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Honoring our Ancestors and Pioneers in Black Mental Health

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

By: Amira Mensah, Development and Communications Associate

When we think of the challenges and obstacles faced by Black/African-American people, we can’t help but to think of the ways in which we overcome. In institutions created for us to fail, we somehow manage to succeed. We dare to go beyond the belief that we are inferior, incapable and undeserving. The source of our strength comes from those who came before us. Our ancestors endured and fought, in order for us to thrive. As we continue to decolonize our minds and repair our psyche we must honor those who have made it possible.

Dr. Joy DeGruy

There are many pioneers in Black mental health. Their dedication to healing the legacy of pain brought about by racism has inspired all Black mental health professionals.

Black mental health pioneers such as Dr. Brenda Wade, Frantz Fanon, Dr. Joy DeGruy and Dr. Na’im Akbar have made it possible for us to read and understand the intentional ways in which we have been conditioned to believe that we are less than. Their published works equip us with the tools to heal from our traumas.

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris has shown us how adverse childhood experiences along with toxic stress affects our long term physical health.

Psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark has allowed us to see how we internalize racism, through her Doll Study social experiment. The data collected from the experiment was used in Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, as evidence of the way segregation causes psychological damage to children.

Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser

Psychiatrist Maxie Clarence Maultsby Jr. gave us an effective strategy to identify and solve issues that affect emotional and physical behaviors. He developed a method of psychotherapy called Rational Behavior Therapy.

As the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in psychology in 1933, Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser inspired other Black women to believe they too could become doctors in the field of psychology.

Dr. April Silas, Executive Director of Homeless Children’s Network, is a thought leader in Black and LGBTQ+ mental health. Her dedication to providing therapy from a strength-based approach, rooted in a perspective of cultural opulence, has resulted in transformative work for children and families.

Dr. Na'im Akbar

At Homeless Children’s Network, Black/African-American clinicians work with Black/African-American children and families through our new program, Ma’at.

“The benefit of having Black therapists work with Black families is simply this: Black lives matter, Black mental health matters. We want someone in front of us who can hold us, contain us, support us and not judge us,” explains Dr. Silas.

This Black History Month, as we reflect on the work of past and present Black mental health professionals, we are reminded that the Black psyche is resilient.


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