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Reflections on Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a good time to reflect on both the profound contributions of African Americans, and the ongoing struggle against oppression and injustice.

At the KP Mental Health Training Program, we think particularly of the contributions of the many Black pioneers in the field of mental health, like Francis Sumner, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology at Clark University in 1920, and one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University. One of Sumner’s students at Howard was Kenneth Clark. Clark encouraged his then girlfriend Mamie Phipps to join him in getting a master’s degree. Her thesis on the “Development of Self in Negro Pre-School Children,” served as the starting point for the doll experiments that, after the Clarks both earned their Ph.Ds. in psychology from Columbia University, would provide part of the scientific foundation for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision which ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional.

As President Obama has recently reminded us, Black History Month should not be treated as though it were separate from our collective American history—or boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits. Black history is American history, and this month is “about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future.”

Contributed by Renn Schauer, Psy.D., and Mia Semelman

Get involved

Your EID liaisons encourage you to celebrate Black History Month by taking advantage of one of the many events that honor the shared experience of all Black Americans. Find many accessible events including documentary film screenings, seminars, and online book discussions at

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