Seeds Planted in New Orleans

Authors: Anya Griffin, PhD, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Justin L. Williams, PhD (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA; Perry A. Catlin, MS, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; & Carmelita S. Foster, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Black/African American mental health professionals are underrepresented in psychology, psychiatry, and other mental health-related fields (e.g., licensed professional counselors) (The Association of Black Psychologists, Inc., 2022). Nationally, 5% of psychologists self-identify as Black (American Psychological Association, 2022). According to the 2022 Black Mental Health Workforce Survey, the top concern among Black mental health professionals was the overall shortage of Black mental health professionals and shortage of Black males across all mental health professionals (The Association of Black Psychologists, Inc., 2022). This lack of Black-identified mental health professionals makes it difficult for Black/African American-identified folks to find a provider who shares their unique racial and/or ethnic socio-cultural experiences and/or history.

Given the shortage of Black psychologists, especially Black pediatric psychologists, three Black pediatric psychologists within the Society of Pediatric Psychology’s (SPP) Black/African American Affinity Group, Drs. Anya Griffin, Director of Psychology at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; Carmelita Foster, Pediatric Psychologist, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Justin Williams, Pediatric Psychologist, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, collaborated on an innovative initiative to (a) demystify the pathway(s) into psychology, (b) connect these students with mentors at different training and career stages, and (c) sponsor Black-identified undergraduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to attend the Society of Pediatric Psychology Annual Conference (SPPAC) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Consistent with SPP’s Black/African American Affinity Group's community engagement initiatives, Drs. Griffin, Foster, and Williams orchestrated a multifaceted program during SPPAC 2024 aimed at educating Black/African American-identified undergraduate students at two esteemed HBCUs in New Orleans. Leveraging the expertise and connections of Drs. Anya Griffin (alumna of Xavier University of Louisiana) and Carmelita Foster (alumna of Dillard University), the group visited Xavier and Dillard to deliver insightful presentations on pediatric psychology careers. Subsequently, a cohort of three students (comprising two from Xavier and one from Dillard) were sponsored to partake in SPPAC 2024 for an immersive exploration of pediatric psychology research, clinical practice, education, and training.

Under the adept coordination of Dr. Justin Williams, co-leader of the SPP Black/African American Affinity Group, and the enthusiastic support of our lead graduate student ambassador, Perry Catlin, MS, efforts were synergized to ensure the seamless integration of sponsored students into the conference experience. Notably, Dr. Naadira Upshaw, SPPAC 2024 Conference Chair, played a pivotal role in championing this outreach endeavor. Throughout the conference, these students received dedicated guidance from Perry Catlin, who served as a mentor and provided invaluable information about graduate school and pediatric psychology. Black/African American Affinity group members (Dr. Kira Branch, Dr. Nneka Alexander, Kasey Harry, Dr. Idia Thurston, Dr. Cecelia Valrie, Dr. Jasmin Searcy, Dr. Danika Perry, and Dr. Trista Perez-Crawford) eagerly volunteered to mentor the three students, and the students were intentionally paired with Black/African American psychologists aligned with their specific areas of interest.

An integral component of this initiative was the sponsorship of students to attend the SPP Black/African American Affinity Group's annual luncheon, where they were warmly welcomed and afforded the opportunity to learn from and connect with scholars across the continuum. Post-conference feedback from participants underscored the transformative impact of their experience, citing newfound clarity, motivation, and direction towards pursuing pediatric psychology careers. Notably, one student shared her transformative journey, transitioning from uncertainty between medical school and a doctoral program in psychology to wholeheartedly committing to the field of pediatric psychology post-SPPAC. Additionally, Drs. Williams and Griffin connected her with our esteemed colleague, Dr. Lori Crosby, who will provide additional opportunities when this student is in Cincinnati for her previously arranged undergraduate summer internship, further solidifying her aspirations in pediatric psychology. These concerted efforts not only paved the way for students' professional growth but also emphasized the crucial need for continued exploration of such impactful initiatives. This inspiring endeavor can serve as a call to action for the broader community of pediatric psychologists. By fostering inclusivity, mentorship, sponsorship, and educational opportunities, we can collectively shape the future of our field. Let us redouble our efforts to support and empower aspiring students, ensuring that the path to pediatric psychology remains accessible to all who possess the passion and potential to make a difference in the lives of children and families. Together, let us forge ahead, guided by a shared commitment to a holistic approach towards excellence, diversity, equity, and belonging in pediatric psychology.


American Psychological Association (2022). Demographics of U.S. Psychology Workforce [Interactive data tool]. Retrieved May 3, 2024, from

The Association of Black Psychologists, Inc. (2022). The Black Mental Health Workforce Survey Report.,are%20reported%20to%20be%20Black.


Picture 1 (from Left to Right): Jalyn Holden (Dillard undergraduate student), Perry Catlin, Laila Terry (Xavier undergraduate student) & Ming Tate (Xavier undergraduate student).


Picture 2: Laila Terry asking a question during the Professional Development Seminar entitled “’You Won't Break My Soul’: Equipping Black Trainees with Strategies for Thriving in Pediatric Psychology” on Saturday, April 27, 2024.



Picture 3 (from Left to Right): Dr. Anya Griffin, Jalyn Holden (Dillard undergraduate student), Dr. Carmelita Foster, Laila Terry (Xavier undergraduate student), Dr. Justin Williams, & Ming Tate (Xavier undergraduate student).


Picture 4: Black/African American Affinity Group lunch during SPPAC 2024.