Black History Month: Pioneers in Mental Health

During this year’s Black History Month, we want to honor and reflect on some work of a few pioneering individuals in the Black and African American community who brought attention and studied various things in the world of medicine, mental health, and support to the LGBTQ+ community.

Jacki McKinney

Ms. Jacki McKinney was a survivor of trauma, addiction, homelessness, psychiatric and the criminal justice system. Ms. McKinney was a family advocate who specialized in issues affecting African American women and children and was a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/ Survivor Network and the Center for Mental Health Services, where she was known for her presentations to national audiences on issues ranging from seclusion, restraint, intergenerational family support, and minority issues in public mental health. During her career she was the recipient of two different prestigious awards for her work and advocacy on behalf of individuals with mental health challenges and trauma survivors. The first being the Clifford W. Beers Award, presented to her by Mental Health America; and the second being the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program. Jacki McKinney was an outstanding person who led a fulfilling life helping others.

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was a pioneering African American psychiatrist, who made significant contributions to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. He was born in Liberia, and eventually moved to Boston where he graduated from Boston University School of Medicine. It was a homeopathic institution that was open to both African Americans and women students. Dr. Fuller was one of the first known Black psychiatrists in the United States and spent majority of his career practicing at Westborough State Mental Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. While there, he performed his ground-breaking research on the physical changes to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. He also worked along side Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who was the first person to discover the traits of Alzheimer’s disease in 1901. Dr. Fuller created a pathway for future doctors to continue to study Alzheimer’s disease while will hopefully lead to a cure one day.

Bebe Moore Campbell

Ms. Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate. Bebe was first introduced to the mental health community when she struggled to support her daughter who battled mental illnesses, and the system was preventing her daughter from receiving the proper help and support. She was a founding member of the Inglewood chapter of NAMI in a predominantly Black neighborhood to create a space that was safe for the Black community to talk about their mental health concerns. In 2008 the United States House of Representatives declared July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month. This assertion was to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness in the US. She particularly wanted to highlight the Black community, as well as the disparities in treatment and mortality in these communities compared to white communities. Bebe’s legacy will be remembered as an integral part of the fight towards providing a better system for Black Americans to access mental health care, and eliminating stigmas still surrounding mental health.

Dr. E. Kitch Childs

Dr. E. Kitch Childs was a clinical psychologist who was known for advocating for minority women, sex workers, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and the LGBTQ+ community. She was a founding member of the Association for Woman in Psychology and Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front. Dr. Childs opened her own psychology practice in Oakland, California where she would provide therapy to members of the LGBTQ+ community, people living with aids, sex workers, and other marginalized members of her community. She was one of the first therapists who would conduct sessions at her home, or the homes of her patients. She also used a sliding scale fee structure and free therapy sessions in communities that didn’t have access to services like the ones she provided. She was a co-founder of the Association for Woman in Psychology in 1969, a founding member of the University of Chicago’s Gay Liberation, Chicago’s Lesbian Liberation, and was inducted into Chicago’s LGBT Hall of Fame in 1993. Dr Child’s spent her adult life fighting for equal rights and treatment of minority populations.

All four of these Black pioneers lived very successful lives, working to help others and leaving lasting legacies for future generations to continue their advocacy work.

Read about our four mental health advocates here

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