Historical Spotlight

Dorothy Lavinia Brown (1919-2004)

“Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown was the first African American woman surgeon in the South. ….There were no other black women in general surgery in the South and she had to forge through almost universal resistance. She said that “Dr. Matthew Walker was a brave man” because he accepted her into the program despite advice from his staff that a woman couldn’t withstand the rigors of surgery.

Brown worked through a five-year residency at Meharry and George W. Hubbard Hospital to become Assistant Professor of Surgery in 1955 and the first African American woman to be made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

From 1957 to 1983 Brown was chief of surgery at Nashville’s Riverside Hospital, clinical professor of surgery at Meharry Medical College, and educational director for the Riverside-Meharry Clinical Rotation Program. She also served as a consultant on health, education, and welfare for the National Institutes of Health (National Advisory Council Heart, Lung, and Blood) in 1982.

Brown’s determination, beliefs, and values helped her to break through barriers in various aspects of her life.”

Read more about Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown: HERE

Citation: https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_46.html

Historical Spotlight

Inez Beverly Prosser (1897-1934)

Inez Beverly Prosser was a strong willed individual who beat [the] odds, and had it not been for a tragic accident, would have made even more contributions to psychology and our world as we now know it.

Inez Beverly Prosser was born in 1897 to Samuel Andrew and Veola Hamilton Beverly in the small town of Yoakum, Texas (www.tsha.utexas.edu). She had a long and reputable academic career, which is notable, because it was almost unheard of for a Black woman to be so extensively educated in her time. She received higher training, college, and master’s degrees in education, and served as dean and registrar at Tillotson College from 1921-1930.

In 1931 Inez was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation General Education Board Fellowship because of her excellent and well known work as a teacher (Warren, 1999). In 1933 she received a Ph.D., one of the first African-American women to accomplish this in the United States, in educational psychology from the University of Cincinnati (www.tsha.utexas.edu). Her dissertation, which received a huge amount of recognition, was on The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools. It was also one of the earliest treatises on the social domain of elementary school children (Warren, 1999).

More about Inez Beverly Prosser HERE.



Citation: http://faculty.webster.edu/woolflm/prosser.html

Mosaics Make Beautiful Murals


mural mosaic

At times the Black community seems so disparate it’s a wonder to me that we identify ourselves as a community at all. We were separated from our origins (African ancestry) as a whole, and that brings its’ own loss. But, furthermore, our community was ravaged by the very systems that brought it into being. White supremacy was about subjugating one “group” of people (Black people) to placate and control another (poor white people). The construction of race as a social category was about power, money, and control.

It was never meant to allow us the space to build a collective identity. And yet, here we are, left to pick up the pieces and sew them all together to form one as yet unrecognizable patchwork quilt.

Race is a social construct, which means our community has no biological basis to tie it together. The history of the African-American community is young, and inevitably tied to marginalization. This means our community has very little positive historical basis of connectivity. We’ve had to build a culture from the ground up. It makes so much sense to me that in trying to do this we’ve neglected to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that the Black American community encompasses.

We’ve forgotten how different we really are.

We’ve forgotten the beauty in that difference.

I understand survival, but I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to paint ourselves in broad strokes to seem more cohesive. Mosaics make beautiful murals.

So, you might ask now: what does recognizing and accepting difference entail? At the most basic level I believe it means being willing to listen, to see your own experience as just one of many valid experiences, to use inclusive language, to disregard generalizations, and to acknowledge your own privilege.

I myself have had to do some unpacking of my own identity to really parse out how I relate to the world, and how very individual my lens is.

I am:

  • Middle-class
  • cisgender
  • Able-bodied and nuerotypical
  • Born in America

And these are only a few ways that I embody privilege. Few people consider the circumstances of their birth to be a privilege, but these are things to consider when analyzing how my experience as a Black woman in America may not be the same as someone else’s.

Too often we hone in on race as the defining factor of our identity. Maybe it’s because it is a very visible marker of difference (both in an everyday sense, and in a wider societal sense, race has been so visible). There is so much more to people, though, and one aspect of identity does not disappear just because the group of people we’re with can only identify and identify with another.

There’s this  idea that only one identity can be important, recognized, or prioritized at any one moment. I think this happens naturally in in-groups. Intersectionality, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, addresses this misconception and unpacks it.

Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.[1] These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.”

In simpler terms, we’re all complex beings. None of us are one dimensional, and there should be space made for the fullness of that. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to the narratives we’ve been told about who we are as Black people.

Black people are queer. Black people are Muslim. Black people are autistic. Black people are bipolar. Black people are trans*. Black people are deaf. Black people are of Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Caribbean descent.

The time has come to open ourselves up to the conceptualization of Black people, Black Americans, as relating to one another in all of these ways, because we cannot create safe spaces within our community if we disregard our whole selves.

Read more on Intersectionality: Article__Mapping_the_Margins_by_Kimblere_Crenshaw







Who is my inspiration?


Who is my inspiration? What is my inspiration? What deep, deep well does it spring from? What by-way, high-way, alley, or basement did it hide in its recesses before it was found? What book did I pull from the shelf to find tidbits of wisdom and crumbs of stimulation, motivation, and ultimately, inspiration?

To prod my response I looked up the definition of this word. It’s Latin form, “inspirare” suggests that something breathes life into us and that the “source” is considered to be divine. By definition, true inspiration comes from an external source.

How do I pay absolute homage to my mystical source or sources without overlooking the most obvious foundation …. everything around me.  Oh, the lessons that come from life and living, and seeing, and observing, and experimenting, and failing, and recovering, and being, and doing!

As I seek to respond to this question I am inspired by my own observation that how I answer is based on where I stand and at what point in time I look back to. Our stance in life was never meant to be secure or secured. We are very fluid beings who constantly move through a process of metamorphosis; growing and learning and mutating in the progression.

I learned to walk by watching others. As my legs strengthened and developed for the trial before me, every time I would take one or two steps and then stumble and fall, my mother, father, brothers would coax me, encourage me, and praise me so I could get back up to try again and again until my gait turned into a natural rhythm of movement.

Failure, many times proceeds success and provides a natural impetus for perpetual forward movement.  Michael Jordan was told he lacked talent. Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination. Dr. Seuss was told he couldn’t write.  Failure or someone else’s interpretation of us can become one of the strongest tools to inspire us to greatness and success.

When I was a student studying “Universal Laws” somewhere it stated something like “inspiration was how our spirit selves connected to the universe and pulled from it everything we needed to learn for our journey through life.”  I thought at the time, how deep, but now I understand, how true.

Before I end my babbling I must point to one of my most provocative sources of inspiration…my parents and my father in particular. I grew up in the projects and relatively poor in relationship to financial gains. There are times when coming from an impoverished background you can tend to see the world in terms of lack. My father in all his wisdom would not allow such childhood nonsense.

He told me that my mind, along with my imagination and dreams, would open up doors that I could not yet see. He gave me books to read, stories of far away places to set my mind on, and set bars high that every one of his children would one day be equipped to hurdle. He reminded us every day that the world I saw outside our front and back doors were only a fleeting reality; that the love, care, nurturing, and empowerment that was created inside our home was real, and was the only thing that was important.

My mother’s nurturing and my father’s stern love, and words, still live inside me and propel me ahead as I face life’s difficulties. My inspiration is everywhere. All I have to do is look, and keep my heart and eyes open to receive what the universe has for me.

Historical Spotlight

Charlotte Forten (1837-1914)

“Charlotte Forten was the first northern African-American schoolteacher to go south to teach former slaves. A sensitive and genteel young woman, she brought intense idealism and fierce abolitionist zeal to her work. As a black woman, she hoped to find kinship with the freedmen, though her own education set her apart from the former slaves. She stayed on St. Helena Island for two years, then succumbed to ill health and had to return north. In 1864, she published “Life on the Sea Islands” in The Atlantic Monthly, which brought the work of the Port Royal Experiment to the attention of Northern readers.”

Read more about Charlotte Forten HERE. And read “Life on the Sea Islands” at The Atlantic.

If I Can Help Somebody

“If I can help somebody as I pass along.

If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song.

If I can help somebody who’s traveling along, then my living shall not be in vain.”

As I pondered the topic of community service and giving back, I thought of that song.  I thought of the audience who would be reading this blog.  Many of whom are selfless people who give every day to help somebody.  I thought of a group of people who work most days to serve others and give their energy to others when often they barely have enough energy for themselves.  I thought of a group of professionals who provide service, support, and educational opportunities to populations which are often powerless and marginalized. A cohort who passionately strives to engage, empower and uplift those whose voices are often not heard.  I thought of a group of professionals who work in fields that are sometimes underappreciated, on occasion under recognized and often, underpaid and yet they continue to give.  How wonderful, what a blessing that our living is not in vain.

When I was a child, we sang that song in church, “If I can help somebody as I travel along the way, then my living shall not be in vain.” It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but now I understand that helping others is what makes life worth living. Dr. King once said that we all have the possibilities for greatness because we have the possibility for service. Anyone you can think of that is considered great is probably one who has served in one way or another. At the end of the day great people are people who have helped others. People who care only about themselves and their own needs are insignificant.

But so often, when we are helping, we stop seeing the good we are doing.  We get caught in the politics and forget why we chose to do the things we do.  We must fight to hold on to the pure desire to help and to improve conditions in our world, our neighborhoods, and our families. If you drop a pebble in the water, it causes a ripple effect. That should be the effect of helping others. We have to teach and learn the concept of “paying it forward”.

In addition to a desire to help, we also have a responsibility to give as we have been given. We all know the phrase with “great power comes great responsibility” or “to whom much is given, much is required”. This means we have a responsibility!  If we have been Blessed with talent, knowledge, wisdom, or wealth, etc., we must use our gifts to benefit others. It is our responsibility to leave the world a better place for those who come behind us.

Mary Mcleod Bethune said in her last will and testament, “I leave you, finally a responsibility to our young – as our children must never lose their zeal to make a better world.” As responsible people, we must do that.  We must rekindle the zeal and desire to learn and love and live together in our children and in our people. We are a people of hope with coping skills, faith and a strength that is unmatched by any other. We are a people who supported ourselves and our neighbors with what little we had. “We got by with a little help from our friends!”

If we can hold on to a zeal to make the world better, it will be infectious and we can give it to our communities, our neighbors and our children. For all that you are already doing, thank you. For all that you will do, thank you. For all that you will encourage others to do, thank you. Thank you for your resilience, thank you for your hope and thank you for being here every day.

Now, tell me, how do you help others?




Lift As We Climb

I think that to bring the motto “Lift as We Climb” into present day context we must first acknowledge where we are. Our collective trauma is a result of over a century of enslavement, followed by a century more of blatant racism and socioeconomic discrimination, and then this…this quiet insidious kind, that was so long discredited and invisible, has led us here. To this. Now.

We are now at a point when racial tensions seem again to be at an all-time high. People walk around angry and fearful constantly. There’s a hypervisibility of black bodies and lives. The full extent and impacts of systemic discrimination and racism are being widely exposed in ways that they haven’t been since the Civil Rights Movement (maybe in ways that they have never been, considering all of the different apparatus’ we have for sharing media these days).

It’s as if the country was shell shocked, stumbling deaf and blind out of the 60s, numb and tired, and easily lulled by the lullaby of a false and fragile unity.

But people are waking up.

And now that they’re “woke” the question that follows: What can I do?

The issues seem massive, ungraspable even to the mind, let alone the hands. The topic of racism is not easily grappled with, applicable solutions even more elusive. It can be overwhelming to imagine you must take on the weight of this consciousness alone.

But you must not, in fact, you cannot. You should not.

There are so many lines that divide our community; color, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. As we’ve been given more time, more freedom, to explore our diversity (as all ingroups eventually do, when extinction seems less imminent), we’ve lost sight of what pulls us together.

We’ve stopped being a collective. We’ve dissolved what tentative ties we had to one another in the names of progress, or assimilation, or survival.

As Black Americans, our collective history is entangled with so much struggle and pain. No wonder we try so hard to distance ourselves from one another when what so often ties us together is trauma.

But we must remember that, however short, our history is much more than this. There is also accomplishment and ingenuity. There is talent, and genius, and creativity, and joy.

We are so much more than our struggle.

We are so much more than our pain.

Yes, we are in a war, fighting on multiple fronts for our generation and the next, in hopes that the world will yield, will bend to our will for justice, and equality, and change. Yet and still we need to lift each other up. We need to share lightness, and love, and laughter. We need silliness, spontaneity, spirituality.

We need to reach out hands to one another, not only to help and advocate for those of us who cannot do for themselves, but also to support those that are already doing so. We all need a hand, sometimes, to be reminded that we are not alone in this climb.

You are not alone in this climb.