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Remembering Pioneering African American Heroes of Healthcare in Honor of Black History Month

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History month in the United States. It is a time when we remember and reflect on the achievements of individuals of color who have made contributions and sacrifices for the betterment of our society. This year is a year like no other in the long history of celebrating Black History. We continue to see social inequities and social injustices impacting our Black and brown communities. During this pandemic we also continue to see a disproportionate infection rate of Covid-19 and number of Covid-19 related deaths in our Black and brown communities. But there is hope on the horizon. I am hopeful that with the new administration pushing for more people to get vaccinated we will turn the corner and get this pandemic under control.

There have been many significant contributions made by African Americans in the field of healthcare and I will be highlighting just a few during this month of celebration.

WEEK 4--Friday, February 26, 2021:

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York in 1797. She is well known as an evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who lived a terrible life as a slave. But did you know she was a nurse as well? She originally was a nurse who served a family, the Dumonts, for many years. She fled the family in 1826 when her owner reneged on a promise to grant her freedom. In her later years she worked at the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington D.C., where she pushed for cleanliness and quality of care. She also used her strong voice and eloquent speeches to urge Congress to finance training programs for nurses, during a time where no formal nursing education or training existed.

For more information on Sojourner Truth, click the links below::

WEEK 3--Friday, February 19, 2021:

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)

We have all read and learned about Harriet Tubman and her exploits leading slaves to their freedom via the Underground Railroad. But I bet many of you never learned that Harriet Tubman was also a nurse. During the Civil War Harriet served in the Union Army as a cook and a nurse. She had extensive knowledge of natural and herbal remedies which earned her a reputation as a very capable nurse. While tending to the sick and wounded she stayed healthy even while treating soldiers who were afflicted with dysentery and smallpox. After the war she continued to care for the sick and helped start up a home for the elderly.

You can read more about the amazing life and achievements of Harriet Tubman by clicking on the links below:

WEEK 2--Friday, February 12th, 2021:

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Born to freed slaves who had moved from North Carolina to Boston, Mary knew as a teenager that she wanted to become a nurse. She began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children and over the course of 15 years worked in a variety of positions before entering the nursing program at the hospital in 1878. It was a tough program consisting of 16 months of intensive training. Of the 42 students that started the program just 4 graduated in 1879, with Mary being one of the four. Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first African American in the U.S. to earn a professional nursing license in 1879. She worked as a private duty nurse for 40 years, rejecting public nursing due to the overwhelming discrimination encountered there. She was a champion of the nursing profession and women’s rights. After the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Mary was one of the first women to register to vote in Boston.

WEEK 1--Friday, February 5th, 2021:

Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950)

Charles Drew was born in 1904 and grew up in Washington D.C. a city that at the time was racially segregated. He became interested in medicine after his sister died of tuberculosis and he himself hospitalized for a college football injury.

At the time it was difficult for people of color to get into the medical profession and, even though he was accepted into Harvard, he attended medical school at McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, Canada where he pursued his interest in transfusion medicine – which became the basis of his later work in blood bank research.

As he was completing his doctoral thesis, “Banked Blood,” World War II broke out in Europe. Drew became the director of the Blood for Britain project and he oversaw the successful collection of 14,500 pints of plasma for the British.

In 1941, just as the U.S. was entering the war, the Red Cross appointed Drew as the director of the first Red Cross blood bank. His tenure as director was short lived as he resigned in 1942 in protest over the U.S. military’s policy prohibiting African Americans from donating blood which was later revised but still prohibited non-white blood being given to white members of the military.

Throughout his short life he battled against racism that was covert as well as overt. He persisted and worked through this barrier and, because he succeeded, healthcare around the world is better for it.

To read more about Dr. Charles Drew and his contributions to healthcare click on the links below.

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