Byllye Avery

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Byllye Avery
Born (1937-10-20) October 20, 1937 (age 81)
Waynesville, Georgia, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Florida
Talladega College
Known forNational Black Women's Health Project

Byllye Yvonne Avery (born October 20, 1937) is an American health care activist who has worked to improve the welfare of African-American women for over forty years. One of the founders of reproductive justice, Avery has worked to develop healthcare services and education that address Black women's mental and physical health stressors. She is best known as the founder of the National Black Women's Health Project, the first national organization to specialize in Black women's reproductive health issues. For her work with the NBWHP, she has received the MacArthur Foundation's Fellowship for Social Contribution and the Gustav O. Lienhard Award for the Advancement of Health Care from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, among other awards.

Family and education[edit]

Avery was born in Waynesville, Georgia and grew up on a farm in DeLand, Florida. She is the daughter of L. Alyce M. Ingram, a schoolteacher.[1] Her mother graduated of Bethune-Cookman College. Her father, Quitman Reddick, owned a neighborhood store. He was killed when Avery was 14 years old. The oldest of three children, Avery assumed a lot of responsibility from a young age.[2]

In 1995, Avery began studying psychology at Talladega College, where she earned her BA in 1959. She met her husband, Wesley, on her first day there. They married in 1960 and had their first child the following year. They had their second child several years later.

In 1967, Avery received a fellowship to obtain her master's in special education at the University of Florida. Upon earning her master's degree in 1969, she became a special education teacher. After a few years of teaching, she began to work at the children's mental health unit of her local hospital. Her husband suffered a fatal heart attack months after she began her new job. The death of her husband helped catalyze Avery's commitment to improving health care and health education in the Black community.[2]

Avery met her wife, Ngina Lythcott, in 1989, and the two were married in 2005. Lythcott is a public health practitioner and activist.


In the early 1970s Avery began participating in consciousness-raising groups and legal abortion referral services. In response to the lack of access to abortion and other reproductive health needs that low-income Black women faced in her community, Avery and her colleagues Joan Edelson, Judy Levy, and Margaret Parrish opened the Gainesville Women's Health Center (GWHC) and Birthplace, a midwifery service birthing center.[3] The GWHC mission statement was to "help women solve the crisis-producing situation of unplanned, unwanted pregnancy," at a low cost.[4] The clinic provided abortions and contraceptive services, facilitated sexuality workshops, and provided other women's health-related training and services tailored to Black women, such as sickle cell anemia testing. To help educate women on best health services, the staff created a monthly newsletter called Sage-Femme.

These various experiences led Avery to plan the first national conference on black women's health at Spelman college in 1983. Following the conference, she founded the National Black Women's Health Project, now known as the Black Women's Health Imperative, officially in 1984 in Atlanta, Georgia.[5] It is the only national organization exclusively dedicated to improving health and wellness among Black women.

Avery produced On Becoming a Woman: Mothers and Daughters Talking to Each Other[6] (1987), the first documentary film by African-American women sharing their perspectives on menstruation, sex, and love.[7]

In 1990, Avery, along with 15 other African-American women and men, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. The organization was created to end the stigma against abortions in the Black community and to make abortions more accessible for Black women.[8]

Avery has written and lectured widely on how race, class and sex impact women's healthcare. She has been a visiting fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health; she has served on the Charter Advisory Committee for the Office of Research on Women's Health of the National Institutes of Health; she has been a health issues advisor for the Kellogg Foundation's International Leadership Program; and she has served as a consultant on women's healthcare in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.[9]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 1989: MacArthur Foundation's Fellowship for Social Contribution[10]
  • 1994: Academy of Science Institute of Medicine's Gustav O. Lienhard Award for the Advancement of Health Care
  • Essence Award for Community Service
  • 1994: Grassroots Realist Award by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus
  • 1995: Dorothy I. Height Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 1995: President's Citation of the American Public Health Association
  • 1998: Business and Professional Women's New Horizons Award
  • 2008: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Impact Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women
  • 2010: Audre Lorde Spirit of Fire Award from the Fenway Health Center


  • Avery, Byllye (Fall 1991). "Empowerment through wellness". Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. Yale Law School. 4 (1): 147–154. Pdf.


  1. ^ Price, Kimala. "Avery, Byllye". Oxford African American Studies Center. Oxford. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b Loretta Ross, "Smith Voices of Feminism Oral History Project Interview with Byllye Avery". Accessed on March 25, 2018
  3. ^ Oxford African American Studies Center. Oxford Retrieved 8 March 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ University of Florida Digital Collections. Accessed on April 1, 2018.
  5. ^ Sillman, Jael; Fried, Marlene, Gerber; Ross, Loretta; Gutierrez, Elena R. (2004). Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. South End Press. ISBN 978-0-89608-729-3.
  6. ^ On Becoming a Woman: Mothers and Daughters Talking to Each Other
  7. ^ Accessed March 20, 2018.
  8. ^ Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (March 2018). Encyclopedia of women's history in America. Infobase Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Neva, Goodwin. Encyclopedia of Women in American History. "Byllye Avery." Accessed on March 30, 2018.
  10. ^
  • Avery, Byllye Y. "Breathing life into ourselves." Feminism and Community (1995): 147.
  • Avery, Byllye. "Who does the work of public health?." American journal of public health 92.4 (2002): 570-575.
  • Avery, Byllye Y. "Breathing life into ourselves." Feminism and Community (1995): 147.