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Black History Month: Black Health and Wellness

By: France-Elvie Banda
Thursday, February 10, 2022

In 1915, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans and other people of African descent. This year, the 46th anniversary of Black History begins with the celebration of the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners. This year’s call to action implores us to examine the importance of overall wellness in the Black community and address how racial inequality contributes to mental and physical health disparities. The U.S. Census Bureau found that shortly after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, 41 percent of Black Americans were suffering from depression, anxiety, or both. COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on the Black community has left  Black Americans twice as likely to die from COVID than white Americans. Advancements in Black health and mental wellness ensure the continuance of Black innovation across all sectors of American society, including the biomedical research industry. 

Throughout our nation’s history, there are countless examples of Black Americans who have tirelessly worked to improve Black health and wellness—not only within the life sciences community but within our general society as well. 

  • Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD (1917–1983). Clark, along with her husband Kenneth Clark, was the first African American to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University. Clark’s extended thesis work on the self-identification in Black children was later expanded into the famous doll experiments that exposed internalized racism and the negative effects of segregation for African American children.  As a result of her research, Clark and her husband served as influential expert witnesses in Brown vs. Board of Education. 
  • Robert Lee Williams II, PhD (1930–2020). In 1955, Williams was the first Black staff psychologist in the state of Arkansas. Williams’ research exposed the inherent racial and cultural biases in standardized testing, dismantling the prevailing belief at the time that Black Americans performed worse in standardized testing because of genetics. Through his study of Black speech patterns, Williams coined the term "Ebonics," now known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE).
  • Hope Landrine, PhD (1954–present). Landrine’s focus on intersectionality and overall health approach to psychology has produced research illustrating the impact of racial stereotypes on psychiatric diagnoses. Additionally, she examines the role of residential segregation, community poverty, racial discrimination, and African American acculturation in cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and in their associated health behaviors, including smoking, physical activity, diet, substance use, and cancer screening. Landrine is currently professor director at the Center for Health Disparities Research at East Carolina University. 

In our continued effort to drive diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusivity in the biomedical research community, visit our DEAI webpage to learn more and get connected to mental health resources.