Black History Month and the Developmental Scientists Who Lead the Way

As Black History Month winds down, I am reminded of the pioneering work of Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the historian and educator who founded Black History Week (now month). Back when I was in graduate school, I studied him and his work in a course on Developmental Theory. I was particularly interested in his focus on education and preparing the next generation of African American youth. He mentored and equipped teachers to educate African American children about their culture and heritage, even when it was illegal to do so. By doing so, he ensured that African American children understood their heritage and the contributions of African Americans to society. Our nation continues to benefit from his legacy, as we strive to ensure that developmental science and educational curricula is inclusive of the diverse cultures and backgrounds that make up the human experience.

Woodson reminds us that “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching biography and history.” Developmental science has begun to catch up and record and understand the experiences of children as it relates to their culture and their experiences with marginalization. Especially as an African American woman, I have been inspired by the work of many African American scholars. Over the years, it has been so meaningful for me to see my race and culture increasingly reflected in our research on normative child development.

Just a small fraction of the developmental scientists who have pioneered this work are featured in SRCD’s Black History Month member spotlights this month. I invite you to pause and get to know these scholars: Margaret Beale Spencer, Michael Cunningham, Deborah JohnsonSuzanne Randolph Cunningham, and Vonnie C. McLoyd. These are people whose work has shaped my own and who have been mentors and role models over the course of my career. They are just a few of the scholars who have ensured that the African American experience, along with the experiences of other ethnic minority children, have been integrated into developmental science. Learn how they have impacted me and more in my own Member Spotlight.

If you wish to learn more, I invite you to take a moment and enjoy the Hidden Figures video series, which was initiated by SRCD’s Ethnic and Racial Issues Committee. The series is designed to increase the visibility of developmental scientists of color who have made critical contributions to our science and paved the way for the next generation. In addition, I urge you to revisit the Member Spotlights from past cultural heritage months: Native American Heritage Month (November 2021) and National Hispanic Heritage Month (October 2021). These are just a few ways that SRCD is ensuring that there is a record of the accomplishments of our forebears that will inspire generations to come.

Even as we pause to celebrate Black History for just a month, for so many of us, we celebrate Black history and culture all year long.

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