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Author: Thomas P. Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

As we celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the remarkable contributions of individuals like Joseph Burrucker (1924-2013), a legendary historical figure and former Beech Brook employee. We're lucky that Beech Brook had the privilege of his service, and his legacy should continue to inspire us today.

Joe Burrucker was a legend before coming to Beech Brook. He was one of the last Tuskegee Airmen pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II. Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African American had been a U.S. military pilot. The racially motivated rejections of African American recruits in World War I sparked more than two decades of advocacy by African Americans who wished to enlist and train as military aviators.

As a Tuskegee Airman, Joe paved the way for the integration of America's armed forces.

After his time in service, Joe went home to his native New York City where he completed high school, graduating from college in New Jersey and later moved to Cleveland, earning a master's degree in social work in 1966 at what would become Case Western Reserve University.

Joe Burrucker was a true pioneer and hero, who not only served his country as a Tuskegee Airman paving the way to integrate the armed forces, but he also dedicated nearly five decades of his life to social work.

I had the great fortune to know Joe Burrucker. Joe was the Director of Family Preservation at Beech Brook early in my career. Joe was tough, yet compassionate and ran a tight ship, as you would imagine with his background. He was driven to change the trajectory of families in crisis, much like we all try to do today.

I was so impressed with Joe, that one evening when I went over to my parent’s house for dinner, I started talking about work and he came up in conversation. To my surprise, my dad knew Joe as well from CWRU. My dad, a first-generation college student, put himself through college at Fenn (now Cleveland State University) through a work-study program. He and my mom married when they were 22 and 21 years old, respectively, and had me a short time later. They had no money. In fact, their dining room table was a cardboard box with a tablecloth over it! My dad was accepted into CWRU to get his Master of Social Work, which could lead to a better job, but money was very tight. They could barely afford rent or food, and their very old car had broken down beyond repair. It seemed like my dad would have to get a second job to be able to get another car and CWRU would be out of the question; however, Joe happened to be working in the financial aid department at the time. He didn’t know my dad from a hole in the ground, but my dad explained our family’s dire circumstances and his desire to learn and better himself and our family. Joe found a way to help, like he always did. He provided my dad with a $75 per month stipend to help pay for a new (to us) car so he could get to work and school. I am sure he did the same for countless others.

It can be the smallest bit of help, a little understanding for people’s struggles, a dash of compassion, and a desire to make a difference that can change a family for generations to come. That was the Joe Burrucker I knew. He was literally a living legend in black and American history when we met, but just as importantly, I came to understand that he was (and is, even after death) a legend who contributed significantly to our field, to the education of future generations of social workers, to Beech Brook, and to children and families, including one very grateful family in particular: mine.

As we continue our mission of creating generational impact here at Beech Brook, we can honor Joe’s memory by rededicating ourselves to the values of inclusion, justice, and service that he so tirelessly championed. We can also strive to emulate his spirit of generosity and his unwavering commitment to making the world a better place for all.

As we celebrate Black History Month and reflect on the legacy of our former colleague, I also wanted to take this opportunity to honor the lives of others who laid the groundwork for us to do our vital work. Here are just a few black professionals who have made huge contributions to our field, paving the way for generations to come.

1. Joseph L. White, Ph.D. (Dec. 19, 1932 – Nov. 21, 2017)

Dr. Joseph L. White, often referred to as “the father of Black psychology,” wrote the revolutionary article called, “Toward a Black Psychology,” which was featured in Ebony magazine. He is credited for his work for being the first strengths-based analysis and evaluation of Black behavior and culture. Dr. White advocated for the creation of Black psychology, arguing that the application of white psychology on African American people developed an unfair illusion of Black inferiority. He was passionate about exposing the culturally irrelevant psychological principles being applied to Black Americans and African Americans in the mental health field. Dr. White helped found the Association of Black Psychologists and San Francisco State University’s Black Studies program in 1968.

2. Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D. (Dec. 30, 1897 – Sept. 1934)

Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser is the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology. In her youth, there were few educational opportunities for African Americans and Black individuals. Dr. Prosser started an educational fund to help her siblings attend and complete high school and college, along with herself. Despite facing the obstacles of racism and sexism, her academic achievements were quite impressive. She evaluated the effects of racism and inequality on the development of African American and Black American children’s identity and mental health in her dissertation, “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools.” Dr. Prosser’s research and arguments led some of the first discussions about desegregating American schools.

3. Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr., M.D. (Apr. 24,1932 – Aug. 28, 2016)

Dr. Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr. founded the psychotherapeutic method for rational behavioral therapy. His work explored emotional and behavioral self-management, which legitimized emotional self-help for scientific and clinical use. Dr. Maultsby developed a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and counseling system that incorporated neuropsychological facts about the inner-workings of the brain in relation to emotional and behavioral self-control. He authored several books for professional therapists and counselors and wrote four books describing his methods for emotional self-help, also known as rational self-counseling.

4. Herman George Canady, Ph. D. (Oct. 9, 1901 – Dec. 1, 1970)

Dr. Herman George Canady was a prominent clinical and social psychologist, credited with being the first psychologist to study the influence of rapport between an IQ proctor and the test subject. His research specifically targeted the bias in IQ testing compared to the race of the proctor. He began his education with the hope of becoming a minister, however, after graduating in 1927, he continued his behavioral science studies at Northwestern University, where he earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Dr. Canady’s studies provided insights about the testing environments suitable to help Black and African American students succeed.

5. Hope Landrine, Ph.D. (Jul. 4, 1954 – Sept. 3, 2019)

Dr. Hope Landrine was a renowned expert in health psychology and public health. She published “The Politics of Madness” in 1992, presenting her research on the existence of societal inequities of diagnoses and categorizations of psychiatric disorders. Her data was some of the first to show that stereotypes toward women, people living in poverty, and racial and ethnic minorities affected psychiatric diagnoses and maintained the inequities already prevalent throughout society. Dr. Landrine often applied a public health lens to psychology and psychiatry, arguing that the decontextualization of individuals is insufficient for understanding a person’s overall health.

To learn more about Joseph Burrucker, view his obituary here:

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