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MAKERS Profile

Byllye Avery

Women's Health Advocate

More From Byllye

In this video

Byllye Avery on addressing reproductive and mental health taboos and founding the Black Women's Health Project.

Byllye's Biography

Cause of Choice: The Black Women's Health Imperative
Role Model Mom: Her brilliant mother was unusually educated for an African-American woman born in Georgia in 1908. She attended boarding school and later earned a masters degree from NYU.
Biggest Influence Never Met:  “Harriet Tubman. Because many days leading the Black Women’s Health Project I felt a lot like her, taking people through the marsh, looking for the north star and hoping that we reach the promised land together.”    
MAKERS Connection: She discovered her commitment to the women’s health movement after attending a conference organized by the Boston Women's Health Collective.

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.

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