Celebrating Black Psychologists in Mental Health

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, February 21, 2024
By coralgables_admin

By Alexis N. Upshaw, RI, MHC

Black History Month is upon us and, with February being a month that celebrates love, I want to take the opportunity to express my admiration for the historical figures in the Black community who paved the way for people like myself to find their place in the field of psychology. The mental health care disparities in Black communities can be traced back to slavery, which makes the stories of the individuals I am about to share all the more remarkable.

woman with design of a brain

In 1928, Francis Cecil Sumner, known as the “Father of Black Psychology,” became the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology. Despite facing many obstacles, Sumner was able to teach at multiple universities and publish several articles. Over a decade later, Inez Beverly Prosser earned her PhD in Psychology, becoming the first Black woman to do so. She served as a professor and studied the impact of racism on children’s mental health.

In 1981, Robert Lee Williams II took an aptitude test that suggested he pursue a career in manual labor. Despite this, he pursued the highest level of education and earned a PhD in clinical psychology. He went on to create the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity to highlight biases in existing assessments. His test was specifically designed for Black students, taking into account their speech and experiences, and showed that they were able to perform better on it when the exam reflected their reality.

In the present day, there are Black psychologists such as Beverly Daniel Tatum who are nationally recognized writers and professors. They continue to lead conversations regarding race and racism. Tatum highlights the significance of discussing race in our society as a solution to racism.

Black psychologists from the past have opened doors for people like myself to learn and grow, and hopefully, one day, create work to help bring about positive change for Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the community. Thanks to pioneers like Francis Cecil Sumner, Inez Beverly Prosser, Robert Lee Williams II, and Beverly Daniel Tatum, BIPOC individuals now have a stronger voice and presence in the field of psychology.

And with the utmost appreciation, respect, and admiration for these individuals and all the work they have accomplished, I thank them.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Featured psychologists: Francis Cecil Sumner, Phd and Inez Beverly Prosser, Phd. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/psychologists/sumner-prosser
Guild. (2021, February 11). 8 black psychologists who made history. https://guildservices.org/blog/8-black-psychologists-who-made-history/
Otten, L. (2020, November 20). Obituary: Robert L. Williams II, founding director of Black Studies Program, 90 – the source – washington university in St. Louis. The Source. https://source.wustl.edu/2020/08/obituary-robert-l-williams-ii-founding-director-of-black-studies-program-90/

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

a heart in outer space