Dr. Bobby Westbrooks, a practicing chiropractor, founded the American Black Chiropractic Association (ABCA) in 1981 in St. Louis, Missouri. He served as its executive director until his death in 1995. The goals of the ABCA include increasing the awareness of chiropractic treatment within the black community and attracting black men and women into the profession. Westbrooks also was active in St. Louis politics and civic organizations and once ran for mayor on the Freedom Party ticket.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Bobby Westbrooks settled in St. Louis in 1952, following his discharge from the United States Army. For the next 12 years he worked as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis. Westbrooks graduated from the Missouri Chiropractic College (now Logan College of Chiropractic) in 1967 as a doctor of chiropractic (D.C.). He maintained a private practice for the remainder of his life.
Westbrooks was active in his St. Louis community, serving as chairman of the Montgomery-Hyde Park Neighborhood Council. In this position he oversaw St. Louis's first Model Cities program, a cornerstone of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative. Westbrooks also served as president of the Water Tower Business Association and the East Grand Businessmen's Association. He was a board member of the North Side TEAM Ministry and a member of the St. Louis Police Community Relations Committee.
In 1969 Westbrooks ran for mayor of St. Louis on the ticket of the newly-founded Freedom Party, losing to incumbent Alfonso J. Cervantes. Following his run for mayor, Westbrooks remained active in the politics of St. Louis's Fifth Ward. His comments at a St. Louis hearing were quoted in the 1972 Democratic Party Platform: "All your platform has to say is that the rights, opportunities and political power of citizenship will be extended to the lowest level, to neighborhoods and individuals. If your party can live up to that simple pledge, my faith will be restored." Later Westbrook switched his affiliation from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
As a chiropractor, Westbrooks knew that the black community lacked information about the benefits of chiropractic. Furthermore, there were few black chiropractors. Together with a small group of chiropractors and chiropractic students, Westbrooks founded the ABCA. The association held its first convention in St. Louis with 17 people in attendance. Officers were chosen and bylaws established. The organization began reaching out to chiropractic students across the country and students and doctors began to network.
In 1982 Westbrooks published a seminal article on black American chiropractors. Until the 1950s blacks were largely barred from chiropractic schools. According to an article in Chiropractic Economics in July of 2004, chiropractic school bulletins generally included the phrase "Negroes not accepted." However, blacks studied chiropractic anonymously via correspondence schools. Beginning in 1979 the National Association of Black Chiropractors filed a series of formal racial discrimination charges against the Council on Chiropractic Education—the profession's college-accrediting agency—as well as against its member colleges.
Dynamic Chiropractic quoted Westbrooks in 1993: "While chiropractic struggled for its existence as a profession, black people had to struggle for membership in the profession founded on the back of a black man." Westbrooks was referring to Harvey Lillard, a black man whose hearing was restored in 1895 when a magnetic healer named Daniel David Palmer readjusted his vertebrae. Lillard became known as the first chiropractic patient.
The ABCA has relied on education and community service to further its aims of uniting and empowering black chiropractors, promoting chiropractic within the black community, and securing scholarships for black chiropractic students. The organization has archived numerous historical documents and materials relating to blacks and the chiropractic profession. Its annual convention has provided a venue for personal and professional connections among current and prospective chiropractic students, doctors, and supporters within the community. ABCA members have mentored hundreds of chiropractic students.
Following Westbrooks's death, the ABCA has continued to carry out his visions of educating the black community about chiropractic and its benefits and nurturing and promoting black students and professionals. The campuses of most chiropractic schools in the United States have active student ABCA chapters and the organization reaches out to schools in this country and abroad. Student chapter members are eligible to apply for the ABCA's Harvey Lillard Scholarship and the organization holds annual fairs to encourage young blacks to consider chiropractic as a career. The ABCA works closely with other national chiropractic organizations, including the Association of Chiropractic Colleges.
In 1994 Westbrooks received the ABCA's Chiropractor of the Year Award for his many years as executive director. His wife received an appreciation award from the ABCA's spouse's auxiliary. That same year the ABCA created the Bobby Westbrooks Scholarship Foundation.
Westbrooks was long estranged from his wife Elizabeth. Cecelia Piekarski was his companion for the last 21 years of his life. Bobby Westbrooks died of lung cancer on January 13, 1995, at the John Cochran Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis and was buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. He was 64 years old.
At a Glance...
Born Bobby Westbrooks in 1930(?) in Memphis, TN; died on January 13, 1995, in St. Louis, MO; married Elizabeth (separated); companion to Cecelia Piekarski, 1974(?)-95. Education: Missouri Chiropractic College, DC, 1967. Religion: Roman Catholic. Military Service: U.S. Army.
Career: U.S. Postal Service, clerk, 1952(?)-64; chiropractor in private practice, 1967-94.
Memberships: East Grand Businessmen's Association, president; Montgomery-Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, chairman; North Side TEAM Ministry, board member; St. Louis Police Community Relations Committee, member; Water Tower Business Association, president; American Black Chiropractic Association, founder and executive director, 1981-95.
Awards: American Black Chiropractic Association, Chiropractor of the Year, 1994, Bobby Westbrooks Scholarship Foundation, 1994.
"The Troubled Legacy of Harvey Lillard: The Black Experience in Chiropractic," Chiropractic History, 1982, pp. 47-53.
"The Missing Element," Today's Chiropractic, March/April 1983, pp. 56-59.
Dynamic Chiropractic, April 9, 1993; November 14, 1994.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1995, p. 11D.
"The ABCA: Its Start, its Status and its Future," Chiropractic Economics, www.chiroeco.com/50/bonus/abc.html (February 8, 2005).
"Challenges and Progress of Black Chiropractors," Chiropractic Economics, www.chiroeco.com/article/2004/issue10/10events6.html (February 8, 2005).
"1972 Democratic Party Platform," Federalist Patriot, http://federalistpatriot.us/histdocs/platforms/democratic/dem.972.html (February 14, 2005).
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