ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z

Alvin Poussaint
National Visionary


Born May 15, 1934 in New York, NY

Renowned educator, psychiatrist, activist, author and media consultant








BIOGRAPHY
Renowned educator, child

psychiatrist, activist, author and consultant, Alvin Poussaint is one of the Nation’s most sought after and prominent experts on issues related to the mental health and wellbeing of African Americans. An accomplished scholar and professor at Harvard Medical School, Poussaint has sought to make his work relevant to the issues and concerns of the larger African American community, as well as society in general.

Born May 15, 1934 in East Harlem to parents Christoper and Harriet Poussaint, Alvin Poussaint was the seventh of eight children. At the age of nine, Poussaint contracted rheumatic fever and spent several months in Mt. Sinai Hospital and then a convalescent home. During this time, he first formed the idea of becoming a doctor.


Poussaint as a young boy
While in junior high school, one of Poussaint’s teachers suggested that he take the admissions tests for New York’s prestigious, but predominately white, Stuyvesant High School. He was accepted to the school and began creative writing, edited a literary magazine, and taught himself to play the clarinet, saxophone, and flute. He also began to experience the many damaging and painful episodes of racism that accompanied his status as one of the only black students there. In one example, Poussaint recalls being verbally accosted by a police officer while he walked one of his sister’s white girlfriends home through the park. In addition to the difficulties of coping with racism, Poussaint experienced a major loss when his mother died of cancer while he was still in high school.

In 1956, Poussaint graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology, and subsequently enrolled at Cornell Medical School. Of the 86 students admitted to the medical school that year, Poussaint was the only African American.

Poussaint’s experiences with racism during his tenure at predominately white institutions fueled a career-long interest in the dynamics of race and the impact of racism on the mental health and wellbeing of both blacks and whites. In 1962, Poussaint entered UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, where he served as chief resident in psychiatry and pursued research in psychopharmacology. Again, Poussaint felt the acute impact of racism. Even though he was eventually promoted to the status of chief resident, he recalls feeling that he had to prove himself to each new class of residents.

In June 1965, Poussaint left UCLA, and at the request of his younger sister, Julia and his friend, Bob Moses, went to Jackson, Mississippi to serve as Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee to provide medical care to the protestors as well as to work toward desegregating medical facilities.

In protest to white doctors and facilities’ refusal to treat black patients, Poussaint reported hundreds of civil rights violations to federal officials, only to be told that the official could do nothing about those violations unless the patients reported them themselves.

After two years in Jackson, Poussaint returned to the northeast to work with Tufts University’s Medical School as faculty director of psychiatry programs in a low-income housing project. In 1969, he left Tufts and joined the staff at Harvard Medical School as associate dean of student affairs. In that capacity, Poussaint oversaw Harvard’s new affirmative action program and was responsible for integrating 16 African American students in to the traditionally-white school. Through his tenure, he significantly increased minority enrollment while personally serving as mentor to many of the minority students. In addition to his work at Harvard, Poussaint remained active in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1971, he was a founding member of Jesse Jackson’s organization, Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), he served as co-chairman for Jackson’s 1983-84 presidential campaign and has continued to support the Urban League and the NAACP. In 1973, Poussaint married his first wife, Ann Ashmore. The couple had a son, Alan, in 1979. The marriage ended in 1988. Also in the 1970s, Poussaint joined Judge Baker’s Children’s Center as the senior associate psychiatrist.

In the 1980s Poussaint’s influence reached a mass audience when he became a consultant on The Cosby Show, and later the spin-off sit-com, A Different World. In this capacity, Poussaint was able to address the negative impact of the racial stereotypes which often circulated in the media. Poussaint and Bill Cosby worked closely for almost a decade to ensure that the show promoted positive, but realistic images of black people and how they met the challenges and joys of everyday life. In addition to consulting on The Cosby Show, numerous groups including the FBI, the Whitehouse and the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare have sought Poussaint’s advice and consul. Committed to carrying his message to as wide and diverse an audience as possible, Poussaint has been a regular contributor to Ebony, The New York Times, as well as numerous other scholarly and popular journals. His writings have run the gamut, addressing issues ranging from childrearing, suicide, the effects of media images on black self-esteem, school violence, substance abuse, interracial dating and parenting skills.

In 1994 Poussaint founded the Media Center of the Judge Baker’s Children’s Center; he also served as co-executive producer of Willoughby’s Wonders, a children’s educational show about an urban soccer team, highlighting skills such as teamwork, inclusion and cooperation. The pilot aired in 1997 and won a New England Emmy Award.

In recognition of his work, Poussaint has received many accolades and awards, including the John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement (1987) and the Medger Evers Medal of Honor, NAACP (1988).

In 1993, Poussaint married Tina Young. The couple had a daughter, Alison in 1999. In addition to his numerous article publications, Poussaint co-authored, with James Comer, the 1975 book, Raising Black Children, and in 2000, Poussaint and Amy Alexander published their study on suicide in the black community, Lay My Burden Down.

VIDEO CLIPS


EXTERNAL LINKS
Alvin Poussaint's Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/poussaintalvin


ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z