Father of black psychology leaves lasting impact on professor

Dr. Jennifer Lovell, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) professor of clinical psychology and convener of a recent meeting that showcased the recent publication of a book co-authored with Dr. Joseph L. White, known as the father of black psychology, has a unique distinction.

Lovell is one of about 100 doctoral students personally mentored by White, part of his “Freedom Train” cohort. “I am blessed to be a part of the Dr. White ‘Freedom Train,’ he connected me to an academic family,” said Lovell.

“Dr. White became my mentor during the beginning of my graduate school in 2007 and remained my mentor until 2017,” when he died, continued Lovell. She received her training in clinical child psychology at a time when the field was traditionally focused on disorders and deficits. “This perspective is incomplete,” said Lovell, “and Dr. White along with other pioneers in the field of multicultural psychology and positive psychology began to shift the focus to incorporate client and cultural strengths.”

White’s “Freedom Train” was based on a philosophy of mentoring scholars who would in turn mentor those who came behind, passing on not only the knowledge base, but also a sense of responsibility and commitment to effect positive change and to impact underserved, underrepresented members of community.

“Get on the train and you will get more choices,” said White in a 2008 interview with LeOndra Clark at the 40th annual convention of The Association of Black Psychologists in Oakland. Working with a number of universities, mentored students received generous and personal support during the course of their doctoral studies. In spite of living through many eras of racial disparity and discrimination, White had a strong belief that “excellence in study and effort overcomes politics.”

Joseph L. White – born in Lincoln, Nebraska on Dec. 19, 1932 – is a scholar who eventually revolutionized the field of American psychology. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology at Michigan State University and one of only five African Americans in 1962 in the U.S. to hold a doctorate in psychology.

As dean of undergraduate studies at SFSU in 1968, White established one of the first black studies programs which has subsequently led to the founding of various ethnic studies programs throughout the United States. Also in 1968, White confronted the American Psychological Association about its lack of racial diversity, which at that time had less than 1 percent of membership of African descent of the association’s more than 10,000 members.

His activism led to the founding of the Association of Black Psychologists and many other distinguished programs. White’s impact was also felt at California institutions of higher learning – and eventually at CSUMB – as the founder of the California Educational Opportunity Program, passed by the California Legislature in 1969 that has helped hundreds of thousands of underrepresented students to achieve college degrees.

His books include “The Psychology of Blacks: An African-American Perspective” (1984), “The Troubled Adolescent” (1989 and the 2019 second edition co-authored with Lovell) and “Black Man Emerging” (1999). White became a cultural icon 1970 with the publication of “Toward a Black Psychology” in Ebony magazine. This article ignited the flames that led to the modern era of African-American and other ethnic/culturally relevant psychology.

Lovell shared the following dedication in honor of Joseph White in the 2019 second edition of “Troubled Adolescent: Challenges and Resilience within Family and Multicultural Contexts.”

This book is dedicated to my co-author, Dr. Joseph L. White. Dr. White transitioned from this earth Nov. of 2017, a few months before the final edits were complete. He was a master clinician, teacher, scholar, activist and mentor. His impact on the field of multicultural and Black Psychology is profound, and his passion for working with children and adolescents never diminished. Dr. White taught me more than words can express, and he changed my life through his personal and professional mentorship.

His inner light, laughter, generosity, wit and sharp intellect made life better, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to know and learn from him. When he asked me to work on revising “The Troubled Adolescent,” I had no idea what a transformative experience it would be and I am thankful he was with me most of the journey. Dr. Joseph L. White continues to be sorely missed by the many people who loved him. I am honored to complete our book as a tribute to his life and legacy.

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