Photo credit: Robert Carter Arnold

Black History Month finds us, in 2021, in a pivotal moment, both nationally and internationally. At the same time as our healthcare organization continues to provide care to those living with life-limiting illness, our society’s structures are moving towards a more equitable, inclusive, and just system.

These fundamental changes have been possible thanks to the unfaltering determination of many courageous African Americans willing to defy the status quo – among them, Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper.

Dr. Harper is a hospice pioneer, whose commitment and devotion to helping others has opened the path for access to hospice care for all. Her leadership and advocacy made it possible for the terminally ill to have hospice benefits under Medicare.

Dr. Harper’s journey as an African American woman pursuing an education in times of segregation made her a trailblazer, becoming the first women of color to earn a Master of Science in Public Health from Harvard University in 1959. Her numerous accolades as an academic, author, and healthcare leader are testimony to a lifetime of service. Her life has been devoted not only to fighting racism and lack of access to healthcare for African Americans, but also to promoting compassion and justice.

As a friend of hers, I know there were significant challenges she had to endure to achieve all her accomplishments. It is people like Dr. Harper who make the work we do much more valuable. In a recent interview at the University of Southern California, Suzanne Dworak-Peck from the School of Social Work said, “ I believe the next great revolution will be the ‘human caring revolution.’ It will rely on caring, devotion and deep compassion for others. “ This describes the legacy of Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper.

And these words could not come at a more perfect time. Caring, devotion, and compassion are not only the foundation of hospice care, but essential for the advancement of a fair and just society.

Black History Month is an important and crucial celebration of African Americans, like Dr. Harper, who excelled and brought progress to our nation. Black History Month is also a reminder of the hard work ahead for all of us, including organizations like Montgomery Hospice and Prince George’s Hospice, to fight systemic racism and healthcare inequality.

Ann Mitchell
Montgomery Hospice, Inc.