Greatness in Small Packages: Claudette Colvin

By Senequa Malone | UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern

Photo Credits: Claudette Colvin, aged 13, in 1953. Public Domain; Back of the bus. Photograph by Stan Wayman

We’ve heard sayings like, “From of the mouths of babes” or references is in revered text “and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). These expressions signify that children are often capable of saying or doing wise, insightful, or mature things. These words or actions can be what is needed to start a movement. This was especially true during the perilous times of the early Civil Rights Movement when many children marched, were beaten, chased by dogs, and sent to jail. The children advocated for change…change in unjust laws and change toward justice all over the country, especially for African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the South.

One such child was Claudette Colvin. As an eager young teen, she was inspired to make an immediate change one day after school. That day in class, at the segregated Booker T. Washington school in Montgomery, Claudette and her classmates discussed injustices experienced under Jim Crow laws. This bothered Claudette and she knew she had to stand for justice for herself and others. So, she decided that she would conduct her own sit-in. As she later recalled, “All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily.” Claudette knew she paid her bus fees just like everyone else and deserved to ride without any trouble. She was a member of the NAACP Youth Council and knew her constitutional rights. She went on to elaborate that it felt as if Harriet Tubman was pushing her down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth on the other.

We always want to teach our children and even communities to do what is right; having them see and experience it for themselves even if they must stand for someone else that’s being oppressed or mistreated. On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became the first person arrested for not giving up her seat to a white person.  The first person to make the news for sitting down.

Colvin’s name was all over the local radio and newspaper print. A young black girl was arrested for being a troublemaker; not giving up her seat for a white person. This disturbed the black community greatly and many leaders quickly acted to get this young lady out of jail and home safely to her family, but they were also inspired. Claudette Colvin’s approach and boldness was ingenious. This young lady sparked the talk for a new boycott.

Local leaders in the Civils Rights Movement recognized the great potential in a non-violent approach had for putting their cause in the national spotlight but did not want to put that pressure upon a child. They knew the media would try anything to demonize her character, use all stereotypes or misjudgments against her and in turn the cause. Claudette was a dark-skinned, unemployed student. Later, she became pregnant and as an unwed expectant mother, the scrutiny of national attention would be intense. Leaders did not want that amount of hate and ignorance directed towards a child. So, they patiently waited and nine months later set in motion their plan with the perfect candidate for their strategy: Rosa Parks, a secretary for the local NAACP chapter. She was a married, employed, light-skinned, mature woman with good hair and the fiery spirit to stand up to national scrutiny. She grabbed the torch of “fight” lit by Claudette Colvin and brought attention to injustice. It was the perfect recipe for success.

While certain names are more recognizable than others, it is the impact and not the recognition that matters. Claudette Colvin’s fearless action is as unmatched and commendable as other greats during these turbulent times. One person’s stance for right can be the catalyst for positive change for so many lives and future generations. The movement would never have been the success it was without the children’s contribution and sacrifice. Colvin’s immediate act for justice and clever plan worked to set the stage for the bus boycotts and later, the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. A young teenage child wanted to see change in the world, and she not only succeeded but blazed a trail for many following behind her. Maybe without Claudette Colvin, we would not know of Rosa Parks’ bravery or Dr. King’s leadership and remarkable speeches. Colvin later became one of the plaintiffs for Browder v Gayle, a federal case which led to the desegregation of Montgomery’s buses. Thusly, her example of non-violent demonstration and advocacy led to victory in the U.S. District Court and integrated busing in December 1956.

As professionals in community health and human services, we stand on the shoulders of many advocates who championed the social well-being of the people adversely impacted by Jim Crow laws. Those shoulders can be adult shoulders or teenage shoulders like Claudette Colvin. Let’s encourage our youth and our young at heart to stand for justice, to champion the well-being of others, and be ready to change the world! Greatness is out there. It is not the size that matters, but the power of the impact!


Sources:

Adler, M., & Hoose, P. (2009, March 15). Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin. NPR. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2009/03/15/101719889/before-rosa-parks-there-was-claudette-colvin

National Civil Rights Museum. Lorraine Motel. (n.d) Justice.  Retrieved from https://mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/justice. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022

Photo: Claudette Colvin, aged 13, in 1953. Public Domain

Photo: Back of the bus. Photograph by Stan Wayman

Theoharis, J. (2019, February 2). Claudette Colvin. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://rosaparksbiography.org/bio/claudette-colvin/


REDUCING DISTRESSING PREGNANCIES AMONG BLACK WOMEN: TAKE ACTION

By Jaelyn Copeland (Community Health and Human Services Student), with contributions from Shayna Bryan (Intern & Community Health and Human Services Student)

Original photography by Mario Testino for Vogue magazine

Maternal mortality rates in the United States have been increasing steadily year after year, placing the country 56th on the World Health Organization’s worldwide data set, which is near the bottom of the developed nations. This disproportionately affects black women, who face not only the typical health hazards that come with childbirth, but must also wrestle with racial bias in the medical industry

Did you know black women are three times more likely to die due to pregnancy-linked causes than their peers?

According to the CDC, for every 100,000 births, 37 black women died in comparison to 15 white women and 12 Hispanic women. The causes of these racial differences are numerous. One of the issues is a lack of access to health care and poor quality of service. However, CDC data shows that even college-educated black women die at higher rates from pregnancy-related causes than white women who did not graduate from high school.

Look no further than Serena Williams, one of the greatest professional tennis players in history and an overall acclaimed athlete with a net worth over $200 million, whose pregnancy story demonstrates that these issues penetrate every level of society. In an interview with Vogue, Williams recalls battling with major problems shortly after the birth of her daughter. After her daughter was born through Cesarean section, Williams became short of breath. Knowing her own history of blood clots in the lungs (called pulmonary embolisms), she instantly alerted a nurse to her symptoms. However, staff were slow to respond to her concerns. The resulting complications ended in Williams needing a filter inserted into one of her major veins. It took six weeks of bed rest before she eventually returned home.

Serena’s traumatic story places her among the 50,000 women in America who face dangerous or life-threatening pregnancy-related problems each year.

However, researchers suggest this estimate may still be too conservative. Racial bias in the medical industry is a systemic issue that is becoming more recognized. The CDC has launched the Hear Her campaign to spread awareness and education on the complications associated with pregnancy. The lesson for the medical industry is to listen to patients more and make sure their needs are addressed. For the rest of us, the lesson is to learn to be your own best advocate.


Here are steps you can take:

  • Enroll in pre-natal care early, 1 month before pregnancy if possible
  • Take pre-natal vitamins as early as possible, even before becoming pregnant
    • Vitamins like folate are essential to brain and spinal cord development which occurs during the first few weeks of pregnancy
  • Learn the warning signs of common complications, particularly those you are at high risk for and those in your family medical history
  • Make stress management a priority
  • Speak up!
    • Create a list of questions to ask your doctor, make your concerns heard!
    • Keep a written record to help you and your doctor stay on track and accountable during appointments

PSA developed by Brittany Reynolds, Shayna Bryan, and Larrell Wilkinson

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 25). Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 24). About the Campaign. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hearher/about-the-campaign/index.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 11). Urgent Maternal Warning Signs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hearher/maternal-warning-signs/index.html.

Fernandez, M. E. (2021, February 10). Why Black women are less likely to survive pregnancy, and what’s being done about it. http://www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/02/10/why-black-women-are-less-likely-to-survive-pregnancy-and-whats-being-done-about-it.

Haskell, R. (2018, January 10). Serena Williams on Motherhood, Marriage, and Making Her Comeback. Vogue. https://www.vogue.com/article/serena-williams-vogue-cover-interview-february-2018.

Lockhart, P. R. (2018, January 11). What Serena Williams’s scary childbirth story says about medical treatment of black women. Vox. http://www.vox.com/identities/2018/1/11/16879984/serena-williams-childbirth-scare-black-women.

Testino, M. (September 2017). Photograph of Serena Williams. Vogue.

WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group, and United Nations Population Division Trends in Maternal Mortality: 2000 to 2017 Geneva: World Health Organization, 2019. Retrieved from: https://data.worldbank.


REFLECTING ON JUNETEENTH: FROM CELEBRATION TO CALL FOR ACTION (FOR ALL AMERICANS)

By Shayna Bryan (UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern) with contributions from Dr. Larrell L. Wilkinson

On Thursday, June 17th (2021), the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was signed into law, making this year’s observation of Juneteenth, the first observation of the new federal holiday.  On Friday, the 18th, Dr. Larrell Wilkinson had the opportunity to speak to a diverse group of college sophomores and juniors about aging research within the fields of community health and human services.  During his talk, Dr. Wilkinson spoke about the day’s federal observance of “Juneteenth” which is traditionally celebrated on June 19th in celebration of the day in 1865 when enslaved African-Americans were informed of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended.  Dr. Wilkinson shared with the young diverse scholars his hope for the Juneteenth commemoration to help foster “understanding given diverse racial experiences among Americans, which could support racial healing and reconciliation among Americans, and lead to greater solidarity within our country.”  He ended by saying that “we have to do the work…Americans can overcome challenges when working together and tackling the issues.”

Juneteenth is about celebrating the end of chattel slavery in the US as well as African American history, culture, and progress. But make no mistake, this is an American celebration for everyone because it marks a turning point in our nation’s history that is painful to remember but essential to understand for our future.  Slavery was a terrible human and economic institution that has bathed our country’s history in blood and conflict.  In our present day and into the future we have opportunities to reduce the instances of racial violence and prejudice and heal the hurts from our many past circumstances of injustice.  Keeping systems of segregation, discrimination, and oppression due to the social construct of race in order to preserve power, resources, or wealth for a select racial category is un-American and will not lead to the forming of a “more perfect union.”

We should never forget the terrible atrocities conducted under the system of slavery or the harms performed during the eras of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.  But we should also remember to celebrate the recovery and progress made towards racial harmony and cultural proficiency by all racial groups and work to secure the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” What are your thoughts? From your point of view, what is the best way(s) to improve cultural and racial harmony in the United States of America? Please feel free to leave comments below or engage with us @WilkinsonWellnessLab on Facebook.


CDC’s Commitment to Addressing Racism as an Obstacle to Health Equity

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

Commentary drawn from Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Media Statement & Website released Thursday, April 8 2021

According to the CDC (2021),…”Racism—both interpersonal and structural —negatively affects the mental and physical health of millions of people, preventing them from attaining their highest level of health, and consequently, affecting the health of our nation. A growing body of research shows that centuries of racism in this country has had a profound and negative impact on communities of color. The impact is pervasive and deeply embedded in our society—affecting where one lives, learns, works, worships and plays and creating inequities in access to a range of social and economic benefits—such as housing, education, wealth, and employment. These conditions—often referred to as social determinants of health—are key drivers of health inequities within communities of color, placing those within these populations at greater risk for poor health outcomes.”

The CDC is committed to ensuring every person has the opportunity to live a healthy life. To that end, CDC—as the nation’s leading public health agency—has established this web portal, “Racism and Health” to serve as a hub for our activities, promote a public discourse on how racism negatively affects health and communicate potential solutions. Working with the broader public health community, the CDC will serve as a catalyst to further investigate the impact of racism on health and efforts to achieve health equity for all.

As the nation’s leading public health agency, other efforts from the CDC in addressing the impact of racism on public health include:

  • Continuing to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and propose and implement solutions to address this.
  • Making new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.
  • Expanding internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.

For more information about the CDC’s efforts in addressing Racism & Health, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/racism-disparities/index.html. Also, feel free to share your thoughts and concerns regarding racism here in the comments section, or engage with us at the Wilkinson Wellness Lab on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


#STOPAAPIHATE, Be a Good Neighbor

By Jun Wang & Shayna Bryan (Interns & UAB Community Health & Human Services Students), & Dr. Larrell L. Wilkinson

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

The United States of America is a country of great cultural diversity. People from all around the world come here and contribute to the broader American community. Asian Americans & Pacific Islander (AAPI) citizens also call the United States of American their home, about 22.6 million in number which accounts for about 5.4% of the population (US Census Bureau, 2021).

Anti-Asian sentiment is not a new problem in the United States.  Asian immigrants first came to the US in the 1850s and were instrumental in expansion and development of the western half of the country (US Census Bureau, 2020). But in response to cultural and economic objections fueled by ethnic discrimination, President Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, which remains the first and only immigration law that targeted a specific ethnic group. The law wasn’t repealed until 1943. This type of in-group/out-group mentality threatens our strength and abilities as a country. It is in this vein and in working to affirm the humanity of all individuals that the recent rise in violent acts against the AAPI community must be addressed and stopped.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans has risen by 150% (Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, 2020). During this time when our country should unite to face down the COVID-19 pandemic, some choose dissension, violence, and hate.  But we can choose to be kind to each other, seek to live peacefully with one another, and act to care for our neighbors.

Here are some tips for all of us to combat this challenge together:

  1. Call 911 for help or to make a report to authorities if you witness a hate crime or harmful incident suspected of being racially or ethnically motivated.
  2. Use your voice within social media to speak against hate speech, while affirming support for all humanity.
  3. Do a “care check-in” with your AAPI neighbors and friends

For this on other ways to help build a more “just” and healthy society, please visit the websites of the Society of Public Health Education and the American Public Health Association.  Please continue to follow us at the Wilkinson Wellness Lab.  Join the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/wilkinsonwellnesslab.  Let’s all be better, together!

Everyone please put on masks, practice social distancing, and stay safe.

Use this image to share our message on social media

References

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: May 2020. (30 April 2020). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2020/aian.html

US Census Data. Retrieved from: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=united%20states&g=0100000US&tid=ACSDP5Y2018.DP05&hidePreview=true

Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute United States Department of State. Retrieved from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/chinese-immigration

FACT SHEET – Anti-Asian Hate 2020. Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism. CSUSB. Retrieved from https://www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%203.2.21.pdf

Stop AAPI Hate 2020-2021 National Report. Retrieved from: https://stopaapihate.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Stop-AAPI-Hate-National-Report-210316.pdf

Stop AAPI Hate Resources. https://stopaapihate.org/resources/