Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.


The MacArthur Blessing

The MacArthur Blessing

More From Byllye

In this video

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

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.

Related Videos

Gina Bianchini
Gina Bianchini
Social Software Entrepreneur

Gina Bianchini, a social software entrepreneur, does not believe in missing opportunities. Previously CEO of Ning, co-founded with Marc Andreessen, she now heads the Palo Alto, Cal...

Jill Chambers
Jill Chambers
Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

Colonel (R) Jill W. Chambers is widely recognized as the first person in the history of the U.S. Military to develop a successful, sustainable strategy to reduce the crippling stig...

Gina Bennett
Gina Bennett
CIA Counterterrorism Analyst

Gina Bennett has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center for 25 years. In 1993, while working at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research inside the state department, Ben...

Dr. Susan Love
Dr. Susan Love
Breast Cancer Pioneer

Educated in Puerto Rico, Mexico City, New York and Boston, Susan Love was already a pioneer when, in 1980, she became the first female General Surgeon on the staff of Boston’...