BHM Feb 2021

Black History Month is an opportunity to honor and celebrate the contributions African Americans have made in the United States. As we use the month to highlight the many contributions from the African American community, we encourage you to learn about these contributions beyond simply this month.

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Behavioral Health Champions


Joy DeGruy, PhD

Dr. Joy Angela DeGruy is a researcher, social worker and educator most known for her work focused on the intersections of racism, trauma, violence and American slavery. Through her research Dr. DeGruy has developed an assessment scale for measuring respect amongst African American male youth, published numerous articles focused on African American experiences, and published her seminal book entitled

 “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing.”. Watch the short video to learn more about PTSS and how to promote healing with African American communities.

It is important to note that while PTSS is a theory that offers insight into how racism can have a generational trauma impact, Blackness alone is not an indicator of mental stress, anguish, or illness. It should not be assumed that PTSS is present by identity within the African American community alone. A whole person approach, and getting to know each individual you work with on a personal level is the most effective route for cultural responsiveness.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life is a story of resiliency and success despite many behavioral health challenges throughout his young life. A pop icon, cultural figure, graffiti artist, musician, and neo-expressionist painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat could both read and write by the age of four. By the time he was eleven, he was fluent in English, French, and Spanish. By the time Basquiat was fifteen, he ran away from home, living for less than a week in Washington Square Park, after which he was arrested and sent back home to live with his father. He dropped out of school in tenth grade, after which his father kicked him out of the house, leaving the young artist to live with friends, supporting himself by selling T-shirts and homemade postcards.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

In the 1970’s Basquiat began spray painting buildings in Lower Manhattan, using the pseudonym SAMO, earning him notoriety and a certain amount of fame. His spray-painted crowns and scribbled words referenced everything from his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, to political issues, pop-culture icons, and Biblical verses. By 1982, he was regularly showing his work, and had many high-profile friend ships, including a brief relationship with Madonna, a brief involvement with the musician David Bowie, and a long-time collaboration with the artist Andy Warhol.  Although he became a successful artist, Basquiat struggled with  addiction throughout his life, notoriously stating “I had some money, I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people.” Basquiat’s legacy of exploring identity and meaning through his work inspired many to express, transform, and heal through works of art.


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