From the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.
In order to foster good health and wellness Black people have embarked on self-determination, mutual aid and social support initiatives to build hospitals, medical and nursing schools (i.e. Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, Provident Hospital and Training School, Morehouse School of Medicine, etc.) and community clinics. Clinics were established by individuals, grassroots organizations and mutual aid societies, such as the African Union Society, National Association of Colored Women and Black Panther Party, to provide spaces for Black people to counter the economic and health disparities and discrimination that are found at mainstream institutions. These disparities and anti-Blackness led to communities developing phrases such as “When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.” Initiatives to help decrease disparities have centered several outcomes, including having more diverse practitioners and representation in all segments of the medical and health programs including such as the Ronald E. McNair Scholars. Even the impact of popular culture texts like Doc McStuffins cannot be dismissed.
The rise of fields, such as Public and Community Health and Health Informatics have led to a rise in preventive care and a focus on body positivity, physical exercise, nutrition, exploring other dietary options such as veganism and vegetarianism, and gardening. Black Health and Wellness not only includes one’s physical body, but also emotional and mental health. At this point in the 21st century, our understanding of Black health and wellness is broader and more nuanced than ever. Social media and podcasts, such as The Read, hosted by Crissle and Kid Fury have normalized talking about mental health and going to therapy as well as initiatives such as Therapy for Black Girls. More of us understand the need to hold down, lift up, center, and fight fiercely for our beloved trans siblings and family. Black girls are doing breathwork, and there are whole yoga studios dedicated to people of color.
Mindful of Sister Audre Lorde’s words, we are doing more to move forward holistically for the betterment of ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, our communities, and our planet.
We are determined to create a platform that shines a light on the multiple facets of Black health and wellness through education and activism. There is much to uncover, amplify, question, and correct.
In the still overhanging shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black people should and do use data and other information-sharing modalities to document, decry, and agitate against the interconnected, intersecting inequalities intentionally baked into systems and structures in the U.S. for no other reason than to curtail, circumscribe, and destroy Black well-being in all forms and Black lives. Moreover, Black communities must look to the past to provide the light for our future, by embracing the rituals, traditions and healing modalities of our ancestors. These ways of knowing require a decolonization of thought and practice.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875 - 1950), son of former slaves and a Harvard trained historian, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as Association for the Study of African American Life and History), conceived Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during the second week in February 1926 coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not just white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960's dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded in 1976 during the bicentennial when President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. ASALH continues to promote the study of Black history month all year.
Scurlock, A. N. (1925). Dr. Carter G. Woodson [Photograph]. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America.