Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Black Nurses Association

For the last 50 years, the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) has been advocating for the rights of black nurses and healthcare providers all over the country. Born out of the Civil Rights Era and the fight for equality, the NBNA brought providers together as they advocated for their place in the healthcare community. Advancing the rights and opportunities for black nurses was also important for advancing the well-being of the black community as a whole by making sure people of color had access to essential healthcare services.

At Scrubs Mag, we’re honored to be a partner with the NBNA. Learn more about the history of this organization and how it continues to stand up for communities of color.

The Founding of the NBNA

During the 1960s and 70s, black Americans came together to address systemic inequalities across the country, including employment rights, access to healthcare and higher education, and criminal justice reform – issues that the black community is still struggling with today. Notable organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Era.

As these issues played out on the national stage and streets across the country, black nurses were organizing on the West Coast.

It all started when two black nurses’ organizations were formed in the late 1960s, including the Council of Black Nurses, Los Angeles, founded by Betty Smith Williams and Barbara Johnson in 1968, and the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, founded by Florence A. Stroud and Carlessia Hussein in San Francisco in 1969. In 1970, the organizations came together to hold the first statewide conference for black nurses, attracting black professionals from virtually every corner of the country.

Their mission was to unite black providers under a single banner, which gave them more influence in the healthcare industry. They sought to improve healthcare services for black Americans and to include black people in nursing education and nursing leadership positions.

For years, black providers weren’t allowed to join the American Nurses Association (ANA) and were instead relegated to the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), which was dissolved in the 1950s. Twenty years later, black nurses still had a limited presence in the ANA. As for the black providers who did make it into the ANA, they felt as if their voices weren’t being heard in the largely white organization.  

At the 47th Convention of the ANA in Miami, FL in 1970, black nurses “caucused” to address the lack of representation in the organization. 

A year later, 18 black nurses met at the home of Dr. Mary Harper, in Cleveland, Ohio, where they voted unanimously to establish the National Black Nurses Association in 1971. It marked a significant milestone in the advancement of black providers.

The NBNA presented an alternative to the ANA: a place where black nurses could come together to work towards their goals in an atmosphere of support and encouragement.

The founders included Dr. Lauranne Sams, Betty Jo Davidson, Gertrude Baker, Barbara Garner, Dr. Mary Harper, Mattiedna Kelly, Phyllis Jenkins, Florrie Jefferson, Judy Jourdain, Geneva Norman, Betty Smith Williams, Etherlrine Shaw, Anita Small, Doris A. Wilson, and Gloria Rookard.

Keeping the Coalition Together

When the NBNA first came together, one of the first challenges was making sure its members could stay in touch, so they could keep the discussion going. The first caucus led to the creation of the Steering Committee, led by Dr. Lauranne Sams, who was tasked with identifying ways to keep providers in the loop after they headed home.

On February 28, 1972, Dr. Sams sent letters to friends and colleagues alerting them of the newly formed National Black Nurses Association as well as the organization’s Statement of Philosophy, Purposes and Objectives: 

  • Define and determine nursing care for black consumers for optimum quality of care acting as their advocates.
  • Act as a change agent in restructuring existing institutions and/or helping to establish institutions to suit our needs.
  • Serve as the national nursing body to influence legislation and policies that affect black people and work cooperatively and collaboratively with other health workers to this end.
  • Conduct, analyze and publish research to increase the body of knowledge about health care and the health needs of blacks.
  • Compile and maintain a national Directory of Black Nurses to assist with the dissemination of information regarding black nurses and nursing on national and local levels by the use of all media.
  • Set standards and guidelines for the quality education of black nurses on all levels by providing consultation to nursing faculties and by monitoring for proper utilization and placement of black nurses.
  • Recruit, counsel and assist black persons interested in nursing to insure a constant procession of blacks in the field.
  • Be the vehicle for unification of black nurses of varied age groups, educational levels, and geographic locations to ensure continuity and flow of our common heritage.
  • Collaborate with other black groups to compile archives relevant to the historical, current, and future activities of black nurses.
  • Provide the impetus and means for black nurses to write and publish on an individual or collaborative basis.

To include as many black providers as possible to maximize their influence on the nursing industry, they opened the organization up to registered nurses, licensed vocational/practical nurses, and nursing students. To this day, the organization believes that any nurse, regardless of ethnicity, who envisions health equity for all Americans, can belong to the NBNA.

Members also planned a symposium for the black nurses attending the ANA Convention in Detroit, MI in May 1972. Among the speakers was Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. of Michigan, the first Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He addressed the crowd with a clear message: “We must have common goals and purposes which should be the reason for organized black nurses, because the white agenda has failed in terms of the black perspective.”

During the symposia, members of the newly formed New York Black Nurses Association, talked about how the first caucus inspired them to form their own coalition of black providers. Members pointed out that “Pandas from China were better housed, fed and cared for than Black Americans; and that the USA passes out moon rocks instead of bread.”

Over the years, the group continued to grow in influence. The Steering Committee went on to set up regional offices all over the country, giving black providers the chance to make their voices heard.

With over 200,000 members and 115 chapters all over the country, the NBNA remains a powerful force in the healthcare community, uniting black providers in the name of a common goal. 

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