Note: This month, the Office of Equity and Diversity will be talking with UTHSC leaders in recognition of Black History Month.
Mona Newsome Wicks, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor and Chair
Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
College of Nursing
OED: What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Dr. Wicks: Black History Month reflects an opportunity to expand the lens of U.S. history to reflect on and honor the social, economic, political, and cultural contributions of people of African heritage. Specifically, the month of February provides all U.S. citizens with the opportunity to focus that lens for one month on a people whose influence has been significant yet often unacknowledged, underappreciated, and misunderstood. The U.S. story is a fascinating one. It reflects the intersecting stories of many diverse people. There is value in understanding the contributions of each of these groups; however, to understand our nation’s history and future requires a thoughtful and honest examination of how the narratives of these diverse groups intersect to create what we often call the Great American Experiment. Black History Month provides the opportunity to reflect purposefully on the many African Americans who participate in this critical, ongoing social experiment.
OED: Do you have a favorite soul food restaurant in Memphis? What is one of your preferred soul food dishes?
Dr. Wicks: I do not have a favorite soul food restaurant. The best soul food meals that I have eaten were prepared by home cooks like my mother (Edna Newsome) and my mother-in-law (Lizzie Foster). My favorite soul foods include dishes like greens, okra, squash, cornbread, smothered chicken, anything barbecued in the backyard, and cornbread dressing. I am not sure which I love most!
OED: Will you share a favorite quote of yours, attributable to a figure in Black History?
Dr. Wicks: I appreciate the clear thinking and eloquence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many of his statements encompass my hopes and values. I particularly appreciate his statement that,
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
OED: Is there a book, movie or author that you would recommend to others to learn more about Black History?
Dr. Wicks: I suggest people consider reading Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, authored by Congressman John Lewis and Michael D’Orso, which has a 5-star rating on Amazon. It is a compelling story of the civil rights movement and the young people like Congressman Lewis who participated and often suffered and died because of a commitment to seeing all Americans have the opportunity to participate in the Great American Social Experiment fully.
OED: What is one experience that has shaped the person you are today?
Dr. Wicks: Many unique experiences and people shaped who I am, including my faith, family of origin, teachers, my husband, and my son. Perhaps the singular experience that helped me to understand my purpose in life were my parents, who married as teens in the Jim Crow South and yet instilled in each of their six children the importance of hope, love, charity, inclusion, relationships, persistence, education, and a belief in possibilities.