How Aala Marra Overcame Her Autoimmune Disease By Taking Her Healing Into Her Own Hands

"At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically."


Aala Marra's glow is enough to illuminate an entire room, which makes it easy to spot the autoimmune survivor amid the buzz at lower Manhattan's Ludlow House. Her radiant skin, framed by natural curls, is a testament to her commitment to wellness and a nod to her ability to flip the darkest chapter of her life into light.

It's hard to imagine that nearly four years ago, the vibrant spirit who has amassed and inspired thousands of followers, was at the mercy of a debilitating disease. It started with drastic hair loss. Merely two months before ringing in her 23rd birthday, Aala woke up to half of her waist-length hair on the floor. "I thought I was dreaming at first," she tells xoNecole over lunch. "It was absolutely traumatizing."

The dismal moment prompted an instant trip to the doctor but left her with unanswered questions. As she bounced from one medical professional to the next, Aala's symptoms took a grim turn and her mental health followed suit. Working for an investment bank at the time, she crumbled under the stress of Wall Street and the weight of eczema, migraines, and muscle spasms.

It wasn't until her last doctor visit that she discovered she was battling an autoimmune disease, which heavily mirrored lupus yet had no name of its own. With the revelation also came the reality that the medication proposed to her would put her at risk for additional symptoms and, ultimately, would not address the source of her failing health. "At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically," she stresses. "I respectfully declined the offer to get medicated some more, and I walked out with no plan."

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically."

Shortly after, a conversation she had with a woman who raved about her journey to wellness with the late herbalist Dr. Sebi earlier in the year sprang to mind. While Aala didn't seek treatment from the Honduran healer, the testimonial swelled her desire to do research on herbs, gut health, and the ancient African diet.

The Brooklyn resident went on to craft a cleanse grounded in what she learned, increasing her water intake and eliminating inflammatory foods from her diet in the process. The results were dramatic. Her symptoms not only reversed within two weeks but were completely erased three months later. "I wasn't even back to normal. I was glowing. I was energetic," she reflects as tears well up in her eyes. "It never gets old."

Though fiercely private at the time, Aala couldn't resist the urge to share her story in hopes that others would find solace in her triumph. "I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it," she explains.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it."

In less than two years, she drew thousands of eyes to her Instagram page. "It was super organic," she points out. "It was all in response to what people wanted." After revisiting her cleanse in November 2017, Aala's followers tagged along. When they asked for recipes she infused into her diet while recovering from her disease, she released Aala Marra's Cleansing Cookbook two months later. As supporters requested an even deeper look into her journey to wellness from start to present day, she granted them access through her September title I Am the Cure...And So Are You.

The health enthusiast, who also teaches an online course on her cleanse, hasn't limited her influence to the virtual world either. While returning to New York from Coachella last spring, she took an impromptu detour to Kansas City to directly work with a follower named Keyonna who couldn't see past her multiple sclerosis. Within three days, the ladies took a trip to the grocery store, revamped her kitchen, and prepared meals together. Once strangers, Aala gushes that the two are now friends and have both marveled at Keyonna's restored energy and dissipating pain since then. That summer, she hit the road once again to connect with three more women whose lives have been impacted by her cleanse. "It's been the gift that keeps on giving," she muses. "I get DMs, emails, and messages every single day."

The Sudan native credits her affinity to uplift others to her father, who dedicated his life to building schools, wells, and clinics in sub-Saharan Africa. "I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in," she says.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in."

It's in that spirit that the impact entrepreneur has designed her lifestyle healthcare brand aalaCare. Launched this April, the wellness resource strives to support people in their surviving moments and usher them into a thriving reality. It's a movement that starts with a six-week master healing course and will later expand to include a virtual cooking program, live events, and products intended to spark change on a community level.

"I'm very different from people in the wellness industry," Aala emphasizes. "While it's an amazing industry, there's a privileged tone to it, and a lot of people that need wellness don't have access to it."

Her platform aims to combat just that by creating a space for people of color--especially black women--to enhance their lifestyles holistically. "We're not taught to go within," she says. "When I noticed that I wasn't feeling well, everything that I was seeking in order to figure out what was going on was external."

Now on the other side of a disease that once threatened to end her life, Aala has come to know that health is more than the physical. It's also mental and emotional. "There was a traumatic event that happened in a personal relationship of mine in February [2015]. In July [2015], I developed my first symptom. There's absolutely no coincidence," she maintains. "I was eating a certain way since the beginning of time. Why was it then that my body decided to break?"

While she's not one to push her example on others, Aala cautions not to succumb to the idea of waiting for an optimal, or even distressing, time to make better life choices. "The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it," she says.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it."

No longer chained to the pain of her past, Aala emits hope to those seeking to reclaim their health simply by owning hers out loud. Humbled by the lives she touched and those she will continue to inspire along the way, she walks in gratitude knowing that what she suffered was not in vain. "I'm never out here to force anyone to do anything. I just share my truth," she closes. "Knowing that my story literally transforms people's lives really shows the power of authenticity."

For more of Aala, follow her on Instagram.

Originally published on April 29, 2019

All images courtesy of Aala Marra

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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