Celebrating Black History Month: Contributors in Nursing, Data Science, Business and Health Informatics

Jacksonville University celebrates diversity and the countless contributions down the centuries of African American nurses, data scientists, entrepreneurs and educators.

Since Gerald Ford in 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month. It was the evolution of an effort begun 50 years earlier by historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, a son of parents born into slavery.

To shine a light on the role of African American people in the rise of the United States, Woodson founded the organization that today bears the name, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), in 1915. A year later he founded the Journal of African American History, which exists today with the mission to “promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”

Woodson’s group sponsored the first Negro History Week in 1926. The second week of February was selected to pay homage to the birthdates of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Today, even though Black History Month is the established period when African heritage is celebrated, no single month can adequately represent the staggering achievements of people like Hazel Johnson-Brown (nursing), Rachelle Blake (health informatics), Mike Bugembe (data analytics) and Kenneth Chenault (business/entrepreneurship).

Hazel Johnson-Brown – Nursing

Hazel Johnson-Brown was the first black woman to achieve promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Army, and the first black woman to command the 7,000-strong Army Nurse Corps. She reached both milestones in 1979, 24 years after enlisting and 31 years after the U.S. military was ordered desegregated by President Harry Truman.

At the time of her promotion, according to the Washington Post, Brown said: “Race is an incidence of birth. I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”

During her distinguished career, Brown earned a nursing diploma from the Harlem School of Nursing in 1950; served in Japan in the 1950s; trained surgical nurses on their way to Vietnam in the 1960s; and became director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing in the 1970s.

She earned many military decorations, including the Distinguished Service medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation medal. She also earned a bachelor’s in nursing from Villanova, a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in educational administration from Catholic University.

Brown, who had Alzheimer’s toward the end of her life, died in 2011 at age 83.

Rachelle Blake – Health Informatics

Rachelle Blake’s career in healthcare has run the gamut across three decades – physician assistant, consultant, director of IT, director of meaningful use, all the way up to CEO and Managing Director of Omni Micro Systems/Omni Med Solutions, a healthcare information and technology innovator.

Blake’s experience on the clinical side and on the data side positioned her well for a leadership role with the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), for which she volunteered to chair the Meaningful Use and Value of HIT Task Force in 2014 and 2015.

Her experience and insight helped her see early on the “value that health IT can bring to healthcare delivery,” according to a HIMSS profile entitled, “How to Translate Value in 21st Century Healthcare.” For her work in the field of health informatics, Blake was recognized in 2016 as a member of the inaugural HIMSS list of the most influential women in health IT.

Mike Bugembe – Data Analytics

Mike Bugembe, Chief Analytics Officer of the data-driven philanthropic organization Just Giving, was named one of the top “digital masters” in the United Kingdom by the Guardian newspaper in 2014. Bugembe, whose mother taught math and whose father was an economist, came to data analytics as a family rite.

Now, he uses big data to “uncover hidden relationships and better predict future outcomes,” according to a 2016 Q&A published by British site Data IQ. In his role at Just Giving, Bugembe helps organizations in need raise money using smarter, data-driven insights.

Kenneth Chenault – Business

After 16 years as CEO of American Express, Kenneth Chenault stepped down. At age 66, was Chenault ready to sail into retirement and enjoy the good life?

Well … maybe. But the man the Wall Street Journal once described as “one of the country’s most prominent African-American corporate leaders” doesn’t appear to be stepping away completely just yet.

In addition to becoming the first African-American member of Facebook’s Board of Directors in February 2018, Chenault also joined the board of AirBnB and was named the chairman and managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst. He retained positions on the boards of IBM, Procter & Gamble, the Harvard Corporation and other organizations.

Chenault’s legacy is deeply tied to the African-American community. In 1995, Ebony magazine named him one of 50 living pioneers in African-American culture. Chenault earned his law degree at Harvard in 1976, but moved from the law to business when he joined American Express as a member of the strategic planning group in 1981.

Sixteen years later, in 1997, he became president and chief operating officer, followed by a promotion to CEO in 2001.


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