Two trailblazing leaders of the profession— Leon Anderson Jr., PT, and Lynda Woodruff, PT, PhD — will be honored with a namesake conference room at APTA Centennial Center, thanks to a generous gift to APTA's Minority Scholarship fund by the American Academy of Physical Therapy. The AAPT donation was made as part of APTA’s Campaign for Future Generations, an initiative that leverages APTA’s centennial year and naming rights at the new national headquarters to raise funds to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Leon Anderson Jr. and Lynda Woodruff Black PT Heritage Room, to be formally dedicated during APTA's centennial celebration in September, stands as a tribute to two PTs who became legendary for their vision and advocacy. Located within APTA's second-floor office space with views of the Potomac River, the space seats 20 in a hollow square, with additional classroom-style seating also available. The room will be used for staff meetings and other APTA member events.
Anderson, the first Black PT elected to APTA's Board of Directors, in 1971, was also the founding president of the American Academy of Physical Therapy, an organization aimed at supporting Black and other minorities in the profession. AAPT has continued Anderson's legacy through its focus on addressing health care disparities, student mentoring, and clinical research related to the Black community. In addition to his work with AAPT, Anderson served as chair of the Ohio physical therapy, occupational therapy, and athletic trainers regulatory board, president of the Centers for Rehabilitation, and chair of the APTA Advisory Council on Minority Affairs.
Woodruff's influence was equally significant, particularly in physical therapy education and in APTA's response to the needs of minorities within the profession. She founded the department of physical therapy at North Georgia College, became the first Black faculty member of the Division of Physical Therapy at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was instrumental in establishing the APTA Minority Scholarship Fund and the Minority Scholarship Award for Academic Excellence. Woodruff is now the namesake of the profession’s signature annual lecture on diversity, equity, and inclusion, for which AAPT and APTA are among the cosponsors.
As chair of the APTA Advisory Council on Minority Affairs in 1986, Anderson initiated conversations with the then-Foundation for Physical Therapy (now Foundation for Physical Therapy Research) on how a scholarship program for minority students might operate. Woodruff was chair of the Advisory Council on Minority Affairs when the first scholarship was presented in 1988.
"Leon Anderson Jr. was a visionary Black physical therapist," said AAPT President Rob Tillman, PT. "He and the other AAPT founders saw the need to establish an organization with a focus on supporting Black students seeking physical therapy degrees and licensure, and he understood the importance of addressing the overall health care for the Black community. Lynda Woodruff was an innovative and tenacious advocate for the education of Black physical therapists and their prosperity in the healing arts. She deeply affected the lives of so many, and the ripple effects continue today."
Anderson's son, Leon Anderson III, PT, says dedicating the room to both leaders is a recognition of the connection they had to each other.
"Leon was Lynda’s mentor and Lynda went on to mentor thousands of pre-PT and PT students," Anderson said." They both held local, national, and international positions within the profession. They both assisted scores of young men and women enter the profession, and helped them navigate an unfamiliar and not-always-welcoming professional environment."
In addition to providing a fitting tribute to Anderson and Woodruff, AAPT's decision to support the Black PT Heritage Room serves as a reminder of the need for continued broad collaboration to work toward a profession as diverse as the society it serves, according to Tillman.
"We have enjoyed the recent dialogue and engagement with APTA leadership and are looking forward to further coordinated efforts between our organizations and others," Tillman said. "We are like-minded in our emphasis on addressing issues in the Black community and others that are underserved, whether those issues are disparities in health care generally, or the particular challenges faced by members of underrepresented minorities who desire to join our profession."