Black History Month: Honoring Black Pioneers in Behavioral Health

Published On: February 14th, 2022Categories: News, Spectrum Corrections

The month of February was chosen to honor Black history to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglas, an African American social reformer, and Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The observance originated in the U.S. back in the 1970s to honor and recognize the contributions and achievements of Black Americans throughout history.

In honor of Black History Month, we want to take some time to highlight a few notable behavioral health professionals who were instrumental in providing resources, information, and services to those struggling with addiction and mental health within the Black community. These pioneers helped pave the way for us to provide the services we offer to this day.

Mental illness affects 1 in 4 Americans, according to, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports Black Americans are even more likely to suffer from mental health challenges and substance misuse compared to any other community. This is due to the historical exclusions from proper healthcare, educational, social, and economic resources.

Reflecting on the struggles of great Americans who paved the way for success can help us continue to make improvements for all communities. Let’s take a look at Jackie McKinney – a survivor of trauma, addiction, homelessness, and the psychiatric and criminal justice systems. She took her own personal experiences and became an advocate for Black women and their children. What would have happened if Jackie let the historical exclusions that she faced act as barriers rather than challenge them? She might not have been a trailblazer helping to establish resources like the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network, which has helped many overcome the same obstacles she faced. Jackie went on to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for her honorary leadership and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors.

Pioneers like McKinney leave a legacy and it is important to continue that legacy to ensure changes and improvements continue to be made. American author, journalist and mental health advocate Bebe Moore Campbell is another noteworthy pioneer. She will forever be remembered for helping pave the way for mental health services. Moore Campbell used her role to shed light on the mental health needs within the Black community and many underrepresented communities. She was the founder of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-Inglewood), which created a safe space for Black Americans to talk about mental health concerns and needs. Yet she still always hoped more could be done. “Can’t we, as a nation, begin a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African Americans?” said Bebe Moore Campbell. “It’s not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.” Inspired by Bebe’s charge to end stigma and provide mental health information, Congress formally made the month of July Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. To this day, it continues to bring awareness to the unique struggles that those underrepresented in the U.S. face while battling mental illness.

Breaking Down Barriers

Throughout Black History Month, and all year long, we will continue to stress the importance of sharing stories and the journeys people go through when faced with substance use and mental health struggles. Speaking out helps break down these barriers for all and lets people know that they are never alone. It’s important to highlight that we all deserve access to quality care no matter the obstacles.

We are grateful to Moore Campbell and McKinney and many others for all the work they did and the stance they took to help achieve access to mental health and addiction services for Black Americans. We would not be the institution we are today without their sacrifice and dedication. We hope their stories will help to inspire more stories of triumph and resiliency for those battling mental health and substance use disorders.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or other drug addiction, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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