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Pioneers of Black Mental Health #BHMMAC2023

February is Black History Month (BHM) – a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Black and African diasporic peoples. To celebrate, the SWC counselling team has curated list of Black Historic pioneers who have contributed to the field of mental health & wellness. Check out the below for mini-biographies and achievement highlights.


Information Box Group

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark

(1917 – 1983)

Social psychologist and Black mental health activist.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) was a path breaking African-American social psychologist, activist and figure of inspiration.  She was the first African American woman to attain a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University.  Her research on the “Doll Study” involved more than 200 Black children and highlighted the psychological harm resulting from school segregation.  It was her work that influenced the end of school segregation in the Supreme Court.

Dr. Clark also demonstrated passion about addressing the shortage of mental health services available to the African American community.  As a result, she became the founder of an agency to provide comprehensive mental health services to the Black community and other underserved populations.  In addition to providing psychological services from 1946-1979, she continued to advocate for social justice on a variety of advisory boards post retirement.  Her passion and dedication towards social justice was reflected in her research, front line work, and activism.  Her work over three decades benefitted generations of children and contributed to significant insights that influenced the field of psychology.

Dr. Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt

(1965 – present)

American social psychologist and scientist. 

Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt was born in 1965 in Cleveland, Ohio. She is currently a professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. She dedicated her career to illuminating the implicit prejudice that guides people’s behavior and decision-making processes  Eberhardt is at the forefront of behavioral psychology, examining how bias is embedded in everyday actions and informative of people’s actions. Eberhardt is especially interested in the effects of unconscious racial bias: how people’s implicit ideology affects racialized people. Eberhardt conduct innovative experiments that guide law enforcement agencies and state officers to eliminate bias. Her experiments show how racial bias can lead to disparities in education, employment, housing, and the criminal justice system.

Eberhardt’s ability to translate complex behavioral scientist phenomena into actionable change makes her an important activist who believes proper knowledge and training can help society overcome unconscious bias. While bias and negative stereotypes are problems created by all people, not by just a few bad apples, Eberhardt has hope that the solutions rest with people as well. Dr. Eberhardt became the first Black president of the Association for Psychological Science.  She  has written a book called Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do.

Stacy-Ann Buchanan

(1982 — Present) 

Black Mental Health Advocate.

Stacy-Ann Buchanan (1982—) is a Jamaican born, Black Canadian woman selected by CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) as one of the 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health. And for good reason. She began her career as an actress, then became a producer, director, filmmaker, and is now recognized as a Black Mental Health Advocate. After opening up to others about her own struggles with mental health and recognizing the stigma of mental health within Black communities, in 2015 Stacy-Ann produced a documentary on the topic.

In her own words:
“I directed & produced the award-winning documentary, The Blind Stigma, which made Canadian history when it debuted as the first documentary produced in Canada that takes an in-depth look at how mental health is perceived within the Black community. The film chronicles the testimonies of five individuals (including myself) on our trials and triumphs with mental health by removing the veil of shame that clouds the topic in the Black communities.”

The Blind Stigma has since become a podcast that examines stigma and the multiple factors affecting mental health in Black communities while providing a safe space for stories to be heard, and ultimately to “take back the Black narrative”.

Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D.

(1895 – 1934)

First Black woman in the U.S. to earn a PhD in psychology.

Graduating in 1933 from the University of Cincinnati, her dissertation looked at how segregation and racial inequality impacted self-esteem and relationships of Black students. She found that Black students benefited more in segregated schools because they were more likely to receive affection, support and a balanced curriculum compared to an integrated school where they were likely to have problems adjusting academically, socially and in accepting their identity. While Prosser supported segregated schools for the supports and benefits they provided, she also offered reasons segregation was detrimental to everyone involved.

During Prosser’s work career she encouraged many Black students to pursue higher education, was involved in improving training for teachers who worked in Mississippi’s black schools, taught at historically Black colleges where she also helped students fund their education and graduate research, and her work continued to have an impact even after her death including influencing the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.

Herman George Canady, Ph.D.

(1901 – 1970)

Social & Clinical Psychologist.

Dr. Canady was a clinical and social psychologist with degrees from Northwestern University, including a B.A. in sociology with a minor in psychology, M.A. in clinical psychology and Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Canady made many valuable contributions to behavioural science and the practice of clinical psychology.

Dr. Canady was the first to study how external factors, such as the race of the examiner in IQ tests, may create bias in IQ testing. He went on to offer suggestions about creating a testing environment that is suitable to help Black students succeed. His dissertation went on to become a widely quoted study in the field of psychology and sociology.

Dr. Canady also helped to establish West Virginia’s Psychological Association and West Virginia’s state board of psychological examiners. His work assessed the status, training, and research efforts of early psychologists in Black colleges and universities.

Dr. Canady helped pave the way in better understanding testing environments of Black students and helped to prepare universities to train and accept Black psychologists.

Dr. E. Kitch Childs

(1937 – 1993)

Clinical Psychologist and Lesbian Activist.

Dr. E. Kitch Childs  was an inspirational African American clinical psychologist and lesbian activist known for her participation in the women’s liberation movement in North America. She was a strong advocate for minority women, Black peoples, sex workers, and gay and lesbian individuals. She was a founding member of the University of Chicago’s Gay Liberation and the first African American woman to earn her doctorate degree in human development at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Childs opened a private practice and was one of the first to conduct therapy sessions in her home and her client’s homes. She used a sliding-scale fee structure and provided free therapy in communities that did not have easy access to therapy. Priority was given to Black peoples, sex workers, people with AIDS, and people living in poverty. Dr. Childs was heavily influential in feminist therapy and aimed to create a treatment model for therapy where her clients would feel included and equal.

Dr. Beverly Greene

(1950 – present)

Clinical Psychologist and Activist.

For more than forty years Dr. Beverly Greene has been a powerful change maker.  Her work has reshaped knowledge, perception, and racial barriers in the fields of clinical psychology, social justice, and teaching. Overcoming challenges of societal discrimination and significant physical illness, she achieved a Master’s degree (1977) and Doctoral degree (1983) from Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies.  In 1995 she was the first tenured African American professor at St. John’s University, New York City.

Dr. Greene has worked extensively in clinical practice, teaching and writing to advance understanding and clinical skill in the intersection and impact of racism, gender, and sexual orientation.  In addition to helping people heal from experiences of marginalization, she teaches other therapists to think about the many ways that privilege shapes individual mental health, interactions between therapists and clients, and the experience of ourselves as members of the human community.  Dr. Greene has published extensively and received numerous awards for the advancement of the field of psychotherapy, scholarship, mentorship, service, and advocacy.  I am grateful for her work and for the opportunity to learn from it.



Jacki McKinney, M.S.W

(1934 – 2021)

Social Worker.

Jacki McKinney earned her Masters degree in Social Work after surviving childhood trauma, poverty, homelessness and time in both the psychiatric and criminal justice systems in the United States. As a recipient of support services, she was impacted by the lack of cultural competency among medical and mental health professionals that were working with her. Jacki used her personal experience to fuel her passion for ongoing advocacy work addressing problems in the mental health system. As part of the Consumer Movement in Philadelphia, Jackie was the Director of the first peer led mental health case management program. She went on to become a national spokesperson on the issue of trauma, and cofounded the National People of Colour Consumer Survivor Network, where she fought to develop policies against seclusion and restraint in mental health settings. Jacki received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her leadership and tireless dedication to prioritizing mental health care for minority populations and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors. Her work has contributed to the overall improvement of the mental health care system.


Dr. Francis Sumner

(1895 – 1954)

‘Father of Black Psychology’.

Dr. Sumner was the first Black American to obtain a PhD in psychology and consequently earned the nickname, “the Father of Black psychology”.

Sumner’s main focus in psychology was “race psychology” where he studied how to understand and eliminate racial bias in the administration of justice. Sumner challenged Eurocentric methods of psychology and critiqued the way the educational system treated African Americans.

Sumner also studied color and vision, as well as the psychology of religion. Sumner submitted a paper to the International Congress of Religious Psychology entitled “The Mental Hygiene of Religion.” He was one of the first people in academia to contribute to the fields of psychology, religion, and the administration of justice together. 

He is also known for being one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University.

Beverly Daniel Tatum

(1954 – present)

Psychologist & Educator.

Beverly Daniel Tatum is a psychologist, administrator, and educator. She was born in Tallahassee, FL. on September 27, 1954.  Tatum calls herself an “integration baby”, having been born only four months after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed race-based segregation in schools. Tatum grew up in Bridgewater, Mass., where she recalls usually being the only black student in her classes.

Dr. Tatum has conducted research and written books on the topic of racism with a focus specifically on race in education, racial identity development in teenagers, and assimilation of black families and youth in white neighborhoods. Tatum is the author of the widely acclaimed book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” And Other Conversations About Race, in which she argues that Americans are reluctant to talk about issues of race, and that we must begin to consider the psychological effects of racial identity development. In her more recent 2007 book, Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation, Tatum again highlights the urgent need for conversations about race, emphasizing the continued racial segregation of schools and the impacts that this has on achievement of racial minorities.

Kimberle Crenshaw, LL.M

(1959 – present)

Scholar & Activist.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory and race, racism and the law. Crenshaw is the founder of the field of critical race theory. Her writing and activism have been pivotal in transforming public discourse to address inequality and discrimination for Black people.  She is a distinguished professor of law at both the University of California and Columbia Law School, the founder and director of the Centre for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, and the executive director of the non-profit think tank The African American Policy Forum. Crenshaw has worked extensively on a variety of issues pertaining to gender and race including violence against women, structural inequality and affirmative action.

Crenshaw introduced the concept of intersectionality in 1989. Intersectionality is the theory of how overlapping social identities relate to systems and structures of oppression, domination and discrimination. She was inspired to develop this theory when, as a law student at Cornell University, she noticed that subjects of race and gender were taught separately from one another and that the gender aspect of race was extremely underdeveloped. Intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “woman” and “Black”) do not exist independently of each other, and that each informs the other.

Crenshaw’s theory is an important contribution to the field of mental health as it illuminates the racial disparities in treatment and how Black people who experience multiple sites of oppression encounter the mental health system. Black people accessing the mental health system should be provided affordable, accessible, relevant and culturally competent treatment.  Crenshaw’s contribution to the field has assisted policy-makers, mental health advocates and clinicians in understanding the diversity of experiences of Black people with mental illness. This awareness can help us move to action and transform policy to close the treatment gap and accessibility issues faced by Black people.

Canadian Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard

(1959 – present)

Social Worker, Educator, Researcher, & Mental Health Advocate.

Dr. Bernard presented evidence as to how racism is “killing us softly” from two different research projects. One study looked into how racism and other forms of violence impacts African Canadian men, their families and communities in Toronto, Halifax and Calgary. The second project looked at how racism is affecting the health of African Canadian women, as well as their families and communities in rural Nova Scotia. Evidence from her research showed that African Canadians are feeling the mental health effects from racism in communities, workplaces, places of education and from the system, as a whole. “That sense of hopelessness creeps into our souls; racism is killing us softly,” said Dr. Bernard.

Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard is a highly regarded social worker, educator, researcher, community activist and advocate of social change. She has worked in mental health at the provincial level, in rural community practice at the municipal level, and, since 1990, as a professor at the Dalhousie School of Social Work, where she also served as director for a decade. In 2016, she was appointed Special Advisor on Diversity and Inclusiveness at Dalhousie University and she is the first African Nova Scotian to hold a tenure track position at Dalhousie University and to be promoted to full professor. Dr. Thomas Bernard has worked with provincial organizations to bring diversity to the political processes in Nova Scotia and teach community members about Canada’s legislative process and citizen engagement. She is a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) which helps address the needs of marginalized citizens, especially those of African descent.

Dr. Joy DeGruy

(1957 – present)


Dr. Joy DeGruy authored the book entitled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, (revised 2017) which addresses the residual impacts of trauma on African Descendants in the Americas. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) lays the groundwork for understanding how the past has influenced the present, and opens up the discussion of how we can eliminate non-productive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors developed to cope and survive the traumatic periods of capture, transport, enslavement, Jim Crow and current day racial terrorism.

Dr. Jeanne Spurlock

(1921 – 1999)

Psychiatrist & Writer.

Dr. Jeanne Spurlock was born in Sandusky, Ohio in 1921. She attended the Howard University College of Medicine. Dr. Jeanne Spurlock was a child and adolescent psychiatrist, educator, and writer. In her role as a psychiatrist, she advocated for communities impacted by oppression including women, the Black community, and the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

In 1971, Dr. Jeanne Spurlock was the first woman and the first Black individual to receive the Edward A. Strecker M.D. Award from the institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital. In 1974, she became the deputy medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Jeanne Spurlock was also granted the 1990 Guardian for Children Award from the National Black Child Development Institute.

bell hooks

(1952 – 2021)

Author  & Social Activist.

Gloria Jean Watkins, also known by her penname bell hooks, was an inspirational Black author and feminist committed to social activism. Her writings, focused on race, gender, and class disparities, have been hugely influential in a multitude of domains, and have positively influenced the mental health field.

bell hooks continuously advocated for Black women’s mental well-being and prioritized the importance of intersectionality. She wrote about the silencing effects of systemic oppression, and incorporated Black feminist thought into therapeutic spaces to ensure that Black women’s lived experiences are heard and seen. She emphasized that Black women need communal, therapeutic spaces to freely discuss intersecting experiences that are otherwise silenced or shamed by oppressive forces.

bell hooks ultimately advocated that Black women need acknowledgement, and that it is imperative that mental health practitioners and spaces are equipped for understanding the acute importance of intersecting experiences. Her foundational and pioneering body of work will continue to affect mental health research, mental health spaces, and anti-oppressive practices for generations.

Evelyn Polk Green, M.S. Ed.

(- present)

ADHD & Mental Health Advocate.

Evelyn has been an ADHD and mental health advocate for 30 years, dedicated to improving mental health services and reducing the stigma associated to mental health and ADHD services. She is a past board President of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Throughout her advocacy career she has been focused on the challenges of ADHD in minority, poor, and other underserved populations.  As a Black woman diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD and as a mother of two Black boys with ADHD, she has served as a leader, speaking from her experiences, representing the family voice, creating spaces for needed services, dialogue, and representation for communities that have been left out of the conversation.  Evelyn Polk Green continues to advocate, contribute and make difference in ADHD and Mental Health, she has written two recent articles in ADDitude, an online magazine about ADHD called We Need to Talk About ADHD in Stigma in ADHD communities, April 7, 2022 and Having “The Talk” with Black Children Impacted by ADHD and Race, March 31, 2022.

The Black History Month Planning Committee, in partnership with the Equity and Inclusion Office and other partners throughout McMaster, are holding virtual and in-person events throughout the month.

Check out their Instagram & Twitter Accounts for more info!