On the final Friday of Black History Month, RHAP is taking the time to highlight black women’s health pioneer and lifelong activist Byllye Avery. Avery’s path first led her to a career in education, where she taught children with special needs in Jacksonville, Florida while pursuing a Master’s in Education. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and losing her husband to a heart attack in his mid 30s, Avery recognized the lack of interest and dedication of bringing access of health education to the African American community. She recognized the plight of the community and all of the stressors that affected mental and physical health within the black population-including race and socio-economic status. Her passions honed into women’s health and in the late 1960s, she emerged as a leader in the underground abortion referral network, and after the Roe v. Wade victory, she co-founded the Gainesville (Fla.) Women’s Health Center and Birthplace, a midwifery birthing center, known today as the Birth and Wellness Center.
In 1983, she moved to Atlanta after attending a conference at Spelman College and founded the National Black Women’s Health Project (now known as the Black Women’s Health Imperative) whose mission is to “advance the health and wellness of America’s 19.5 million black women and girls through advocacy, community health, wellness education and leadership development.”
Avery has been awarded numerously for her work within the public health and reproductive justice scope, including being the 1989 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Decades later, she still strives to highlight and work towards fixing the inequalities that Black women face when making reproductive and other health care decisions.