During Black History Month, we will learn more about the many contributions Black people have made, and share what we learn here! For Black History Month in 2024, we chose “health” as a broad theme under which to recognize people and their contributions, as our work connects to health and well-being in many different ways.
We’ll add information about inspiring individuals to this page throughout the month; check back regularly to learn and celebrate with us!
28 – Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, director of the Springfield Food Policy Council, has been at the heart of many initiatives focused on expanding the options Springfield residents have for choosing food that is nutritious, fresh, and locally-grown. One example is the USDA demonstration project that laid the groundwork for the MA Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which now reimburses SNAP recipients for the cost of fruits and vegetables they purchase at participating farm stands and farmers’ markets statewide.
26 – Garrett Morgan was a successful entrepreneur who called himself “the Black Edison.” He invented several products that bore his name, and one that has become ubiquitous – the traffic signal with a yellow light alerting motorists to proceed with caution was his idea. Morgan filed a patent for a traffic signal that improved on the existing red/green traffic lights on February 27, 1922. Learn more here.
25 – Ayesha McGowan observed the absence of Black women in professional cycling and decided to change that. This profile of her in Bicyling does a great job of telling the story of how this trailblazer overcame obstacles while also building a community that is dedicated to removing barriers to sports and the outdoors.
24 – Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D., graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864. She was the first Black woman to earn an M.D. in the United States; her practice focused on women and children. In 1883 she published “A Book of Medical Discourses” a medical text she dedicated “to mothers, nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the afflictions of the human race.” Learn more about her here.
23 – John Moon was in the class of 24 Black men who completed a new 300-hour course of medical training in 1967 and became the first trained EMTs in the United States. They operated as Freedom House Ambulance in Pittsburgh, PA until the city shut down the service in 1975. Listen to an interview with John Moon, watch a 2023 documentary about Freedom House Ambulance, and see photos from a pre-screening event for the short film here: https://www.wqed.org/freedomhouse/
22 – Mychal Threets is an American librarian who has become a social media star. He goes by @mychal3ts on TikTok and Instagram, where he regularly posts short video stories about “library joy” as well as encouraging messages for people who are struggling with mental health. Here is an article about Mychal Threets that you can read or listen to.
20 – Hyacinth Burrows is a graduate student at NYU’s School of Global Public Health. In this interview she talks about working on projects related to climate change and global health, how working with collaborators from other countries and cultures has inspired her, and the non-traditional path that brought her to NYU.
19 – Candis Watts Smith is a professor from Duke University whose 2020 Ted Talk “3 Myths about Racism that Keep the U.S. from Progress” has been viewed more than two million times. She spoke about her research with hosts Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas on the Embrace Race podcast this week. Embrace Race is national non-profit based in Western MA that focuses on parents, caregivers, and educators of young children; in this episode they debunk the widespread belief that “racism will die off as older generations do.”
18 – Alexis Nikole Nelson (@blackforager on YouTube and Instagram / @alexisnikole on TikTok) makes short, enthusiastic videos about harvesting and cooking edible plants she finds in her urban Ohio neighborhood (and beyond) and has a real knack for explaining how, when, and why the vast majority of Americans lost those skills. This article about her from NPR’s Code Switch is a great introduction.
17 –George Washington Carver’s name is probably one you recognize, because he’s well known as a scientist and inventor. This article from Grist focuses on Carver’s contributions as a conservationist who understood that environmental justice, food sovereignty, and health are intertwined.
16 –Elizabeth Freeman was enslaved in Sheffield, Massachusetts when she heard that the state’s newly-ratified constitution declared that “all men are born free and equal” in 1780. She sued the state for her freedom and in 1781, a jury of twelve white men ruled in her favor. In How Elizabeth Freeman Sued for Her Freedom—and Won, Abigail Higgins describes the decision as “the death knell for slavery in Massachusetts.” Thanks to Kemah Wilson for sharing this article!
14 – Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark met while students at Howard University and earned their PhDs in psychology from Columbia University in 1943. They founded the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem in 1946. Their research on racial identity development in young American children helped make the case for school desegregation in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and has influenced generations of early childhood educators. This article from Smithsonian Magazine focuses on Mamie Clark.
13 – Dr. Joycelyn Elders was appointed director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987 and became the 15th Surgeon General of the United States from September 1993 until she was asked to resign in December 1994. In 2020 Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential women in the past century.
12 – Dr. Charles Drew developed new techniques and improved systems for storing donated human blood that saved thousands of lives during World War II and millions more to date. He became the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank in 1941, but resigned in protest that same year when the Red Cross adopted a new War Department policy prohibiting Black people from donating blood. Read a short biography of Charles Drew by Dr. Patricia Franklin for the Coalition for Racial Equity and Social Justice.
11 – SZA, the most-nominated artist at the Grammys last week and winner of three awards in 2024, spoke about how she copes with fear and anxiety in this pre-recorded segment, continuing a commitment to being open about mental wellness that she has demonstrated throughout her career. Here’s an interview from 2022.
10 – Fred McKinley Jones invented the mobile refrigeration system, which made it possible to transport fresh food and other perishable items around the world. This article from Lineage, a global company focused on cold storage logistics, pays homage to Fred Jones, whose “inventions became the foundation for everything we do.”
9 – Khama Ennis, MD, MPH is the founder of Faces of Medicine, a documentary series and book centered on the paths of Black female physicians in the United States. The LAVA Center (324 Main St., Greenfield, MA) is hosting a screening and conversation with Dr. Ennis on February 16 at 7PM, and will open a related exhibit with a reception at 6PM that day! Reserve a seat here.
8 – W.E.B. Du Bois and the interdisciplinary team of Black students and alumni of Atlanta University who worked with him to create innovative visualizations of data about Black Americans’ history and social determinants of health at the dawn of the 20th century. The complete collection was published as W. E. B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits – Visualizing Black America in 2018 by the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. See examples and learn more about the project here and here.
7 – Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912-2006) was a prolific inventor who received five patents, including one for the adjustable sanitary belt, a wearable device designed to prevent leaks and stains by holding a menstrual pad in place. Learn more about Mary Kenner here.
6 – Earl Miller, who from March 2022-November 2023 was one of the first Black leaders of an alternative to policing crisis response team – Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS), in Amherst, Massachusetts. Prior to that he was Director of Recovery Services at the MA Department of Mental Health and currently he is Director of Community Supports at the Wildflower Alliance. To read a brief biography of Earl Miller among those of many other change-makers, check out the Wildflower Alliance’s Black Movement History site. Thanks to Kemah Wilson for suggesting the site!
4 – Dr. James McCune Smith, perhaps best known as America’s first Black physician, was born enslaved in New York City in 1813 and freed by New York’s Emancipation Act of 1827. After practicing medicine and running a pharmacy in Manhattan for decades, he died in Brooklyn in 1865, having relocated in the aftermath of the 1863 Draft Riots, when a mob of draft-resisters attacked charitable institutions associated with African-Americans and killed an estimated 175 people. Read this Smithsonian Magazine article and this article from The Conversation to learn more about Dr. Smith’s life and times.
3 – Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett-Helaire led the team of scientists that developed the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 while she was a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. She is now an Assistant Professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, heading up a diverse team of viral immunologists, molecular virologists, and protein engineers. Check out the Corbett Lab website!