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Black History Month: Highlighting Past & Present Black American Trailblazers For Health And Wellness

In honor of Black History Month, we’re putting the spotlight on some of our favorite Black influencers who have moved the needle and pioneered health and wellness through various achievements and movements that have changed lives, especially for those in their community. If you need a boost of motivation in your life, look no further than the stories of these leaders for some inspiration.

1. Mae Jemison

Currently 64 years old, Mae Jemison is well-known for being the first female African American astronaut when she flew aboard the Endeavor in 1992, however her impact on improving global health crisis is another significance she has to her name. She received her M.D. and served as a general practitioner after interning with University of Southern California Medical School. She later combined her astronaut skills of satellite telecommunications with her experience in the peace corps where she learned about healthcare in developing countries to create a system based off of this to deliver and improve healthcare for those nations through her founding of the Jemison Group. 

2. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 – 1895)

Formerly known as Rebecca Davis, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American female physician in 1864. She dedicated a lot of her time to research and work in clinics, and she challenged the prejudices that held African Americans back from practicing medicine.

She is also known as being one of the first African Americans to write a book on medicine titled A Book of Medical Discourses. She studied at the New England Female Medical College and echoed in her publication that she “sought every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others”.

3. Michelle Obama

All politics aside, former First Lady Michelle Obama is credited for her efforts in trying to prevent the child obesity epidemic in America. In 2010, she launched the β€œLet’s Move” initiative to promote physical activity and access to more nutritious foods for young kids. She advocated for better food labeling, and also started the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to provide healthier meals to kids in schools and fund meal programs for kids in impoverished areas. 

4. Sariane Leigh

Sariane Leigh has led a wellness revolution for women in an underserved and primarily Black community near Washington DC. Seeing a lot of people in her community struggling with digestive issues, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses compounded with less access to healthier markets and fresh groceries nearby, she launched a Vinyasa Yoga Class at the local library and promotes meditation, healthy eating, as well as her very own Soulful Yoga flow class to help empower people to healthier lifestyles.

5. Vanessa Garrison and Tanya Morgan Dixon

These two inspirational ladies started a movement to promote exercise and combat obesity in the Black Community through GirlTrek, a nonprofit empowering better health for Black Women by encouraging a simple and manageable daily task – only 30 minutes of walking. Through their efforts, they organized a 15k person march by 2014 as a tribute to American Abolitionist Harriet Tubman. In under a decade, they magnified their following and surpassed their goal to get 1 million women to join their daily walking movement.

6. Ernestine Shephard

Ernestine Shephard is the greatest motivation and proof that it’s never too late to transform your life for the better. At the age of 56, she decided to make a change in her health after she was unhappy with her own state of physical health and her sister passed away of a brain aneurysm. She started doing aerobics but eventually got into bodybuilding and went on shortly thereafter to take the place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 as the oldest female bodybuilder. Now at 84 years old, she no longer competes but is still very active with lifting weights after running numerous marathons with a couple bodybuilding titles to her name. She has experience teaching group fitness to seniors at her community church and personal training at her local gym.

7. Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks

In 2009, These two women founded the grassroots organization Black Girls Run! with the mission to reduce the epidemic of obesity across America, particularly with Black women in mind for many communities across the country. They organized a following of runners that evolved into a movement which is now a national health tour with media sponsors and groups united with their cause to fight obesity across the U.S. 

8. Otis Boykin (1920 – 1982)

Otis Boykin was an American engineer and inventor of 28 electronic devices in his career, but probably his most significant including progress for the pacemaker through a patented method used to improve the precision of the medical device. His other inventions included electrical resisters for computing in a variety of common and everyday devices and a variable resister used for guiding missiles.

9. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917 – 1983 )

After becoming one of the first African American women to receive her doctorate PhD in Psychology while at Columbia University, Mamie Phipps Clark’s work with the Clark Doll Test played a pivotal role in the Brown Vs. Board of Education case. Through her series of tests, she exposed internalized racism and the negative implications segregation had for African American children. She spent a lot of time studying mental health, self-identification and esteem in black children as part of her master’s thesis, and later on this research would help influence part of the historical Civil Rights movement to desegregate schools.

10. Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley (commonly known as Jessamyn) is a body-positivity advocate, writer, podcast host of Dear Jessamyn, and worldwide virtual and in-person Yoga instructor. She believes in the effectiveness of Yoga to break emotional and mental barriers and heal. She actively promotes the beauty in all body sizes and breaks the common standards that health has look a specific way. Through her Yoga practice, she admiringly promotes women to focus on how the exercise of Yoga makes them feel, rather than how they look.

Catherine Rotman