Not just a month: honoring Black pioneers in mental health

The beginning of the year is full of traditions, even during a pandemic. From New Year’s Day, the MLK Holiday Weekend, and just a few weeks later, February kicks off a month-long celebration honoring Black History. The commemoration allows us to pause, acknowledge and revisit the achievements of African Americans throughout history. Many of these achievements still go unspoken in the classroom and in the home.

The movement to celebrate Black History was designed to acknowledge the contributions of Black Americans, reverse negative stereotypes, and the systemic exclusion of people of color that has been ingrained in American culture. Black experiences and contributions to American history are important. Inequities continue to exist in education, income, property ownership, criminal justice and health care. Progress has been made thanks to many pioneers who paved the way for the generations to follow and those to come. The history of African-Americans in this country across generations includes the shared history of slavery, segregation, Civil Rights, Jim Crow Laws, systematic prohibitions on ownership of property that contributes to wealth building, racial bias and social unrest. In the mental health field, these experiences account for generational, post-traumatic stress and mental distress.

Countless Black women and men have made positive contributions that altered the landscape of mental health and how it is both seen and experienced in our country. These achievements have too often gone overlooked.  However, February gives us a chance to acknowledge and call out just a few of their tremendous accomplishments and spotlight their impact.

Please join us in celebrating these pioneers and their contributions to the betterment of all our lives.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917 -1983)

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark was the first Black woman to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University. She recognized the lack of psychological services accessible to African Americans and other minorities. Her research on the impact of race in child development was influential in desegregation. In 1946, Dr. Clark  opened The Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem.

Dr. Jeanne Spurlock (1921-1999)

Dr. Jeanne Spurlock was a psychiatrist, educator, and writer who focused on the effect poverty, sexism, racism and discrimination had on women, minorities, and the

LGBTQ+ community. Dr. Spurlock served in a number of leadership roles including chief of Child Psychiatry Clinic at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.

Dr. Robert Lee Williams, II (1930-2020)

Dr. Robert Lee Williams, II was the creator of an intelligence test designed to examine Black experiences, language and culture. The data collected from this test challenged the erroneous assumption that Black people had lower average intelligence. His findings showed the differences in previous IQ data were likely the result of speech and experiential differences in African Americans. He is also credited with being one of the founders of the National Association of Black Psychologists.

Jacki McKinney, MSW

As a survivor of trauma, addiction, homelessness and the psychiatric and criminal justice systems, Jacki McKinney serves as a family advocate specializing in issues affecting African American women and their children. She is a recipient of the Clifford Beers award and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program for her advocacy for trauma survivors.

“Representation matters,” shared Patrice A. Harris, MD, the Medical Editor-in-Chief of Everyday Health, the former President of the American Medical Association and practicing psychiatrist who formerly worked alongside CHRIS 180. “As we amplify Black History in the context of a global pandemic, it is paramount that we celebrate Black pioneers who have made contributions in the health space and cleared the path for others to follow.” This year, Black History Month occurs during a world-wide pandemic and a tense political climate. We have seen cases of mental illness on the rise. Once again, the African American community has been disproportionately impacted by poor access to care.

Advancements made in healthcare are filled with contributions and breakthroughs made by Black researchers, doctors, counselors, therapists, social workers, and advocates who have, and who continue to discover ways to effectively help people of all backgrounds. Their groundbreaking research and years dedicated to the field live on through work done at hospitals, clinics, research institutes, communities and here at CHRIS 180. We celebrate them this month and every month.

Chaundra Luckett is the Chief Marketing Officer at CHRIS 180. You can contact her at marketing@CHRIS180.org. Thanks to Kristan Jones-Scales for her help compiling historical data for this blog post.

Chaundra Luckett
chaundra.luckett@CHRIS180.org
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