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Black History Month: Recognizing the Unheralded Contributors Then & Now

As we enter a month dedicated to the history of Black people and their known —and sometimes hidden — accomplishments and contributions, it’s an honor to introduce or reacquaint you with one of history’s mostly unknown heroes. While this year marks a time of unprecedented social and civil challenges, it also makes way for reflection on the contributions those of African descent have made and are continuing to make in times such as these.

When talking about the ways Black people have contributed to society’s ability to overcome disease that affects the population at large regardless of race, gender, age, geography, or financial status, we can likely think of many Black pioneers that are at the forefront of those discussions. One in particular who I’d like to highlight this month is likely a lesser-known medical trailblazer: Loney Clinton Gordon.

Loney was born in Arkansas in 1915. As a young Black girl, she excelled academically in grade school. She would later make her way to Michigan State College, where she earned a degree in home economics and chemistry in 1939. She initially aspired to be a dietitian but found a greater interest in chemistry and went to work for the Michigan Department of Health.

While working as a chemist, Loney was paired up with two female doctors, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering, whose work focused on vaccine development for Bordetella pertussis, or whooping cough. After the development of their work on the vaccine, Loney further improved it by isolating a virulent strain of pertussis. This resulted in a more effective whooping cough vaccine and led to vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria.

Although the British Medical Research Council recognized her version of the vaccine to be stronger and more effective than the version developed by her white colleagues in 1950, Loney remained a lesser-known trailblazer in the world of laboratory science. In 1997, her notable contributions were recognized by the state of Michigan through House Resolution 115. She was also inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

I believe that there are more Loneys among us who are unheralded for their contributions to their community, city, state, country, and even the world, that transcend race, gender, and age. If you know someone like this, don’t miss the opportunity to simply say thank you or to take it a step beyond by broadly sharing the positive impact they are making on society.

As we recognize Black History Month at SYKES, we remain dedicated to fostering an environment of equality and celebrate our diverse communities as part of our global commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Written by
Ron Toran
Director, Area HR, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion