Black History Month: Fighting for Better Health Outcomes

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate Black Americans’ incredible achievements and contributions throughout history. This year, let’s turn our focus to those who fought for better health outcomes within the Black community, a group disproportionately impacted by substance misuse, mental health issues, and limited access to quality healthcare.

A Legacy of Struggle and Resilience

The history of Black Americans and healthcare is complex and fraught with disparities. From the days of slavery to present day, systemic racism and social inequalities have contributed to higher rates of illness, lower life expectancy, and limited access to treatment for conditions like addiction and mental illness.

Despite these challenges, Black leaders have always been at the forefront of advocating for their communities’ health. From Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist who actively campaigned against the harmful effects of alcohol, to Dr. Dorothy Height, a civil rights leader who championed mental health awareness, countless individuals have paved the way for progress.

Honoring Changemaker Legacies

Let us highlight Black leaders in this field who were determined to dismantle barriers and achieve health equity for all:

  • Jacki McKinney, M.S.W., a trauma, addiction, and homelessness survivor with experience in the psychiatric and criminal justice systems, was a dedicated family advocate specializing in issues affecting Black women and their children. As a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network, she was a consultant and advisor to the Center for Mental Health Services. She was renowned for her compelling presentations on seclusion/restraint, intergenerational family support, and minority issues in public mental health. She proudly received Mental Health America’s Clifford W. Beers Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program for her distinguished leadership and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors.
  • Joseph L. White, Ph.D., “the father of Black psychology,” authored the seminal article “Toward a Black Psychology,” the first strengths-based evaluation of Black behavior and culture. He ardently promoted the development of Black psychology, asserting that applying white psychology to Black individuals perpetuated the misconception of Black inferiority due to culturally irrelevant principles. A co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists, he also played a crucial role in establishing the Black Studies program at San Francisco State University in 1968.
  • Bebe Moore Campbell, an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate, dedicated herself to addressing the mental health needs of underrepresented communities. She founded NAMI-Inglewood, a safe space in a predominantly Black neighborhood. She played a pivotal role in establishing Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, recognized by Congress on June 2, 2008, to raise awareness about the unique mental health struggles faced by underrepresented groups in the US.

Actionable Change

Black History Month serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for health equity. It’s a call to action for all of us to:

  • Educate ourselves about the historical and systemic factors contributing to health disparities.
  • Support organizations working to dismantle barriers and provide culturally competent care.
  • Advocate for policies that promote equitable access to healthcare for all.
  • Challenge our own biases and work towards creating a more inclusive healthcare system.

By recognizing the past, celebrating the present, and actively working towards a more just future, we can honor the legacy of Black leaders in healthcare and contribute to a healthier future for all communities.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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