“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” – Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson was an accomplished black author, editor, publisher and historian in the early 20th century. He is also known as the “Father of Black History” for capturing the role of African Americans and their many contributions and accomplishments to American and international society.
He founded Negro History Week, a celebration to commemorate the establishment of the 13th Amendment, which freed enslaved Africans in the United States. Negro History Week later gave way to what we now know as Black History Month. Today, Black History Month serves as a reminder and celebration of the historical and contemporary contributions African Americans have made in our society.
Over the last one hundred years, many African Americans have laid the groundwork to the great strides we’ve made in improving health care outcomes for the community. These leaders of the past inspire our present and make way for the future. And that’s why during Black History Month, we are honoring leaders of the past, present, and future.
There’s a saying that you can’t know where you’re going, without understanding your past – and this rings true for reproductive freedom for the African American community. The history of the reproductive rights movement is as complicated as the nation’s, but throughout our history, Planned Parenthood and the African American community have worked together to break down barriers to health care access posed by poverty, racism, and politics.
These are just a few of the African American heroes and leaders we honor who transformed the past and collectively laid the important, necessary work for the reproductive freedoms we have today:
- Faye Wattleton – A nurse practitioner and certified midwife who was the first African American and female President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
- Rebecca Lee Crumpler – The first African American woman to earn a medical degree. Dr. Crumpler dedicated her life’s work to improving health outcomes in the black community.
- Lavinia Brown – The first African American woman to be a surgeon in the south. She was a strong proponent for women’s rights who advocated for legalized abortion in cases of rape or incest.
- Maria Stewart – The first African American woman to make public lectures about women’s rights, speaking on sexism and the degradation of women’s work.
Planned Parenthood is committed to protecting and increasing access to health care and opportunity for all Americans. Far too many people in the African American community continue to face unequal access to health care and education services, but discussion without action toward full health equity will have little impact on people’s lives. We realize that a person’s overall health is connected to their economic and education opportunities, as well as social and political equity.
That is why we’re honoring the efforts of these modern day heroes on the forefront of health care who continue to combat barriers to access. While African American health care providers are making history around the world, there are a few Planned Parenthood heroes we want to spotlight:
- Vernita Gutierrez – The Director of Community Engagement for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest who has been with the organization for over 25 years, represents the organization on several community coalitions and advisory boards, and oversees the education and outreach programs for San Diego County, including constituency outreach, community partnerships, and more.
- Kimala Price, PhD – An Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University and Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest board member, who is strongly committed to and advocates for women’s health and rights as part of her scholarly research.
- Willie Parker, MD – The former Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan D.C. has dedicated his career to serving the most vulnerable women in Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Illinois by providing safe abortion care.
- Raegan McDonald-Moseley, MD – The Chief Medical Officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Dr. McDonald-Moseley has conducted research related to family planning and has participated in international public health projects. She is dedicated to improving health care outcomes not only for her community but also in underserved regions around the world.
- Madison T. Shockley – The pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad has a long history of support and engagement with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. In 2014, he received the Reverends Betsy M. and Thomas Davis Distinguished Service Award from Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He currently serves on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Clergy Advocacy Board.
Much like before, the urgency of now continues to inspire a new generation of social justice leaders. Right now, our young volunteers and leaders are shaping the conversation on campuses and in local communities about reproductive health care. These young people are the next generation of social justice leaders who will advocate on behalf of their communities and work to create a better world with reproductive freedom and justice for all people.
This year, we’re excited to move into the future with our new Medical Director on board, Dr. Sierra Washington. An advocate for women’s health and rights, before joining Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Dr. Washington worked to provide safe, accessible care at other Planned Parenthood affiliates.
She previously worked in Sub-Saharan Africa fighting the raging HIV epidemic alongside other dedicated medical professionals. We look to Dr. Washington and the other dedicated medical professionals who are rising to the occasion to lead the charge in bridging the gap in health equity.
Black History Month is not only an opportunity to build awareness about the people who have paved the way and the advancements in our nation’s health care system, but it also serves as a reminder that this work is only successful if we continue to develop partnerships with the communities we serve.