Black History Month is a time to honor achievements made by African Americans and their central role in the history of our country. This year, the official theme “Black Health and Wellness” explores the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine as well as birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbal healers, and other alternative medicine practices performed by Black communities.
“This year’s National Black History Month highlights the importance of black health and wellness and is a reminder that we can only be a more prepared and resilient nation when all communities are healthy and strong.” - Daenne Criswell.
ORIGINS OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Black history month has evolved from Negro History Week, a time to recognize the contributions of African Americans to America’s history. In the year 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Also known as ASNLH, this organization was dedicated to researching the achievements of Black Americans. They declared the second week in February to sponsor the first national Negro History Week as the date coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, showcase performances from Black artists, and host lectures. What started as a week-long event officially became Black History Month in 1976 due to president Gerland Ford’s recognition and this month marks the beginning of the 45th Black History Month in American History.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDICINE
While there are many important components to Black History Month, we are taking this time to specifically highlight Health and Wellness. SLOPE encourages everyone to take time this month to attend some of TAMU’s events celebrating black history!
Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who succumbed to cervical cancer at the age 31 in 1951. She was a patient at John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore and before she passed, pieces of her tissue were taken without her permission for cancer research. As it turns out, her cells are the only ones known to survive and replicate outside of a human body. This phenomenon allowed scientists to make discoveries on a range of topics including cancer, cell biology, genetic, and infectious diseases including COVID-19. Although her impact revolutionized the way medical research and treatments are discovered, it is important to note that her contribution to science was done without her consent and without financial compensation towards her family for decades. In 2010 the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was published and many people became aware of this injustice. It was not until the George Floyd protests in 2020 that money was finally donated to her as a way to reckon with the racial injustices made within medical history and provide reparations.
Leaders in Homeopathic Medicine
In addition to highlighting the achievements of Henrietta Lacks, it is also important to recognize the many accomplishments of Black Americans beyond Western Medicine. The “healing knowledge” that is more popularly referred to as homeopathic medicine has shaped medicine in America and across the world. Unfortunately, many homeopathic techniques were lost to colonization and segregation. This magnifies the importance of recognizing the individuals that have dedicated their careers to preserving these practices.
After giving birth to her son in 2003, Latham Thomas, a wellness leader and doula, recognized the severe inequalities that existed in the commonly used procedures when women gave birth, especially for women of color. Since she has been one of the leaders in the movement aiding women in reclaiming their autonomy during the birthing process, she has worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between wellness and self care, empowering those that she works with. Her work has been the inspiration for many doulas around the world, as she educated the medical world about alternative health practices.
The food that people consume has a strong connection to their overall health and wellbeing. Maya Feller, a registered dietician, has provided individuals with a holistic view of wellness, with food at the center when trying to combat noncommunicable diseases. She prioritizes a focus on being culturally sensitive with her diet recommendations as she educates the public on making healthy choices. With her focus on reducing the risk of harmful diseases, she is a leader in treating food as medicine. Her website includes a wide variety of recipes that highlight cuisines from around the world that would be beneficial for everyone to try.
These individuals are just three of the numerous people that deserve recognition for their groundbreaking work. The process of reeducation can start today and we encourage everyone to continue reading through the sources below.