Celebrating Black Health and Wellness: Past, Present, and Future
Learn more about Black health champions making a difference in communities across the country.
Every February, Black History Month is commemorated across the U.S., honoring the legacy and impact of Black Americans who have inspired individuals and communities to follow in their footsteps.
However, the dedication of Black health leaders and educators extends well beyond February, and Healthier Generation celebrates health champions who are working together to advance whole-child health all year round.
In celebration of this year’s theme of Black Health and Wellness, Sheronda Witter Fleming, Ph.D., director, NC Center for Afterschool Programs, David P. “Anderson,” MSSE, general manager, Think Together – Southeast Los Angeles County, and Ashlyn Pinkins, MPH, surveillance epidemiologist, Louisiana Department of Health, share the role models who have had an impact on them, the lessons they have learned, and what gives them hope as they work towards a healthier future.
Q: Which Black historical figures or role models have had an impact on you and the direction of your career?
A: Dr. Fleming: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had the greatest impact on me personally and professionally. Specifically, his quote, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase” has been fundamental to who I am as a person. This quote and the teachings of Dr. King remind me to show up and to always have faith in myself as I fulfill my life's purpose.
I also admire and look up to former First Lady Michelle Obama. She reminds us that the process of becoming who we are destined to be is amazing. We should embrace and enjoy the journey as we become our best and most authentic selves.
We should embrace and enjoy the journey as we become our best and most authentic selves.
Anderson: Mayor Tom Bradley was the first and still the only Black mayor of Los Angeles. Mayor Bradley served in office for 20 years. I met him as a youth and as I navigate through my career in service, I often reflect on his legacy and extraordinary achievements accomplished during a time where America was polarized by race and woven in social and political tension.
Ashlyn: Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the first African American and the second woman appointed as surgeon general, was an advocate for universal healthcare, comprehensive sexual health education, immunizations, and self-esteem programs in schools, and a slew of other public health initiatives aimed at improving the health and welfare of the public. Elders is a public health pioneer and her commitment to physical, mental, and emotional health is something I aim to emulate in my own career.
Q: What are some “big picture” lessons you've learned or wins you’re proud of as a health educator and/or community leader?
A: Dr. Fleming: Over the course of my career journey, I’ve realized two important truths. The first is that the work of out-of-school time and youth development professionals and educators is a work of heart. At the true essence of these professions is a passion for children, youth and teens, and a desire to ensure they succeed and thrive both now and in the future.
The second truth is taught to us often by airlines. As a part of their pre-flight safety procedures, flight attendants tell us that in the event of an emergency, we should "put our oxygen masks on first.” This reminder to practice self-care is paramount. None of us can pour into others from an empty cup. This truth resonates so much for us currently, as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges our emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
Anderson: Your best is enough! We all balance tons of variables in our lives, some days more than others. Find peace not in being perfect in all moments, but by being your best “you.”
Your best is enough!
Ashlyn: The importance of downtime. Productivity is often overemphasized. While it’s important and admirable to be focused on advancing in your chosen field or skill, it’s just as important to rest. We are not machines – taking time to indulge in things that make you happy or just resting does wonders for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Q: What are you excited about or hopeful for as you look to the future?
A: Dr. Fleming: On the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am definitely looking forward to seeing my friends and loved ones smile and laugh freely! I am also looking forward to big hugs without the fear of contracting the virus. All of these connections will be well worth the wait.
Anderson: I’m hopeful that as a country – community by community – we will continue to progress by welcoming diversity and understanding that together is better. As we take time to breathe, to show love, decency, and respect for all people, we will be a more successful, happier, and healthier country.
Ashlyn: The end of the pandemic and the growth of public health. Much has happened in the last two years. I look forward to seeing this experience reshape future global responses for the better. Hopefully, it brings everyone to the realization that public health is a team effort and we need everyone on board. The pandemic has revealed how limited we are in individual responses and shown various cracks in healthcare systems. Let’s repair that and rebuild a stronger foundation for the future.
Public health is a team effort and we need everyone on board.
Many thanks to our health champions, for the work you're doing and the stories you've shared!
Are there Black health historical figures, role models, or educators who have had an impact on your life? Tag @HealthierGen on Twitter or @healthiergeneration on Instagram to share your thoughts using #BlackHistoryMonth and #HealthyFuture.
Check out these additional Black Health and Wellness resources: