Black Health and Wellness is this year’s theme for Black History Month, during the month of February, shining light on Black contributions to the field of health and wellness and also commemorating the ways in which Blacks have stayed well throughout the course of Black history in the US.
There are numerous documented and undocumened accounts of Black contributions to the field of health and wellness in the US. Documented on the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) website are several Black contributors to the history of medicine. Here are three of them:
- 1783: James Durham was born into slavery in 1762. He learned how to read, write and work with patients from several physicians who owned him throughout his childhood, and came to New Orleans in 1783. Eventually, he bought his freedom and opened a medical practice in the city, where he cared for patients of all racial backgrounds. Although he did not have a formal medical degree, Durham was successful in treating patients with diphtheria, and saved a high number of patients who experienced yellow fever during an outbreak in 1789.
- 1864: Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D. becomes the first Black woman physician in the United States after earning her degree from the New England Female Medical College in Boston. Nineteen years later, she published the Book of Medical Disclosures, a volume of medical advice for women and children.
- 1939: Charles Drew, M.D. a surgeon, discovers that blood plasma can be dried and reconstituted when needed, making it an effective substitute for whole blood transfusions. He developed ways to process and preserve plasma in “blood banks,” a procedure that saved the lives of countless American soldiers during World War II and in later conflicts.
(AAFP, February 5, 2021)
The history of Black Health and Wellness also commemorates how Blacks stayed healthy in the face of racial inequality from the time of slavery up until present day. Early on Blacks used natural medicine as treatment when barred from White hospitals and medical clinics. And later after the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed slavery in 1855, Blacks joined together and formed organizations such as the African Union Society, National Association of Colored Women, and Black Panther Party to establish community health clinics serving Blacks. More recently in the 21st century, advances in Black health have included mental health initiatives and preventative health care focusing on physical exercise, nutrition, and positive mental health.
Since COVID-19 has impacted Blacks most out of any other racial group in this country, now more than ever is the time to shine the light on Black health and wellness. What we can do to help: support organizations that work to equalize healthcare for all groups: blacks, minorities, and low income; also support organizations like AACF whose mission it is to raise the economic level of low income blacks and other minorities. Awareness is the first step when addressing any issue. We can follow the example of our Black community members: and join together to address inequality and create a better and just world for all.
More on Black History Month:
Prior Black History Month themes include: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity (2021), African Americans and the Vote (2020), Black Migrations (2019), African Americans in Times of War (2018), and The Crises in Black Education (2017). Themes date back to 1928 when Negro History week was established in 1926, evolving into Black History Month in 1976. Negro History week was celebrated during the second week of February (both Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays fall during this week), with a flurry of educational activities in schools, embracing Black art, culture, history, and contributions to this country and the world. The struggle for racial equality was also brought to light during this time. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) pressed the US federal government to declare a national month: Black History Month and succeeded in February 1976 marking the first Black History Month.
AAPF (February 5, 2021). Honoring Black Americans’ Contributions to Medicine. https://www.aafp.org/news/inside-aafp/20210205bhmtimeline.html
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Black History Themes. https://asalh.org/black-history-themes/
About Black History Month. https://asalh.org/about-us/about-black-history-month/