MAKERS Profile

Byllye Avery

Women's Health Advocate

In this video

Byllye Avery on addressing reproductive and mental health taboos and founding the Black Women's Health Project.
For more than 30 years, Byllye Avery has been a health care activist dedicated to bettering the welfare of low-income African American women through self-help groups and advocacy networks. She is the founder of The Avery Institute for Social Change and the Black Women's Health Imperative. Avery began her career in education as a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, but after her husband’s sudden death at age 33, she developed a strong commitment to improving the health of the African American community with a focus on women’s health issues.   In 1974 Avery co-founded the Women’s Health Center in Gainesville, Florida, and later became its president and executive director. Four years later she co-founded Birthplace, an alternative birthing center, also in Gainesville. As founder and executive director of the Black Women’s Health Project, now the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Avery helped the grassroots advocacy organization grow into an international network of more than 2,000 participants in 22 states and six foreign countries, producing the first Center for Black Women’s Wellness. In 1987, Avery produced the first documentary film by African American women exploring their perspectives on sexuality and reproduction.   After being awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1989, Avery wrote and lectured widely on how race, sex, and class affect women’s empowerment in the women’s health movement. In 1994, she received the Academy of Science Institute of Medicine's Gustav O. Lienhard Award for the Advancement of Health Care, and in 2008 received the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Award for a Pioneer in Women’s Rights. She has served as a clinical professor at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, an advisor to the National Institutes of Health, and was a visiting fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

More From Byllye

Ingrained Feminism
Avery puzzles over young women and men who don't call themselves "feminists" but take feminism's gains for granted.

Male Victims
Avery reflects on how important it has been for men who were sexually abused to start coming forward.

Conspiracy of Silence
Avery explains why it was so vital for the Black Women's Health Project to first tackle mental health.

Parenting on Empty
Avery explores why parenting is so difficult for many women and men.

Healing Women
Avery describes the difficult issues dealt with in Black Women's Health Project meetings including domestic violence and incest.

A Brave Thing to Do
Avery remembers the mind-blowing experience of joining a consciousness raising group and the surprising lesson she learned.

Black Women Don’t Talk About It
Avery discusses abortion in African-American communities.

Warming up the Clinic
Avery describes the women's health clinic she helped open in Florida in the 70s that broke with the cold, clinical mold.

Discovering Friedan Too Late
Avery reminisces about her late husband, who introduced her to The Feminine Mystique.

The Last Word
Avery talks about questioning the treatment of women in her family from a young age.

The MacArthur Blessing
Avery recounts the day she learned of her MacArthur Genius Award and what the money enabled her to do.

Time for Yourself
Avery insists on the importance of taking an hour for yourself every day, to do anything or nothing at all.