Few fans realized that the inspiring force behind The Cosby Show and its spin-off, A Different World, was in fact world renowned psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a man known more for his insightful studies into the needs of the African American family than for his screenwriting talents. One of the country’s top authorities on subjects ranging from multiculturalism to family dynamics, Poussaint has advised the State Department, the Department of Health and the FBI on racial issues. Due to his passionate advocacy for more positive black images in American culture, Poussaint was chosen as the script consultant for both of Cosby’s hit NBC series. It was his influence that helped The Cosby Show and A Different World become some of the most revered programs in television history, while concurrently breaking new ground in the depiction of African Americans in the media..
Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Poussaint is an expert on the dynamics of racial and ethnic relations in America’s increasingly multicultural society. His work has diagnosed the symptoms and prescribed the remedies for almost every social malady affecting African American’s today. Firmly believing that the family unit shapes an individual’s choices, Dr. Poussaint’s research shows how changing family patterns, increased competition in the workplace and disruption in our communities often results in divorce, violence and neglect. In his thoughtful presentations, Poussaint teaches audiences how to balance these important issues to create powerful, positive solutions.
Drawing on his years of research, Poussaint speaks with refreshing candor on the dynamics of prejudice and the necessities of diversity. Author, psychiatrist, educator, and respected social critic, he educates on the use of media as a learning tool and the impact of televised violence on children and families. Always informative and insightful, Dr. Poussaint leaves audiences with poignant messages on how they can strengthen themselves, America and the world.
Lay My Burden Down: The Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans
Suicide among African Americans, particularly young black men, has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. This increase in suicide is a symptom of the broader problem of mental health in the black community. The persistent presence of racism - despite the significant legal, social and political progress made during the last half of the 20th century - has created physiological and psychological risks for black people that drastically differ from white Americans. The negative impact of the past on African Americans produces multiple stresses that can best be described as a collective "Posttraumatic Slavery Syndrome," which is often manifested by a general mistrust of healthcare providers. Dr. Poussaint explains that we need to improve the mental health of African Americans by eliminating healthcare disparities, providing increased access to quality care, and emphasizing targeted outreach. Together, we must break through the barriers of fear and stigma to heal our communities.
The Media's Impact on Children & Society
Research demonstrates that media violence, particularly on television and in movies, influences the values, attitudes, and behavior of children. Children directly imitate behaviors seen on television; for instance, if they see a great deal of aggression, they imitate it in their own play and interactions. In television and the movies, conflict is too often resolved through the use of violence rather than through peaceful means such as discussion, negotiation, and mediation. Dr. Poussaint discusses this disturbing trend and offers solutions to counter it.
Breaking Down Segregation & Disparities in Healthcare: A Life and Death Issue
The continuing healthcare disparities among African Americans and other ethnic minorities in relation to white Americans are part of the legacy of a segregated healthcare system (which some called medical apartheid) existing in the United States until the mid-1960s. Segregated health facilities in the South were responsible for a "separate but equal" system that meant blacks received inferior care or no care at all. They were also abused and exploited for research without regard to protecting their lives and wellbeing. There are numerous examples from the past, including the infamous Tuskegee study, which illustrate the egregious and toxic nature of racism in American medicine. Blacks often put their lives at risk when they entered a segregated facility or were denied care altogether even in emergency situations. Because of these horrid experiences, a deep distrust developed in African Americans and other minorities that made them reluctant to seek healthcare, particularly when equal access was denied.
It is welcome that the government has come to recognize these disparities and the need to close the healthcare gap between African Americans and whites. Both in the burdens of death and illness, African Americans experience disparities which lessen their quality of life and life expectancy. There are disparities in infant mortality, life expectancy, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, stroke, homicide, and mental health. Addressing these disparities must include improving healthcare access, introducing innovative health education programs, and addressing the social ills associated with poverty. The federal government has now taken on the disparity issue and is trying to empower people to adopt healthier lifestyles and improve public health initiatives. Many medical schools and hospitals around the country have put healthcare disparities high on their agendas in an effort to find effective solutions that will ultimately benefit large and neglected segments of our population.
Children's Resiliency: Coping With Violence
Many studies show that a significant number of children who are exposed to violence either by witnessing constant community violence, being victims of violence perpetrated by parents or others, or being exposed to domestic violence may develop stress disorders including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and conduct disorders. Such children are likely to perform less well in school and to be at a higher risk of committing violence against others. However, for a high percentage of children exposed to violence, these disturbances do not occur and many show the resilience to successfully cope with a degree of psychological and physical abuse. These are children who, by dint of temperament, strong love, and nurturing in their early years, develop a strong sense of self and an ability to feel a sense of control over their environment that enables them to bounce back from adversity. Children's resilience is always enhanced when there is a strong, loving, and caring adult in the environment.
Come On, People! On the Path From Victims to Victors
In his book, co-written with Dr. Bill Cosby, and in his presentation, Dr. Poussaint shares his vision for strengthening America by addressing the crisis of people frozen in feelings of low self-esteem, abandonment, fearfulness, sadness, and frustration. By addressing these issues and providing tools to deal with them, Dr. Poussaint helps empower people to make the daunting transition from victims to victors, helping them to become purposeful and effective citizens, actively engaged in shaping the lives of their children, caring for their physical and emotional health, and encouraging their families toward higher educational achievement.
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