By: Dominique Boyette
Black History Month is still here and we are continuing to highlight and celebrate our brilliant innovators. So much of our ancestral knowledge cultivated and developed what would become modern medicine, it is no surprise Black people have made some of the most significant contributions to the health and wellness industry.
Here are a few Black men & women that changed the landscape of healthcare and championed for the advocacy and improved treatment of the Black community.
She is the 1st immortal human cell line to ever grow in culture, and has been used in experiments & medical research for the past 60 years.
Her story exposes the failures in bioethics and consent practices of scientists, especially amongst the treatment of the BIPOC community. Diagnosed at 30, Lacks had a malignant cervical tumor, and despite having received extreme radiation treatment her cervical cancer was far too aggressive and died at 31.
Unknowingly her tumor was biopsied, and inexplicably produced cells that have yet to stop multiplying, and is responsible for the 1st human immortal cell line, and has contributed to over 70,000 medical studies. It was considered standard practice to collect unconsented samples from women and anyone who visited public hospital wards — with informed consent only becoming a serious concept around the 1970s.
It does leave areas of doubt to how much knowledge was imparted to countless black patients seeking treatment about what would be taken & done to them.
The 1st time the Lacks family learned about the HeLa cells was 25 years after her death and has yet to receive compensation for her contributions to medicine.
“Her cells were commercialized and have generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue.”
Dr. Patricia Bath
Dr. Patricia Bath is responsible for establishing “eyesight is a basic human right” and co-founding the American Institution for the Prevention of Blindness.
Born in Harlem in 1942, Patricia Era Bath was nurtured and encouraged by her parents to explore cultures and her academic interests. She began collecting accolades and recognition for her intellect and research discoveries at 16, later earning degrees and fellowships from Hunter College, Howard & Columbia University, UCLA and Charles R. Drew University. “Bath was also instrumental in bringing ophthalmic surgical services to Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic, which did not perform eye surgery in 1968. She persuaded her professors at Columbia to operate on blind patients for free, and she volunteered as an assistant surgeon. The first major eye operation at Harlem Hospital was performed in 1970 as a result of her efforts.”
Dr. Bath as the 1st African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, was the 1st female faculty member in the Department of ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, and was the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent when she invented the Laserphaco Probe in 1986. She was able to restore sight that had been lost for more than 30 years. Dr. Bath was the key in developing the advocacy for blindness prevention, treatment, and its cure. She passionately pursued her ambitions and overcame sexism, racism, and poverty to become a prolific scientist and true medical pioneer.
An epidemiologist from Duke University, Sherman James has made key findings in learning how BIPOC communities are at greater risk for health problems because of how often we have to cope with socio-economic hardships. He describes ‘John Henryism’ as “strong personality disposition to engage in high-effort coping with social and economic adversity.
For racial and ethnic minorities … who live in wealthy, predominantly white countries – say, the United States – that adversity might include recurring interpersonal or systemic racial discrimination.” High-effort coping, over years, results in excessive “wear and tear” on the body, damaging such things as the cardiovascular system, the immune system, and the metabolic system. Focusing on the cardiovascular system, James notes that this “enormous outpouring of energy and release of stress hormones” damages the blood vessels and the heart.” (socialsciencespace.com)
Named after the folktale of John Henry, the story of a man dying from stress while having to outperform in brutal conditions, James’ work illuminates and exposes the disproportionate interaction and connection of poverty and segregation on the health of Black Americans.
He brought to light how systemic forces impacted individuals and sought to teach doctors to practice medicine that was culturally competent.
An internationally recognized public health leader, Prothrow-Stith has served for institutions ranging from Spencer Stuart to Harvard University. She is the current dean at the Charles R. Drew University College of Medicine in Los Angeles, and she was the first woman and youngest Commissioner of Public Health in Massachusetts. A major advocate for public health development, Dr. Prothrow-Stith defined youth violence as a public health problem and went to establish the nation’s first Office of Violence Prevention in a state department of public health.
She has expanded prevention programs for HIV/AIDS and increased drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. A prolific writer and advocate against violence, she has authored over 100 publications and earned numerous honors including the World Health Day Award, 9 honorary doctorates, and a presidential appointment to the National Commission on Crime Control and Prevention.
“Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith is among the nation's pre-eminent leaders in addressing violence as a public health issue. She believes the profit motive is one reason why the United States has become a violent society. “
She observed how the healthcare system always taught prevention, except for those fallen victim to violence. She has implemented violence prevention programs from local to national levels, understanding that violence was a social “disease” just as dangerous as any health emergency. Her work and belief that homicide is a preventable public health problem earned her the Secretary's Award for Exceptional Achievement in Public Service in 1989 and the American Psychiatric Association's Solomon Carter Fuller Award in 1998.
The youngest and 1st African American to serve as president of the Planned parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Her B.S. in nursing and M.S. in midwifery and maternal and infant health lead to become a fierce advocate in the advancement for women.
Under her 14 year tenure as president, the PPFA became one of our nation’s largest charitable organizations. With her direction, she secured federal funding for birth control and prenatal programs, fought again efforts to restrict legal abortions, and legalized the sale of the french birth control pill RU-486.
A pioneer for reproductive rights, Wattleton went on to create the think tank Center for the Advancement of Women and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has earned 14 honorary degrees, received numerous awards including the American Humanist Award to the Fries Prize–an award recognizing accomplishments in health improvements of the greatest good for the greatest number. She believed “that people should be able to determine their own destiny, without the government attempting to restrict or dictate their circumstances.”
A courageous leader and proponent for women’s rights, she has served her community 1st hand through fierce opposition, while creating federally allocated health care services available on a national scale.
A holistic health practitioner and wellness coach for over 40 years, Queen Afua is a best selling author, creator and CEO of the Sacred Woman Rites Of Passage Program and Queen Afua Wellness Center. A natural healer and midwife, her journey in becoming a nationally renowned herbalist came through her own homeopathic healing. Her life is devoted to teaching people how to fight diseases by understanding the power of food, self-care, and living and empowering lifestyle.
Her teachings are rooted in Afrocentric spirituality and have inspired and served over 1,000,000 lives throughout the world.
Her mission is to teach how to have a wellness home by showing individuals how to heal themselves and share those learnings with their families. Her philosophies are very much a derivative of BIPOC herbalism and ancestral herbology that western cultures attempted to appropriate and eradicate. By building a community of fellowship, her ideals have had a profound impact on normalizing sacred and holistic medical practices that were once central to BIPOC cultures.
'Henrietta Lacks': A Donor's Immortal LegacyNpr.org
Informed Consent: I. History Of Informed Consenthttps://www.encyclopedia.com/
The Legacy of Henrietta Lackshttps://www.cancertodaymag.org/
Descendants of Henrietta Lacks promote trust between researchers, minority communityhttps://news.christianacare.org/
New Claims Prove the Henrietta Lacks Controversy Is Far From Overhttps://www.smithsonianmag.com/
Patricia Bath Biographyhttps://www.biography.com/
Changing the Face of Medicine : Dr. Patricia E. Bath
Patricia Bath On Being The First Person To Invent & Demonstrate Laserphaco Cataract Surgery | TIMEhttps://www.youtube.com/
Sherman James on John HenryismSherman James and the John Henryism Hypothesishttps://www.youtube.com/
DEBORAH B. PROTHROW-STITH, MD
Changing the Face of Medicine : Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith
Deborah Prothrow-Stith : Biography
Fries Prize For Improving HealthFormer Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton on Why We’re Still Fighting for Reproductive Healthcare
Alyce Faye Wattleton
Faye Wattleton (Alyce)https://www.womenofthehall.org/
Queen Afua Lifestyle