Byllye Avery: Advocate for African-American Women's Health

Sep 23, 2015

Women's health pioneer Byllye Avery has for more than 40 years been on the front lines of the women's heath movement in the United States.  It was her husband's sudden death at age 33 that was the catalyst for her commitment to improve the health of the African-American community.   She told IPR that it was 1970 and she and her husband, who was close to getting his doctorate, had two small children and a third child on the way.  But she says the health care system at the time did not make it clear to them how deadly high-blood pressure could be and her husband tragically died of a massive heart-attack.

That event triggered Avery, then a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, to become a health advocate.  In 1974, she co-founded the Gainesville Women's Health Center, fighting for abortion rights and founding an alternative birthing center. In 1983, she founded the National Black Women's Heath Project.  A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant," Avery continues to document and speak on black women's health experiences in America, highlighting the effects of factors such as poverty, crime, violence and racism.  Avery has also taught special education to emotionally disturbed students and consulted on learning disabilities in public schools and universities.

Byllye Avery will present the 2015 Hansen Distinguished Lecture at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, entitled "Why Black Women's Health Matters."  The lecture begins at 10:00 am Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Callaghan Auditorium in the UI College of Public Health building in Iowa City.