He was committed to expanding mental health services in Black communities!
Dr. Maxie Collier was a psychiatrist who earned his degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1977, WMAR 2 News Baltimore reports. By 1980, he had opened his own private practice, offering family therapy to local residents. It was Collier’s goal to expand mental health care and psychiatric services to Black communities, focusing all of his expertise and efforts on this mission.
A decade after earning his degree, he was named the Chief of Psychiatry for the Johns Hopkins Health Plan. He made history that same year, being named the first Black Health Commissioner for the city of Baltimore by former mayor Kurt Schmoke. He served in that role until 1990, becoming a pioneer in the field of Black mental health services. After Collier’s untimely death in 1994, Schmoke spoke with reporters about how the late psychiatrist helped transform his views on substance abuse disorder, Baltimore Fishbowl reports.
“I will remember Maxie as a brilliant psychiatrist and a caring and compassionate public health official. It was in discussions with Maxie that I first heard the strongest critique of the war on drugs and an outline of a sensible alternative strategy,” said Schmoke.
Collier is credited with launching a number of initiatives that helped broaden the city’s mental health services and studies. He launched the Black Mental Health Alliance’s “Baltimore Project,” which focused on prenatal care programs for locals that helped reduce infant mortality and unwanted pregnancies. Collier was also instrumental in founding the Health Expo, an annual event aimed at recruiting high school upperclassmen into health careers. The trailblazing psychiatrist also worked with the Baltimore Health Department to create the Office of Minority Health with the goal of better aligning their services to assist minority communities.
Now the city is repaying the good doctor with a posthumous honor, acknowledging all of his contributions by renaming the city’s Department of Health after him. Collier’s wife was present in his absence at this week’s dedication. She spoke about how much the honor would’ve meant to Collier and how shocked he would’ve been to be recognized in this way.
“He would be very humbled, he would not have expected this, he saw himself as a public servant and when you’re a public servant, you’re not thinking about how you’ll be rewarded, so I think he’d just be shocked,” said Katherine Collier.
Baltimore City Councilmember Robert Stokes who spearheaded the resolution for the renaming was present at the ceremony for the headquarters located at 1001 E. Fayette St. Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, the first Black woman health commissioner in the city, other prominent health officials, and Mayor Brandon Scott were also in attendance, all speaking to Collier’s lasting impact.
“Dr. Collier was a visionary leader who recognized that health equity cannot be achieved without addressing systemic injustices. He knew the impact of social determinants of health - like poverty, racism, and housing instability - and his leadership and advocacy paved the way for many of the public health initiatives that we continue to champion today,” said Mayor Scott.
Let us echo the thanks for all of Dr. Collier’s immense contributions to the field of psychiatry and the city of Baltimore. His initiatives are a blueprint that more cities should look to follow and we honor his life and legacy. Because of Dr. Maxie Collier, we can!
Cover photo: Baltimore renames city’s Department of Health in honor of first Black health commissioner/Photo Courtesy of Coppin State University/Maxie Collier Scholars Program