Black History Month Learning Opportunities Not To Be Missed

Photo from TUDUM by Netflix

Last week’s post made the case that paying attention to Black History Month is more important than ever. And it is important for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or politics. This week I will explore some of the many types of learning opportunities, and what I am learning from a couple of examples.

Everyone has access to learning that advances the purpose of Black History Month – i.e., to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Media offer an extraordinary range of learning opportunities. Here are a few that have deepened my understanding in the past few weeks. A January 28 article in the Washington Post opened my eyes to another example of systemic racism. Entitled How Thousands of Black U.S Doctors Vanished, the story is an Opinion essay written by Dr. Uche’ Blackstock and excerpted from her new book Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine.

This story offers a deeper understanding of the role of Black community doctors and how their training was radically reduced.  The author’s mother was also a doctor during the 1980s and 1990s; she was an attending doctor at King’s County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. Blackstock’s mother took the time to truly attend to not only her patient but their children and families. Her practice understood the context of the mostly Black families she was treating.

Dr. Blackstock describes why there are no longer doctors like her mother. It’s a tragic loss to the Black community and healthcare practice in America. Her article celebrates the many Black physicians who graduated medical school, and practiced medicine before the publication of the Flexner Report in 1910 – “a landmark document in U.S. medical history that had a devastating effect on the number of Black physicians in this country.”*

While Dr. Flexner is credited with raising the standards of medicine through his report based on his personal visit to all 155 medical schools in the U.S., his beliefs about Black people and his commitment to raising standards at all costs resulted in the closing of five of the seven Black medical schools. These schools, beginning with Washington, D.C. Howard University College of Medicine, founded in 1868, began training Black doctors in the late 19th century. “By 1905, those Black medical schools had trained 1,465 doctors.”

Dr. Blackstone explains that Dr. Flexner “… had strongly racist opinions on the role of Black people in medicine. He wrote that Black students should be trained in ‘hygiene rather than surgery’ and were best employed as ‘sanitarians’ who could help protect White people from common diseases such as tuberculosis.”

The author acknowledges that there was need for reform in medical training. But the underlying racism prevented leaders from looking for ways to preserve the capacity to train hundreds of Black doctors annually. When the nation suffered from the Covid pandemic, the author sadly realized that because those five Black medical schools closed, there were 25-35,000 fewer Black doctors available to assist her community.

This story is a reminder of the many Black doctors, practitioners and scientists who made and continue to make unbelievable contributions to our national health and advancement.  Sadly, racism has fostered systems that are inequitable, resulting in an ongoing underrepresentation of Blacks in medicine and other professions.

The Greatest Night in Pop, a Netflix documentary about the 1984 recording of We Are the World is another example of the contribution and talents of Black artists. Lionel Richie with support from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and dozens of world-known singers came together to create a song in support of famine relief in Ethiopia and Africa. While the film has some critics**, it is impossible to watch this film and not be in awe of the combination of musical talent, organizing genius, and emotional intelligence that made this recording possible. For me, it was a gift to relive this beautiful moment and to remember that talent is equally available in all people. Often, white people are shocked by accomplishments of Black leaders. Unfortunately, unconscious and stated biases limit opportunities for Black people to achieve and for white people to appreciate these achievements.

There are lots of ways to learn about Black History. Read, watch, listen by yourself or with a group. Google Black History Month and you will find more choices than you can absorb. Pick a few and share what you learned with others. Change will happen when we start paying attention to the universal loss that structural racism brings. And we need change to reach “liberty and justice for all”.

*All quotes about this topic are from How Thousands of Black U.S Doctors Vanished by Dr. Uche’ Blackstock, Washington Post, Sunday, January 28, 2024.

**MSNBC and other reviewers point out that the documentary missed an opportunity to point out that two women survivors of famine in Ethiopia attended the recording at Stevie Wonder’s invitation and were not included in the film. The cause of hunger relief is, according to the critics, overshadowed by the artists’ personalities in this documentary.


  • Tom Adams

    Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.

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  1. Tamara Copeland

    Thanks, Tom, particularly for the part on Black doctors. Racism has been buried in so many ways. A desire for excellence has been one of the many smokescreens.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Tamara for your comment and for your new book Revealed. It is a powerful opportunity for anyone looking to go deeper in undersatdnign structural racism to learn in an organized digestibale way.

  2. Bob Zdenek

    Tom this is a really good piece. Black doctors have been a critical resource in communities of color and they are being replaced largely by emergency room doctors or what is referred to as hospital doctors. The cost in terms of care and income is staggering and negative health outcomes continue to risk despite all the medical advances.

    I also saw the documentary on We are the World and I was struck by Lionel Ritchie’s amazing role in getting all that talent to sing together. It is challenging with all that talent to create a collaborative outcome that makes a difference. We need more of that collaborative spirit that is deeply rooted in the Black community.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Bob, appreciate your adding your expereince. Be well,