It’s Black history month! This means it’s time to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future when it comes to supporting and championing those within the African American community. Mental health is something everyone has, no matter their race or background. 

Black Americans have not had it easy when it comes to accessible and equitable mental health services. However, many mental health pioneers within the space have in fact been Black themselves. This article will celebrate the accomplishments and highlight the milestones of these individuals.

M. Joycelyn Elders

Being only the second woman to be sworn in as the Surgeon General of the United States, who was also of African-American descent, Dr. Jocelyn Elders has a number of impressive accomplishments. Her passions included advocating for sex education in public schools, offering universal health coverage, and providing individuals with the knowledge and tools needed to take ownership of their own personal health.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders was also the first person to become a board-certified pediatric endocrinologist in the state of Arkansas, where she pursued research in diabetic studies and minority health issues. Her knowledge and passion for helping underserved communities leave a legacy in her path even to this day. She even established an internal Office of Minority Health and is currently sharing her love of teaching at the University of Arkansas.

Beverly Greene

If you have ever read the book “When The Therapist is White and the Patent is Black: Considerations for Psychotherapy in the Feminist Heterosexual and Lesbian Communities”, you know the true impact Beverly Greene has had on the mental health space, specifically for the Black community. She has spent years studying her passion for feminism through the lens of DEIB. She earned an award for Distinguished Publication from the Association for Women in Psychology. (1)

Freda C. Lewis-Hall

As a Johns Hopkins University graduate, Freda C. Lewis-Hall has an impressive background. She served as a CMO for Pfizer as well as an Executive VP role. She is a trained psychiatrist who has a passion for academia, research, and service. She was awarded a seat on the inaugural Board of Governors for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and was a member of a variety of councils and committees advising public health initiatives. She was most recently recognized as one of the Nation’s 75 Most Powerful Women in Business by Black Enterprise Magazine.

Jacki McKinney

Jacki McKinney has a unique background as a survivor of oppression, homelessness, hunger, and trauma. As an advocate for Black women and children, she used her past to inform her future as a champion for the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network. Her attitude towards people with mental illness made her a pioneer in approaching individuals in a way that understands their past while encouraging moving towards the people. (2)

We hope this article allowed you to spend a little bit of time learning about Black pioneers in the mental health space. If your child is in need of pediatric mental health care, Neurobehavioral Associates is here to support you.



  1. Ten Black Leaders in Psychology and Mental Health You Need to Know – Active Minds
  2. Black Pioneers in Mental Health – Mental Health America