In 1970, Joyce Hamilton Berry became the first Black woman to earn a doctorate at the University of Kentucky. Forty-five years later, Berry finally is being honored by the school as a Distinguished Alum.
Berry, 76, not only overcame growing up in segregated Kentucky, but used the disparities as inspiration to excel. She told the Lexington Herald Leader about being listed in the paper under the “Colored Notes” section for academic achievement when she was in the seventh grade at Dunbar High School.
The next semester, instead of all As, she receive one B and was not included in the next “Colored Notes.” The B was in behavior.
“One of the reasons I’m standing here is because” of Colored Notes, Berry said to the newspaper. “When I didn’t make the honor roll, neighborhood people asked why I didn’t make it, why my name wasn’t in the paper.”
That was all she needed to press forward and earn a place with the National Honor Society. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Hampton University and her master’s and doctorate from UK.
A clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., and in Maryland, Berry’s expert opinions were sought by newspapers, magazines and TV news shows, and she has answered readers’ questions in Jet, Essence and Ebony magazines.
Another notable Kentucky alum, Elaine Wilson, the first black president of the UK Alumni Association, will present Berry with her award.
“I think it is good for us and so encouraging for (Black) people who come behind us,” Berry said.
The Distinguished Alumni honor roll was established in 1965 as a part of UK’s centennial celebration. With this year’s honorees, the number inducted is 306.
Members of the Hall of Distinguished Alumni are selected once every five years. The process is a long one because each detail has to be meticulously researched. “As the time grows closer, the more excited I get,” Berry said of the ceremony. “My friends have said it is about time. But if I had never gotten (the honor), I would be OK. I know what I did is significant.”
After receiving her doctorate, Berry worked at the Hunter Foundation for Health Care, a nonprofit health maintenance organization in Lexington, named for Dr. Bush Hunter, who delivered Berry. In 1973, Berry left Lexington to work with the National Medical Association Foundation in Washington in developing an HMO for that area. When the federal HMO movement failed, Berry became a school psychologist with the Montgomery County Public Schools and later a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
“This means at some point people have recognized what you’ve done and said, ‘well done,'” she said.