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Environmental Factor, March 2012

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Award-winning anchor leads NIH salute to African-American history

By Ian Thomas

J.C. Hayward speaking at the podium

Hayward paid tribute to the famous, and not so famous, African-American women of the 20th and 21st centuries. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

DeCasto Brown and Terry Marshall on stage

Brown sang, as Marshall provided keyboard accompaniment during the entertainment portion of the celebration. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

4 speakers, sitting, listening to the music

Shown, left to right, Hayward joined Collins, Rodgers, and Clayton as musicians entertained the audience. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

Scientists and personnel from across the federal government and the field of public health gathered Feb. 16 on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. to celebrate the latest chapter in the agency’s 2012 African-American History Month Observance Program. In honor of this year’s theme, recognizing the achievements and contributions of black women to American history and culture, NIH proudly welcomed award-winning journalist, J.C. Hayward as the event’s keynote speaker.

“Throughout the course of our nation’s history, we’ve seen some amazing women do amazing things,” said Hayward, vice president of media outreach for Washington D.C. television station, WUSA 9, who then led the crowd in an a cappella rendition of “Joy Today is Mine.”  “These heroes have been an inspiration to generations of black women. Although as our nation continues to grow in diversity, it’s vital that we remember how their achievements shaped the future for not only African Americans, but all Americans.” 

A remarkable journey

As Washington D.C.’s first female anchor, Hayward has been a member of WUSA9 for forty years, serving in a wide range of roles, both in and out of the newsroom. In addition to her accolades as an anchor, Hayward has also received several awards for documentaries including "Sahel: The Border of Hell” and "Somalia: The Silent Tragedy,” all of which culminated with her recent induction into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

“We came here today to honor the roles of women in African-American history and nowhere is that more personified than with someone like J.C. Hayward,” added Janine Austin Clayton, M.D., deputy director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. “For years, she’s inspired us with stories which, time after time, continue to lend a voice to those who would not otherwise be heard.” 

On the topic of inspiration, however, Hayward added that she didn’t have to look very far for hers. 

“My mother instilled in me a sense of pride, a sense of confidence and definitely the ability to dream big,” said Hayward, who was named a 1982 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine.  “You won’t find her in any history books, but when you’re looking at me, you’re looking at her.”

Honoring heroes of past, present, and future

Throughout the ceremony, Hayward and her peers credited a number of female pioneers, such as Rosa Parks, Dorothy Brown, and Shirley Chisholm, all of whom helped pave the way for the modern day civil rights movement.  Still, the group also recognized the need for future generations to further the cause. 

“We’ve been fortunate here at NIH to have had some wonderful role models in our midst, but it’s important for all of us to continually look to the future by supporting the next generation who will take us there,” said NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “For this reason, our institutes and centers continually strive to support the careers of new scientists by recognizing and recruiting candidates from those same minority and underrepresented areas of our society.” 

Others in attendance included Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Jeff Ortiz of the NIH chapter of Blacks in Government, as well as jazz musicians DeCasto Brown and Terry Marshall who performed a cultural medley of songs.

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor)

Notable women in African-American History

  • Vivian Pinn, M.D. (1941-present) As the first African-American woman to chair an academic pathology department in the United States, at Howard University College of Medicine, Pinn was appointed the first full-time director of NIH’s Office of Research on Women's Health in 1991.
  • Maria Stewart (1803-1879) One of the first women in American history to lecture publicly on women’s rights, Stewart was a regular contributor to the Liberator newspaper, an early 19th century publication dedicated to the abolitionist movement.
  • Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) The first black woman to be elected to Congress, Chisholm represented the state of New York for seven terms, spending her entire political career fighting for social justice and educational opportunities for minorities. In 1972, she also became the first black woman in history to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
  • Dorothy Brown, M.D. (1919-2003) In addition to being the first female surgeon of African-American descent in southeastern U.S. history, Brown became the first black woman in Tennessee history to be elected to the state’s legislature in 1966. 
  • Ida Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) A newspaper editor and journalist, Wells went on to lead the American anti-lynching crusade of the 1890s. From 1898 to 1902, she also served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council and eventually founded the Negro Fellowship League to aid migrants from the South.

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