly used (Nuopponen, 2010). This analysis has maintained that Afrocentric/Africentric/African-centered principles must be highlighted in the program descriptions, conceptual programmatic framework, participant orientation, delivery intervention, and historical content (to include lessons in race, racism, and oppression and evaluation). Without these elements in contrary and invented cases, there is an illegitimacy about purporting to see these principles in programs and research projects.

Investigations that are created for programs attending to an issue affecting a population in the African-American community must have the defining characteristics outlined in this analysis, or else they are not part of Afrocentric social work. Citing examples in no way denigrates the quality of scholarship or empirical investigation, nor does it diminish the value of research. What is important to note is that African-American interventions are not monolithic.

An example of a related case that is not Afrocentric is when critical race theory (CRT) is employed. CRT elucidates the systemic manner in which some groups maintain and wield power, and other groups exist under said power, because racism is a normative aspect of American society and social institutions. The foremost articulator and theoretician Derrick Bell explains that CRT is a race-conscious theory, and a “radical critique of the law (which is normatively deconstructionist) that is committed to the struggle against institutionalized racism and the law, and its commitment to radical emancipation by the law (which is normatively reconstructionist) (Bell, 1995, p. 899),” (Bell, 1995, pp. 898–899). CRT concedes that racism is intrinsically intertwined with the law and social institutions that have become a natural aspect of American society, which tolerates inequality, inequity, injustices, suffering and oppression. Delgado and Stefancic (2012, p. 3) explains the following propositions further:

First . . . racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult to cure or address. Color-blind, or “formal,” conceptions of equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that is the same across the board, can thus remedy only the most blatant forms of discrimination, such as mortgage redlining or the refusal to hire a black Ph.D. rather than a white high school dropout, that do stand out and attract our attention. The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence” or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.

CRT examines the reality of systemic and personal interactions without the burdensome biological/genetic aspect of race, showcasing examples of racial groups who have anguished in material deprivation during the entire existence of American history, and who bear the pain and misery of living with meager opportunities for advancement, unable to protect their children from systemic abuse and entrapment, travailing as pawns of economic and political power-brokers, and indifferent to the sorrow inflicted upon innocent lives. This interplay is important for social workers to be trained in and to commit themselves to combating on all practice levels. So while CRT is a diagnostic theory that is utilized by macro-workers and in the domain of cultural competency, it remains an elusive theory in social work.

Abrams and Moio (2009, p. 254) explains that applying CRT in higher education, particularly in fieldwork, explains that applying CRT is both an explicit and aggressive critique of the larger structures and ideologies around race that often remain unexamined and intact.” As relevant as CRT is in articulating the systemic onslaught of oppression and racism toward people of African descent, it does not articulate African philosophical constructs or historical and conceptual variables that should be utilized in intervention.

The obscenity of inequity and poverty exists because of the normative function of racism in American institutions, as CRT articulates. Applying African-centered responses to this normative, systemic, racist function of institutions “ensures that those with less resources and talents can have equal access to the benefits and technology of the entire community or society, because of communitarianism, which disavows the Eurocentric notion that some individuals are more special than others, and that since they are special (i.e., appear to excel in valued human work and activity, they should be treated differently from, and afforded more privileges than others” (Schiele, 1997, p. 27). CRT addresses the interplay of law, racism, and power’s conventional posture about governmental versus individual responsibility.

Yet when employing an African-centered perspective, one may consider that “unlike the dichotomous and antagonistic view of government and individual responsibility found in many Eurocentric perspectives, cooperative democracy takes on a more unitary and reciprocal notion of government and responsibility, where all units of people to very large aggregates and bureaucracies play an equally important role in ensuring the welfare of an entire nation or community” (Schiele, 1997, p. 28). Codifying the values of African-centered philosophical thought into a practical explanation for best applications means that “a call for individual responsibility [which would be community or collective responsibility], in no way diminishes or cancels a call for government responsibility, and vice versa” (Schiele, 1997, p. 28). The absence of African-centered philosophical and conceptual frameworks in praxis varies when applying CRT as a theoretical analysis and demonstrating its relativity to Afrocentric social work.

An example of a contrary case that is not Afrocentric is found in Kumpfer et al. (2002), which examined culturally adapted programs (appropriate, tailored, sensitive, or modified) in which culture refers to the sum total of ways of living of a group (e.g., traditions, rituals, values, religion) and the terms ethnically sensitive or racially sensitive are not employed. The authors wrote that “culture is the focus of the discussion rather than ethnicity or race” (p. 242), contending that race is a biological concept. They intimate that culture has nothing to do with race and do not discuss the realities of race, oppression, poverty, or the sociopolitical aspects of race within American social institutions and African philosophical and conceptual frameworks, but add that “behavioral programs can be even more effective by incorporating culturally relevant information” (p. 243).

Eliminating racial realities and racial identity is obvious from this study. Interventions that do not address the pain and suffering that racial reality inflicts upon the sensibility of a person/family/community are conveniently ignoring the totality of culture and the interplay of American systems upon the lives of the client/constituent system. To provide specific interventions with ethnic groups, Kumpfer et al. (2002, p. 243) suggest that “one solution is hiring culturally-matched facilitators who are encouraged to culturally adapt group process and program content (e.g., experiential exercises, wording, examples, language, etc.) of generic programs without reducing fidelity.” How instructive are experiential exercises, wording, examples, and language that are funneled without including race and racial realities by a culturally matched facilitator who is of the culture and race of the participant? This strategy is an oxymoron in competency and appears disingenuous to the fidelity of professional respect and courtesy demonstrated toward the client/constituent system. This is an example of a contrary case example, as it shows that when employing ethnic sensitive social work practice, race as a variable is an inconvenient truth for the social workers involved.

Afrocentric Social Work: Identifying Antecedents and Consequences

The next element of concept analysis is to identify antecedents and consequences (Nuopponen, 2010). Praxis of African-centered philosophy should take place as Afrocentric social work activity when disequilibrium has been articulated and interventions are required. Often when popular interventions prove ineffective and power brokers are forced to abdicate knowledge of problem solving, alternative methods are attempted. Antecedent processes include social workers and other provider and agency personnel articulating orally and in writing a platform that acknowledges the devastating aspects of racism upon its attendant population, which includes “heads of local departments of social services, advisory board representatives, agency directors, liaisons to city councils, block captains, ward representatives, recreational/community center directors, [who] must be appraised of [and trained in] theories that are more culturally appealing and normative to those who should be validated for their very existence through training and pledging a commitment to embracing a theory that is unique, different, therapeutic and interrelated” (Fairfax, 2011, p. 133).

This process is crucial in order for all involved personnel to value, show respect to, and allocate appropriate resources and funding to African-centered philosophy and application, as “more persons in decision-making power should be exposed to this theory and the possibility of client-enlightenment” (Fairfax, 2011, p. 133). As reported earlier, Goodard et al. (2014, p. 17) characterize this attribute as a critical feature before the application of praxis, saying that “community-defined evidence is the open acknowledgement of its African/Black cultural identity.” Consequently, a recognized need has emerged to embrace and apply “Afrocentric interventions specifically for African American populations with demonstrated significant positive outcomes” (Gilbert et al., 2009, p. 244). Training in African philosophical constructs and praxis are antecedent activities that must occur prior to application. Given the vast historical trajectory of the development of the African-centered paradigm, extensive training of all personnel and participants is an a priori assumption because lack of this instruction will render praxis ineffective and nontransformative.

Consequences of the application of Afrocentric social work have been articulated in this article. Not only is there empirical evidence that social-work students see value in learning the Afrocentric world view, as Daniel and Lowe (2014, p. 9) indicate, saying that “bivariate analysis provides clear support for the position that equality is a valid predictor of acceptance of the Afrocentric world view into the social work curriculum . . . with the antecedent role of the equality with race or race-related issues.” They continue by arguing that because the presence of personal versus professional values conflict, if unattended by social work scholars in higher education, “values could conflict with their professional values and may affect the social worker’s attitudes and behaviors in ways that may interfere with achieving social justice for the client or client system” (Daniel & Lowe, 2014, p. 2). The consequences of not applying Afrocentric social work are further alienation and psychological and cultural dislocation experienced by African Americans most dispossessed of opportunity, potentiality, transformation and cultural integrity.

Afrocentric Social Work: Empirical Referents

The final step in concept analysis involves highlighting data and instrument development, which contributes to content and construct validity of scientific examinations (Nuopponen, 2010). This section will highlight the empirical requirements and challenges for advancing instrument development and testing the concept. As reported earlier, there are successful programs utilizing African-centered/Afrocentric concepts, such as the Kuumba Group and the Healer Women Fighting Disease Integrated Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Program. Another successful Afrocentric program is In Circle, a healthy relationship intervention program for couples who have experienced or are negotiating domestic violence and HIV (Bent-Goodley, 2014). Given the priority of family, yet the crisis of marriage rates in the African-American community, In Circle is a program worthy of more attention.

Next, a plethora of instruments have been developed to examine the presence of concepts and application, which is far too voluminous to cover in this article. The first challenge is instrument development, for “given the varying degrees to which an individual will identify with their cultural heritage, assessment of this level of identification can assist practitioners in determining the suitability of African-centered programs and therapeutic approaches when working with clients of African descent” (Cokley & Williams, 2005, p. 830), to measure adherence to African values, traditions, and norms” (p. 829). Social workers applying Afrocentric social work will have to be able to appropriate levels of “thought processes, geographic experiences, cultural philosophies, beliefs, and worldview in order to present evidence” (Ebede-Ndi, 2016, p. 75). Given the various lived experiences of people of African-descent, Afrocentric social work is not a cookie cutter approach, as the approaches are based in one’s vast knowledge of the paradigm.

The second challenge is assessing for the presence and prevalence of racial dispositions among social workers. Without evidence of data that reveal racial ideology, racial hatred, racial tolerance, and raciality in social policy and program implementation, the paradigm tends to be viewed as theoretical discourse: “Without assessments of racial climate, faculty and administration are left with the same sort of guesswork about racial climate that students are warned against doing in practice through the use of single-system designs to monitor client progress and evaluate practice interventions” (Pike, 2002, p. 12).

The third challenge is that the lack of realistic funding for large-scale Afrocentric program implementation significantly hinders knowledge development, personnel training, and a dedicated process to educate community leaders for outreach to endorse meaningful application of theory. “Funding to increase the number of randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, uncontrolled trials, anecdotal case reports, correlations studies, descriptive reports, case studies and single-subject designs will greatly aid in developing evidence of effectiveness” for more robust statistical analysis (Gilbert et al., 2009, p. 250).

The fourth challenge is the requisite to create Afrocentric social work programs of mixed-level praxis. What is asserted here is that the dearth of literature of mixed-level praxis of micro-, mezzo-, and macro-interventions undermines the fulfillment of theory because social workers utilizing the paradigm should attend to local social policy implementation’s impact upon the population being studied. There are no notable studies of policy implementation that utilize Afrocentric social work theory while simultaneously engaging on the micro- and mezzo-levels.

The fifth challenge is how to address the uniformity of generalizability in the research process. Most funding sources require researchers to explain whether their methods may be generalizable to other subpopulations, and yet, many study outcomes diminish generalizable results. This review has explained that the African-centered/Afrocentric paradigm is universal and particularistic, and with some programs, not generalizing results does not mean that the programs are not transferable to other subpopulations.


This article has included historical information on the development of African-centered philosophy and research leading to the birth of Afrocentric social work, defined as a codification of the cultural values of people of African descent into praxis attending for human transformation and potentiality grossly truncated by systemic racism and oppression. The review asserts that African-centered philosophy has become a part of the philosophical canon of social work. Also asserted is the enormous life-transformative process of praxis and research emanating from this framework, which fulfills the tenet of human and systemic change.

The importance of social workers including theory and praxis as a major aspect of their profession acknowledges the value and significance of Afrocentric social work in the 21st century. The methodology of concept analysis was used to explore this concept’s operational definition, attributes, structure, uses, and construct validity, which reflects the theoretical foundation of African-centered enterprises and social sciences.


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                                                                                                                                      (1.) The author capitalizes Black deliberately when referring to Black people. Black is used not as an adjective, but as a noun when describing ideological viewpoints and a people who self-assigned the racial designation Black during the Black Power movement of the late 1960s. This was a sign of self-naming and embracing Blackness not only as a skin color, but as a culture. The term continues to be utilized by the group of people who are at the center of this analysis. With equal measure, when appropriate, the word White is capitalized when referring to White people and/or concepts related to Whiteness, White culture, and White issues.