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The stories that matter in Black History Month

By Rev. Virginia Thomas, St Andrew’s Healthcare Chaplain

Working as a chaplain within mental health enables us to challenge societal stigma that exist and to advocate for positive change. Equally, Black History Month serves as a catalyst for us all – challenging prejudice, inequality and stereotypes, whilst celebrating the lives of black pioneers, past and present, whose contribution has made a difference to society as a whole.

Black History Month is also about celebrating people’s identity, building self-esteem and educating ourselves about the amazing accomplishments that black people fought to achieve, serving to enrich our lives. The following profile of this black pioneer has been sourced from a workbook, entitled “Black Like Me” written by Dr Jocelyn Emama Maxime, a black psychologist, whom I had the privilege of meeting many years ago.

In the preface of this workbook, Dr Maxime states “It is important for the white child as well as the black child to know that black people have made and continue to make a vital contribution to the world in the fields of medicine, technology, maths, the humanities, the arts and sports among other things.  This workbook not only enhances black children’s positive image of self, but engenders the respect needed, if our aim is towards world peace and harmony."

“Dr Charles Drew, an African-American Scientist (1904 – 1950) revolutionized the science and politics of blood transfusions.  Along with developing blood storage techniques and improved means of transfusing, Drew opposed the practice of racial segregation in blood donation. Dr Drew was a brilliant black physician and surgeon in Washington USA and this discovery made him known internationally. In 1939, on the request of the British, he came to England and established Blood Banks, saving thousands of lives during World War II.  He became Director of the Medical Division of the British Blood Transfusion Association and the American Red Cross Blood Bank during World War II. After the war he returned to America to become Professor of Medicine at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington. 

On 1st April 1950, Dr Drew was seriously injured in a car accident near Burlington in North Carolina and was in need of blood to save his life and was rushed to the nearest hospital. However, Dr Drew was refused attention at this hospital because he was black and the hospital staff gave directions to the nearest hospital for black people, but sadly died before reaching this hospital.  Sad, but true, this black medical genius, who gave the world the gift of preserving blood, died because he was refused blood due to the colour of his skin.”

This poignant story brings home so acutely the reason why we celebrate Black History Month, as we discover the contribution, dedication and sacrifices of many unsung heroes and black pioneers across the world.