For the first Black president of Mass. psychology group, racism is a mental

In July, Pierre stepped up to a new platform to continue that work when he was elected as the first Black president of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, a 1,700-member professional society for psychologists.

Pierre was named president-elect in 2019, so the recent appointment wasn’t influenced by the resurgence in racial awareness sparked by the killing of George Floyd. But, as he sees it, it didn’t come a moment too soon.

Fewer than 1 percent of the association’s members are people of color, who Pierre said had not felt welcome in the organization. He wants to change that, and he also wants to inspire Black high school and college students to enter a career in psychology.

They are needed. According to the American Psychological Association, the MPA’s parent group, only 4 percent of psychologists identified as African-American in 2015, although diversity is increasing among trainees and early-career psychologists.

Meanwhile, Black people are suffering from mental distress during a pandemic that has hurt them disproportionately. Yet they tend to be reluctant to seek help for mental illnesses or don’t have access to it, and when they do, they often find themselves face to face with a white person who has no clue about their experiences.

“If someone looks like me, they understand my reality,” Pierre said. “To sit with someone who understands a client’s worldview is important, so they don’t have to explain themselves."