Celebrating Black History Month

An Interview with Dr. Kellie Sawyer
Authored by
Dr. Kellie Sawyer

This year’s theme for Black History Month is African Americans and the Arts, which highlights the influence of African Americans on performing arts, literature, fashion, language, film, music, architecture, food, and other forms of cultural expression. Kellie Sawyer, OTD, OTR/L, an assistant professor in the GW occupational therapy (OT) program, chair of the OT program’s Equity Committee, and alum of the GW post-professional OTD program was interviewed on what Black History Month means to her.

In reflecting on the importance of the holiday, she said, “Black History Month has been a significant time of the year for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a small, mostly white town, it was special to have a time and space where I could celebrate my heritage and legacy.”

Educated at an early age on the culture and impact of African Americans, Dr Sawyer recalled, “My parents and grandparents taught me how Black Americans made significant contributions to America. I have memories of singing the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, by James Weldon Johnson in church or at community events.”

Acknowledging her position and desire to influence future generations, Dr. Sawyer said, “With the continued lack of representation in occupational therapy, I am proud to embody and represent black excellence within the profession. I aim to model behaviors for others who look like me, and hopefully, it will draw them to want to be a part of the occupational therapy community.”

When current OTD students were asked how they celebrate and recognize the holiday, first-year student Celia Accardi replied, "By learning about important Black figures and their legacies.” First-year student, Jae Eun Kim also said, “By supporting local businesses that are Black-owned.”

Celebrate Black History Month Bulletin Board

Within the OT facility, a bulletin board was decorated with celebratory banners and information on important Black figures, such as Phyllis Wheatley and occupational therapist Lela Llorens. QR codes linked to a list of Black-owned restaurants to support and Spotify music playlists to listen to. Other images included the first-ever best-selling Black novel, Home to Harlem, the Tony Award-nominated play, A Raisin in the Sun, and the Tony Award-winning film, Fences.

Program director and professor, Roger Ideishi, JD, OT/L, FAOTA, emphasized the importance of diversity in occupational therapy education as he said, “One of the things that I've tried to do in this curriculum is take these ideas of social change, take ideas of underrepresented groups in populations, and make those central within the curriculum… in every course, we are reflecting on what this means to our clinical practice.”

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