By Rosemaria DiBenedetto – SMG Chicago
It began in 1976 under then President Gerald Ford, and every United States president since then has recognized February as Black History Month. Ford wanted our country to use this time annually to acknowledge and honor the many accomplishments and achievements brought forth by Black Americans.
The theme of this year’s month is “Black Health and Wellness,” and examines the programs and proposals initiated by Black communities deemed successful in keeping Black Americans healthy. History has a lengthy list of individuals who broke color barriers and more to provide medical care to Black Americans from the early 1800’s to the present.
For instance, the first educated Black physician in the United States was James McCune Smith. Smith was born in 1813 and lived and died in New York according to Wikipedia. He became the first “African American to hold a medical degree and he was graduated at the top in his class at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After his return to the United States, he became the first African American to run a pharmacy in the nation.”
By the late 1860’s, the U.S. had its first Black woman to receive a medical degree and coincidentally, was the only Black graduate of the New England Female Medical College in Boston. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler single handedly change the face of medicine and spent a lifetime providing medical care for slaves particularly woman and children. She is credited with the notion of “preventive care” for woman and dedicated her life to helping the neediest in her community.
The first Black female neurosurgeon was a resident of Lansing, Michigan named Dr. Alexa Irene Canady. Canady pursued her studies in pediatrics and her research in children included studies on a medical condition known as hydrocephalus which is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. Her work continues to save the lives of young children.
Most recently, many of us watched Dr. Jerome Michael Adams navigate the waters of the early days of the Covid pandemic as former President Donald Trump’s Surgeon General of the United States. Adams was a Vice Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and was named surgeon general in 2017, a position he served until January of 2021.
The most high-profile Black American who led the charge for our nation to become a healthier country focusing on young people is former First Lady Michelle Obama. Her “Let’s Move!” program was aimed at addressing the root causes of childhood obesity. She challenged parents, educators, business leaders and elected officials to make healthier choices for children in our schools. Her efforts led to many changes in lunch programs in schools across the country.
All of us should honor these pioneers in the medical profession and the former first lady for making Black health and wellness a priority in their communities, and across this great nation.