HSVS Celebrates Black History Month

HSVS Celebrates Black History Month  

Understanding our past is essential to our work today and where we hope it brings us. A considerable part of that past is the people who lived it and built the foundations on which we stand now.  

In February, we celebrate Black History Month. We honor and acknowledge those who came before, broke barriers, and inspired generations to follow. 

Here, we honor just a few of the very long list of Black Child Welfare Advocates who challenged the barriers society placed on them to make space for the entire community. 

Advocates Who’ve Paved the Way 

Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry 

Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry. Photo provided by the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress

Having been named after her famous abolitionist grandfather, Fredrick Douglass, there’s no doubt Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry’s advocacy runs deep. 

After attending university and becoming a college professor, Fredericka met and married her husband, Dr. James E. Perry. Together, the two would go on to run the first private hospital in the United States for Black people in Kansas City, Missouri. Fredericka’s biggest concern was African American children of the community who were experiencing poor nutrition, which in turn caused issues in physical development.  

Around the same time, Fredericka began working in juvenile court in Missouri and experienced firsthand the ill-treatment of African American children in the foster care system. The courts would often send young African American children to state institutions – instead of loving and nurturing homes. 

In 1934, Fredericka, alongside other prominent women groups of the time, organized the Colored Big Sister Home for Girls, providing services for African American children in foster care. It would eventually inspire the local Community Charities Chest Committee, an organization providing those same services for white children in foster care.  

In 1943, the Colored Big Sister Home for Girls closed its doors after the state of Missouri finally developed its own child welfare program that supported children of all races. Without Fredericka standing up for children struggling through the foster system, state-sponsored programs may have never come to pass. 

Dorothy Pitman Hughes  

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, New York 1971 © Dan Wynn Archive and Farmani Group, Co LTD. http://www.danwynn.com

Born Dorothy Jean Riddle in Georgia in 1938, Dorothy committed to a life of activism at the age of 10 after witnessing her father being brutally beaten by the Ku Klux Klan. By age 20, Dorothy was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, working alongside prominent figures Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In the late 1960s, she opened the West 80th Community Childcare Center in NYC to support struggling children and families. Her core belief was that a community’s foundation is its children, and she worked tirelessly for families experiencing discrimination and inequality.  

While at the Center, Dorothy met another budding activist, Gloria Steinem. The two became fast friends and traveled the country, speaking to crowds about the world’s significant issues surrounding race, class, and gender. In 1971, the two would go on to found the Women’s Action Alliance, a national organization providing resources for those involved in the women’s movement.  

Hughes’s list of contributions includes organizing the first shelter for battered women in New York City, co-founding the New York City Agency for Child Development to broaden childcare services, and becoming the first African American woman to own an office supply/copy center. Through her ownership, she gifted stock options to individuals and organizations dedicated to helping African American children.  

Dorothy continued her advocacy for childcare and community services until her death in 2022, speaking at numerous colleges, publishing writings, and organizing community gardens to support those facing hunger. We honor Dorothy for her endless contributions and dedication to seeing that every child and every family receive the proper resources and have opportunities to experience success. 

“I spend a lot of my time in early childhood development and trying to develop a change in the educational system throughout because I believe there is a need to change the educational system from early childhood through universities.” 

Continuing Advocacy Today 

Simone Biles 


Having been placed into foster care with her younger sister at the age of three, gold Olympic gymnast Simone Biles witnessed the loneliness and isolation within the system firsthand. Simone and her sister would later be adopted by her grandmother, but she recalls seeing other kids shuffled in and out of homes with sometimes no personal belongings of their own. Today, Simone uses the power within her platform to fight for foster kids like her by partnering with Mattress Firm Foster Kids, an organization that collects clothes, school supplies, and more for children in foster care nationwide. Beyond that, Simone wants kids in foster care to know that your past does not designate your future. Your dreams are valid, and you are more than capable of achieving them.