A Brief History of the Michigan/Metro Detroit Association of Black Psychologists, Black Psychology & MPA

A Brief History of the Michigan/Metro Detroit Association of Black Psychologists, Black Psychology & MPA

by Ellen Keyt, PhD

The author wishes to express her deep gratitude to Dr. Jane Robinson, Dr. Amorie Robinson, and Dr. Josephine Johnson for their lifelong contributions to psychology and for graciously taking the time to be interviewed for this article. Thanks also to Dr. Amorie Robinson for her archival work at the Metro Detroit ABPsi, for sharing the organizations documented timeline and for reviewing this article prior to publication. No one article could completely describe the rich history, accomplishments, and people of the Metro Detroit ABPsi; additional references are included for continued exploration at the end of this piece.

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement and in the midst of the Vietnam War, as early as 1966 a small group of Black psychologists in Michigan began meeting informally once a month at Mr. Mikes, a bar/restaurant at the edge of Wayne State Universitys campus in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Jane Robinson, later known as Michigan’s Mother of Black Psychologists, was among them.

We were concerned with the biased testing of Black children,stated Dr. Robinson recently, adding that although there were other issues, biased testing resulted in disproportionate numbers of Black children being labeledand then funneled into special education classes, which had damaging long term effects on their lives. Dr. Robinsons description of purpose for these early meetings is consistent with national researcher, author and lecturer Dr. Kevin Cokelys assertion that, Black psychology was born from the struggle of Black psychologists who were constantly exposed to messages of Black deficiency, pathology, and inferiority,(Cokely, 2020).

In April 1968, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. happened the day before the groups meeting was scheduled. When the group arrived at Mr. Mikes, they were told that the restaurant was closing for the day, due to fears that riots might begin; businesses all over the U.S. were closing their doors. Galvanized by the indescribable tragedy of Dr. Kings murder, the group decided to formalize their organization. They began meeting at Dr. Robinsons home, electing officers, and beginning publication of a newsletter for Black psychologists. Dr. Robinson was a founding member and the first Secretary of the Michigan Association of Black Psychologists (now known as the Metro Detroit ABPsi), and she later served as president.

We talked about it and we felt we had a role that maybe no other group had,said Dr. Robinson, recalling the early days and the sense of purpose for psychology within the Black community. A few months after they formed, the group attended the August 1968 American Psychological Association (APA) convention and met with other Black psychologists and Black psychology graduate students from around the country. The group of graduate students had previously met in California in late 1967 to address racism and discrimination within psychology. Planning to attend the conference, the graduate students had formulated a ten-point plan of action for APA. At the convention, after a private meeting with Black psychologists who provided encouragement and support, the graduate students suddenly took the main stage during the presidential address. We were all in the lounge watching them on the monitors,said Dr. Robinson recalling the historic moment. Led by native Detroiter and future distinguished psychologist Dr. James Jackson, the graduate students presented their ten-point plan and demanded that APA take definitive action.

The ten-point plan, which included addressing bias issues in test construction and administration, was adopted by the APA council at the convention, with only two dissenting votes. It should be noted that Dr. Jackson later served as President of the national ABPsi (1972-1973). He also served two terms as Director of the University of Michigans Institute for Social Research, has been on several national research committees, and he is currently a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

In discussing the 1968 APA convention, Dr. Robinson said, that was really where the National Association for Black Psychologists began, although some feel that it started the previous year in California (when the graduate students had gathered).She remembered that while the national ABPsi group was forming, national and state associations for Black social workers, Black physicians, Black educators, and other professional groups were also coalescing. Everyone was getting together and forming these groups trying to help the Black community, she stated. We could easily get the word out and help each other when we had workshops and conferences. They (other Black professionals) would attend our conferences and we would attend theirs.This was long before the internet, personal computers, and printers. She added that the Association for Black Psychology Students was formed out of ABPsi. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the Michigan Association of Black Psychologists was very active; they met monthly, published a newsletter, and provided countless conferences, trainings, and community events. They also hosted the sixth national ABPsi conference in 1973. We were like family,Dr. Robinson recalled, all working for the same goals.

In addition to serving for many years on the board of Michigan ABPsi, Dr. Robinson was a longtime member of the Michigan Psychological Association (MPA). In 1979, she formed MPAs Minority Affairs Committee, the first committee on the MPA board to focus on diversity and social justice issues. Dr. Robinson invited Dr. Josephine Johnson to serve on the committee with her. Dr. Johnson was an early career psychologist at the time, but many at MPA now know her as a distinguished longtime member of MPA, an MPA Fellow, and former MPA president.

Historically, there have been very few members of color at MPA,said Dr. Johnson when interviewed for this article, In fact, Michigan ABPsi formed because of a lack of representation or voice.Dr. Johnson remembers that, soon after agreeing to serve on the MPA Minority Affairs Committee, she found herself leading it as Dr. Robinson turned her focus elsewhere. In subsequent years and in various roles, Dr. Johnson worked to build awareness and collaboration between MPA and Michigan ABPsi.

Although an ongoing partnership between the two organizations never quite coalesced, Dr. Robinson recalled an important collaboration between Michigan ABPsi and the MPA Insurance Committee. The Insurance Committee was meeting with Blue Cross Blue Shield trying to get coverage for psychologists,said Dr. Robinson, and I asked the chairman of the Insurance Committee if they wanted our help, because I knew State Representative Matthew McNeely.With Dr. Robinsons coordination, several Michigan ABPsi members attended a large fundraising event and Dr. Robinson advocated strongly for McNeelys support for psychologists with BCBS. This advocacy led directly to a contract that provided insurance coverage for psychologists, which dramatically expanded the accessibility of affordable mental health services in Michigan. I was really proud of that,noted Dr. Robinson, It benefited everybody, and MPA gave us (Michigan ABPsi) the credit.

After almost thirty years, by the mid-90s, the Michigan ABPsi chapter had become somewhat inactive. In 1996, Dr. Robinsons daughter and then-early career psychologist Dr. Amorie Robinson, was one of many Detroit area psychologists invited to attend a December Michigan ABPsi meeting at the Fisher Building to discuss the possible future of the chapter.

The Elders pulled us together,recalled Dr. A. Robinson, adding that after the meeting, We all felt a connection and a renewed sense of commitment. The Elders offered us their wisdom and encouragement.They expressed their confidence in us and left us the task of continuing the newer version of Michigan ABPsi.

Dr. Annita Sani became the chapter President from January 1997 through the summer of 1997, followed by lifelong national ABPsi member Dr. Sheila Williams-White. Dr. A. Robinson indicated that with a continued spirit of community, the group held didactic presentations on issues affecting the Black community and attended events such as the Sistas MovinUp Conference.

Under Dr. Williams-White, the group also decided to change their name to The Metro Detroit Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists. Dr. Angela C. May became the chapter President in 1998, serving two terms to 2000. Under her leadership, with Dr. A. Robinson as Secretary and Michelle Dunnell-Rodgers (deceased) as Treasurer, the Metro Detroit ABPsi focused on increasing their visibility and community involvement.

Dr. A. Robinson and Ms. Dunnell-Rodgers later received awards for their service to the chapter. They created an adopt a schoolproject and held workshops for teachers, parents, students, and faculty at the historically-Black Lewis College of Business. Topics included stress management, parenting, anger management, and substance abuse.

The Metro Detroit ABPsi also began holding Juneteenth celebrations for the community. In her archival records, Dr. Amorie Robinson noted that the first annual Juneteenth celebration in 1999 had overflow crowds, it was covered by Channel 50 News, and the regional ABPsi student representative from Chicago who attended it brought the inspiration back to her local chapter, who then began their own Juneteenth celebrations the following year. The Metro Detroit ABPsi also held pre-Kwanzaa programs and other cultural events at Marygrove College, and began an informal mentorship program for Black students interested in psychology. In addition to speaking at professional training events, chapter members such as Dr. Cheryl Munday were called to present on various topics at schools and to provide expert statements to the media.

Around the same time that the chapter was becoming active again, Dr. Josephine Johnson, a member in both Metro Detroit ABPsi and MPA, was serving a four year term as MPA Secretary. In 1998, Dr. Johnson became MPA President Elect and attended the APAs State Leadership Conference. The State Leadership Conference provides advocacy training and access to programs that facilitate leadership development for state, provincial and territory association leaders,stated Dr. Johnson, but when I first attended, there were hardly any psychologists of color there. The Diversity Initiative was formed to address that, to increase the presence and representation of psychologists of color.

While serving as MPA President, Dr. Johnson petitioned then-Metro Detroit ABPsi President Dr. Angela May to attend the Leadership Conference as a diversity delegate representing MPA. Dr. May currently serves on the board of the Michigan Psychological Association Foundation. After Dr. May attended the conference, Dr. Johnson also invited Dr. A. Robinson to attend as a diversity delegate. Dr. A. Robinson has since been a featured speaker at two MPA Conferences. There have been a few crossover efforts over the years (between MPA and Metro Detroit ABPsi),reflected Dr. Johnson, noting that another MPA president-elect and Metro Detroit ABPsi member, Dr. Tamara McCay, also attended the Leadership Conference in the late 2000s, and Dr. Debra Brodie has also been very active in both organizations.

By all accounts, mentoring young professionals, networking with and supporting colleagues, and honoring the Elders have all been enduring characteristics of the Metro Detroit ABPsi throughout its history. In 2003, Metro Detroit ABPsi hosted a reunion to bring in the Elders and Founders to celebrate this rich legacy. The event was attended by approximately 100 Black psychologists, university students, social workers and counselors, supportive community members, and the Honorable Senator Martha G. Scott.

According to Dr. Amorie Robinson, the national organization has grown fairly steadily since the 1960s, and the local chapter of ABPsi has had a few periods of inactivity. Having regained momentum in 1996, it made another jump-start in 2009, when Dr. A. Robinson held a dinner meeting at a restaurant to see if there would be interest in reviving the Metro Detroit ABPsi. The meeting was attended by some of the Elders, including Dr. Paris Finner-Williams, a mentor to many psychologists in the Detroit area and an esteemed Elder within the national ABPsi. Dr. Finner-Williams gently appointed Dr. A. Robinson to take the helm as the group moved forward.

I wasnt planning on leading,remembered Dr. A. Robinson with a smile, but when Dr. Paris Finner-Williams tells you to do something, you do it. It was an honor to be asked by an Elder like that.As a founding member of the Ruth Ellis Center, a social service agency serving at-risk LGBT+ youth where she now works as a therapist, Dr. A. Robinson expressed high hopes that Black psychologists will begin to pay more attention to the mental health needs of this population. She added that she plans to speak more about this at ABPsis Pandemics of Covid 1619 to Covid 19: Healing through Ujima" webinar in September 2020. Raising awareness about intersectional social justice, Dr. A. Robinson has conducted psychoeducational presentations across the country. For example, MPA invited her twice to do a workshop on LGBT+s of color, and the APA invited her as a Thought Leader in 2018.

In 2013, with the help of Dr. Cheryl Munday, Metro Detroit ABPsi meetings were held at the University of Detroit Mercy. They were later moved to the Michigan School of Professional Psychology, thanks to faculty member Dr. Dondi Browner. During this 7-year period, Drs. George Fleming (Vice Pres,), Josephine Johnson (Secretary), and Sheila Williams-White (Treasurer) served as officers. Between 2017-2019, the officers were Dr. Mishelle Rodriguez (President), Joycelynn Glover (Vice President), Juanita Houston (Secretary), and Dr. Sheila Williams-White (Treasurer). In its most recent years, the Metro Detroit ABPsi has co-facilitated multicultural dialogues and Black psychology student seminars, updated their bylaws, held a host of member activities, started a professional email listserv, and established a website and Facebook page.

In 2017, the Metro Detroit chapter hosted the ABPsi Midwest Regional Symposium on Secondary Trauma, facilitated two Emotional Emancipation Circles, held a workshop on serving LGBT+ clients, and successfully applied for their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. In 2018, the Metro Detroit ABPsi celebrated its 50th anniversary with an event that brought together generations of Black psychologists, members of the Greater Detroit Association of Black Social Workers, students, and community members. Michigan ABPsi co-founder and one of the original graduate students who protested at the 1968 APA convention, Dr. James Jackson, spoke at the event. He was the highlight of the celebration and we were thrilled that he offered us his wisdom,stated Dr. Amorie Robinson. Expressing congratulations to the members, Dr. Jane Robinson spoke virtually at this historic event. On April 13, 2019, the chapter co-sponsored with the University of Detroit Mercy Black Studies Department a film screening of Set Yourself on Fireby Darnell Lamont Walker along with a panel discussion on Trauma, Healing, and Community Transformation including the filmmaker.

The current officers of Metro Detroit ABPsi are Dr. Julian Bass (President), Tammy McCrory (Vice President), DeAirah Mast (Interim Secretary), Fatimah Muhammad (Member-At-Large), Dr. Sheila Williams-White (Treasurer), and Dr. Jennifer Gomez (Cultural Liaison). On June 27, 2020, they hosted a symposium on The Talkand Covid-19: The Influence of Racism and Racial Socialization in a Global Pandemic, featuring Dr. Riana Anderson. The Metro Detroit ABPsi chapter was also set to host the 2020 national ABPsi convention in Detroit for the first time since 1973. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the conference has been rescheduled for 2021.

In discussing the history, accomplishments and community of the Metro Detroit ABPsi, Dr. Amorie Robinson notes the contrast between current ways to connect and communicate and the regularly printed newsletters of the earlier years, so diligently and painstakingly compiled by Elder Dr. Jane Robinson. Dr. Amorie Robinson recalls early Michigan ABPsi meetings that occurred in her home while she was growing up; with her mothers collection of memories, newsletters and newspaper articles throughout the years, Dr. Amorie Robinson has become an archivist for Michigan ABPsi and she has written several articles about their history (see reference section).

In 2017, Dr. Amorie Robinson interviewed her mother about the early history of Michigan ABPsi (see video link in the reference section). As she remembered that interview more recently, during worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racism, Dr. Amorie Robinson recalled that, I was listening to her answer my questions, and I was nodding and saying, yep, thats still happening, its just a newer version of it. The need for African-centered Black Psychology to be taught at colleges and universities, and cultivating Black youth to go into psychology continues to be strong.

Asked about an APA cited U.S. census report that, as of 2015, only four percent of psychologists in the United States are Black, Dr. Amorie Robinson said, That sounds about right. My mom said there were only a handful of them back then. Thats why they got together.When also asked about the same statistic however, Dr. Jane Robinson did express some surprise. She explained that, compared to her earlier experiences in the 1960s, there seem to be so many more of us now when we all get together.

Dr. Jane Robinson wondered about a cyclic lack of representation. My father, Dr. C.A. Alexander, was Kalamazoo, Michigans first black physician,she said, so I had no difficulty seeing myself as a black psychologist in private practice.She then mused about the complexity of the issue and how it is experienced within the Black community.

Dr. Jane Robinson recommended an article by her second cousin, Dr. Dionne R. Powell, who is a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst; Race, African Americans, and Psychoanalysis: Collective Silence in the Therapeutic Conversation,(Powell, 2018). The article is an excellent and intentionally unvarnished historic overview as well as a detailed reflection on this topic (see references).

At the end of her interview for this article, Dr. Jane Robinson was asked if, in the early years of ABPsi, she and the other Elders had suspected what they were forming would have such an impact. She replied, We felt that it would, but never to the degree that it has.Dr. Jane Robinson paused and added thoughtfully, I am so thrilled that I was a part of something that produced so many Black psychologists doing such excellent work. To hear the competence of the young people in the field today speaking about what they are working on, it is more than what I had imagined.

When informed about the recent announcement that Michigan would be requiring implicit bias training for all licensed health care providers, Dr. Jane Robinson responded, That is wonderful.She spoke about how important it is for psychologists who are not part of the Black community to continue educating themselves about the issues, and to effect positive change within the field. Dr. Amorie Robinson and Dr. Johnson echoed her sentiment, and Dr. Powells article emphasizes this as well:Racism affects us all, particularly when we are least reflective on our privilege, distancing ourselves from those who are oppressed(p. 1040). She continues, Silence regarding otherness, particularly regarding race and culture, threatens every facet of our field. It is not enough to wait until others bring up these topics to engage with them.

We are charged to make contact(p.1044).

Our history (at MPA) is narrower than it should be,stated Dr. Johnson, What can you do to expand it? What is your impact? Find the skills you need and do the advocacy you need to do regardless. Its like people who dont wear masks; even if you dont need it yourself, you need to wear it for someone else who needs it. Stay engaged; this is ongoing. The tendency is to cover this up because its painful. I dont want to see this window closing! How will you use your new insight? Will you use it? Or will you let it go dim?

Postscript: With a willingness of MPA to support the work of the Metro Detroit ABPsi chapter, the Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Responsibility Committee of MPA is currently exploring opportunities to partner with the Metro Detroit ABPsi. Watch for upcoming announcements and programs. To learn more about Metro Detroit ABPsi and National ABPsi, and to listen to ABPsi Elder Dr. Jane Robinsons 2017 interview with her daughter, Dr. Amorie Robinson, please explore the additional links below.


An Interview with Elder Dr. Jane Robinson on the Michigan Association of Black Psychologists

Lin, Luona, Stamm, Karen, & Christidis, Peggy, Ph.D. (Feb., 2018). How Diverse is the Psychology Workforce? News from APAs Center for Workforce Studies. APA Monitor 49.

Metro Detroit ABPsi

National ABPsi

Powell, D. R. (2018). Race, African Americans, and Psychoanalysis: Collective Silence in the Therapeutic Situation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66(6), 1021-1049.

Robinson, Amorie. (n.d.). The Metro Detroit Association of Black Psychologists: A History and Personal Legacy. The Michigan School for Professional Psychology.

Cokely, Kevin. (2007). Why Black Psychology Matters; Validating the Lived Experience of Black People. Psychology Today.

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