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The trailblazer every American should know

Mildred Jefferson
YouTube/National Right to Life

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the calm but catalyzing words of Dr. Mildred Jefferson. I was instantly hooked. How could I have never heard of this devout Christian woman until my 30s? She was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 1951 – during the racist Jim Crow era in America. She became the first female surgeon hired at Boston University Medical Center. Dr. Jefferson was awarded 28 honorary degrees.

Notable historical figures have been celebrated for far less.

I had to scour the internet for bits and pieces of her life that should’ve been displayed prominently and pervasively. Why wasn’t she championed in public school textbooks, displayed in the Smithsonian, and recalled by mainstream media during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or any month of the year?

There’s one simple answer for that. Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson was pro-life.

She never fit their mold for a trailblazer. She fought racism, sexism, and fake feminism. It’s the latter that kicked her to the periphery of American history. She rejected the violence of abortion, co-founded the National Right to Life Committee, crusaded against the racism of eugenics, and exposed the evils of Planned Parenthood.

That doesn’t ingratiate one to society’s dominant gatekeepers.

But I sought her out. I’m a better person because I’ve listened to hours of her speeches and interviews. I’m saddened that I was never able to meet her before she passed away in October 2010. Our organization, The Radiance Foundation, has celebrated her for years and is always intentional about sharing her incredible life story with our audiences around the world.

Her name — Mildred — means “mild strength.” How prescient of her parents! God knew he would use someone with such a gentle spirit in mighty ways. She was a warrior. And that fight inspired my wife Bethany and me to set up a fund and create the Dr. Mildred Jefferson Trailblazer Award to help keep her legacy alive. She was born on April 4th, 1926, so we felt it was fitting to illuminate her life this week and bless someone else who carries that fire.

The inaugural award was given to an individual who has blazed trails for decades, never relenting in her pursuit of justice. That passionate defender of Life is Catherine Davis, the founder of The Restoration Project.

When the award was announced to Catherine this week, there were plenty of tears flowing from both the Radiance Foundation founders and the recipient. Davis responded in writing: “Words can sometimes fail to describe the depth of appreciation being felt. This is one of those occasions. To be considered a trailblazer in the order of Dr. Mildred Jefferson is a high honor indeed, and I am grateful to the Radiance Foundation for considering my work worthy of this prestigious award. Thank you!”

The tears came before she even knew she was also receiving a $5,000 grant to further her work to end the social injustice of abortion as part of the award. We just cried even more with joy.

We have worked with Catherine Davis on numerous projects including the launch of one of the most (if not the most) media-covered pro-life campaigns in history.  The TooManyAborted.com billboard and social media campaign was the first public ad campaign to deal with the hugely disproportionate and devastating impact of abortion in the black community. As a civil rights defender who lives in the Atlanta area, Catherine deftly navigated hostile news interviews and challenged the false media narratives that black women need abortion.

One of the best interviews I’ve ever seen, featuring an abortion debate, was between Catherine and National Action Network’s Artis Cash on CNN. News anchor John Roberts (now with Fox News) handled the discussion with the kind of professionalism that is wholly absent now at that network. The stark contrast between an informed factivist and an ignorant activist was on full display. Cash was morally and intellectually bankrupt. The segment is worth watching several times!

Catherine’s eloquent fight and fiery (yet gentle) passion have lit up college campuses, churches, conferences, and Capitol Hill hearings and briefings. As a national public speaker, Catherine is an irreplaceable asset in the pro-life movement. She is even running for Governor in her home state of Georgia to hold elected officials accountable to the People.

Her efforts to educate have helped lead our nation’s largest Pentecostal denomination, The Church of God in Christ (COGIC), to issue a ground-breaking pro-life declaration affirming their commitment to ending the violence of abortion. “Abortion is genocide. Abortion must end to protect the life of the unborn … Just as slavery was overturned in America, Jim Crow was defeated, and Nazi Germany was overthrown, it is our prayer that the heinous industry of abortion will become morally reprehensible worldwide,” COGIC explains with zero ambiguity.

That fits right in line with how Dr. Mildred Jefferson regarded abortion. “I would guess that the abortionists have done more to get rid of generations and cripple others than all of the years of slavery and lynchings,” she told Ebony magazine in 1978.

Today, Catherine Davis would agree entirely. “The impact [of abortion] to Blacks is genocide. The answer to genocide is personhood,” she’s proclaimed. “Abortion is a scourge” she defiantly declares as she travels across the country, exposing the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood specifically. She tirelessly advocates for women of every hue and their children (born and unborn).

The Radiance Foundation is honored to continue to partner with Catherine Davis in this fight for Life and justice. My wife and I are blessed to call her a dear friend.

We need more trailblazers out there unafraid of the pushback, the name-calling, and the demonizing. In the end, we lovingly sacrifice so that others’ shackles may fall. Dr. Jefferson humbly said when asked how she wants to be remembered: “That my life made a difference. And that others lived because of the work I did.”

Many lives have been saved. Many more will. And that’s a legacy worth celebrating.


Originally published at Radiance Foundation. 

Ryan Bomberger is the Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of The Radiance Foundation. He is happily married to his best friend, Bethany, who is the Executive Director of Radiance. They are adoptive parents with four awesome kiddos. Ryan is an Emmy Award-winning creative professional, factivist, international public speaker and author of NOT EQUAL: CIVIL RIGHTS GONE WRONG. He loves illuminating that every human life has purpose.

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