Myers, Linda James
Myers, Linda James
- Suzette L. Speight
was born and raised in Hugoton, southwestern Kansas, the daughter of Fay Elnora Brown James, a teacher, and Harold Franklin James, a rancher and farmer. She grew up with her siblings: a brother, Harold James Jr., who became an engineer, and her sister, Brenda James, PhD, who became a university administrator. The James family was one of very few black families in a small, rural, mostly white community. Both sides of her parents’ families featured blending with Indigenous Americans, although the details of that ethnic heritage were not passed on. Her father’s mother was born on a Chickasaw reservation in Oklahoma. Her mother’s grandfather was said to be part Blackhawk, according to information in The Pictorial History of Ellsworth County Kansas (1992).
Her parents were steeped in the black culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They instilled in their children the values of determination, freedom, excellence, black pride, love of family, and a deep religious faith. She grew up in a Baptist church, which taught a devotion to one omnipotent, omnipresent source of all good. Linda excelled in elementary and high school, where she was the only black child in all her classes. She has stated that she always knew that she would go to college even as her high school guidance counselor was not helpful and discouraged her despite excellent grades. Her older sister was also in college, so she followed in her footsteps, attending the same institution- Kansas State Teacher’s College in Emporia, Kansas. Like her sister, she double majored in psychology and special education. Graduating early, she entered a master’s degree in school psychology.
Upon completing that internship, however, Linda knew that school psychology was not the career path for her. She was hired as an instructor in the Psychology Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She enjoyed university-level teaching and decided to earn a doctorate in psychology. She chose to study at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus because of its innovative clinical psychology program at the time and the opportunity that the Black Studies Department offered to develop its psychology curriculum. She graduated with her PhD in clinical psychology in 1975.
Myers then joined the faculty at OSU as an assistant professor of black studies, achieving both tenure and promotion to full professor. She was affiliated with the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. After serving as dean of the Graduate School of Psychology at the New College of California in San Francisco from 2005 to 2007, Dr. Myers returned to OSU and served as professor and director of the African and African Studies Community Extension Center until her retirement in 2019. As of 2023 Dr. Myers serves as Academy Professor Emerita with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of African American and African Studies, and the College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at OSU. Given her stature and accomplishments, Dr. Myers has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, some of the most notable include: The 9th National Conference on African/Black Psychology Legacy Award in 2018; named as One of the Most Important African American Pioneers in Mental Health by National Mental Health Association in 2016; the Mary McLeod Bethune/Carter G. Woodson Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Development and Promotion of Black Studies from the National Council of Black Studies in 1994; Building to Eternity Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Activism from the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization in 1999; The Social Justice Action Award from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2005, Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame- Contributions in Health and Education in 1989, the National Congress of Black Women Sojourner Truth Award, and University of California Santa Barbara Center for African/Black Studies Research in 2022.
Internationally recognized as a thought leader, scholar/practitioner, and author, Myers is best known for her identification, articulation, and elaboration of optimal conceptual theory (OCT). The theory and her scholarship are situated outside of the cultural bounds of mainstream European and Western psychology. It is grounded in the wisdom tradition of African deep thought traceable to the beginnings of human culture and civilization and extant today across the African diaspora. Her work has garnered considerable attention both nationally and internationally among those interested in theory and research beyond mainstream Western cultural parameters. She is one of few women who examines the conceptual foundations within the field of Africana/black psychology. Consequently, one cannot talk about Africana/black psychology without acknowledging Dr. Myers’s scholarship.
Dr. Myers developed optimal conceptual theory (OCT) in order to explain the promulgation, imposition, and maintenance of systems of oppression. Studying the impact of culture on the human psyche, she identified conceptual systems that are optimal in terms of supporting higher levels of consciousness and the capacity for acquiring humane values, solid moral judgment and reasoning, spiritual acumen, transcendent identity development, and wisdom. Myers’s research and production of culturally congruent psychological knowledge have been at the forefront of Africana/black psychology. Her work provides insight into the cultural worldview at the root of fractured consciousness. Myers’s OCT explicates how multidimensional alienation and the societal “isms,” such as racism, colorism, sexism, and classism, together with their intersections develop and are maintained with the potential to destroy humanity. Dr. Myers’s OCT offers a comprehensive, cohesive, and coherent transdisciplinary strategy for providing individual and collective pathways to liberation. Living the principles of the African wisdom tradition supports translation of the heights of scientific knowledge into a spiritual and cultural reality. For instance, belief systems analysis, OCT’s corollary psychotherapeutic and psychoeducational holistic approach, has been utilized in mental health treatment to enhance health and growth morally, spiritually, and energetically for individual and collective sustainable well-being.
Dr. Myers is a national leader in her field, having served as President in 1990-1991, Elder of Elders Emerita in 2015, and a Distinguished Psychologist for the Association of Black Psychologist in 1992. Since 2007, Dr. Myers has been board certified in African Centered/Black Psychology by the Association of Black Psychologist’s Licensure, Certification and Proficiency Program, Diplomate and Fellow.
Myers has contributed three single-authored books, two co-edited volumes, twenty-five book chapters, and over fifty refereed journal articles in the fields of Africana/black studies and psychology. Her 1987 book, Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to Optimal Psychology is widely regarded as a classic text in African/black psychology. In 2022 she served as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology examining the role of culturally congruent paradigms for communities of color. Her professional service includes several journal editorships (e.g. Journal of Black Psychology from 1984-2000, Journal of Black Studies from 1987-1993), national review panels (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Dissertation Awards in 2004) and board memberships (e.g., Columbus Commission on Ethics and Values from 1993-1997 and the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board, Board of Directors from 1999-2003). Dr. Myers and has been invited to provide presentations, workshops and conference papers nationally and internationally including “Traditional Medicine and Optimal Theory: Improving Health Practices in Contemporary Times” at the 17th Annual and 1st International Conference of the National Council of Black Studies, Accra, Ghana in 1993 and “African Psychology and the Voice of Optimal Theory” for the Pattigift African Centered Mental Health Care Conference, Birmingham, England in 2007.
Myers has received numerous grants to further her work including Health Behavior Among Religiously Active Black Youth (co-investigator), Columbus Congregations for Healthy Youth from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2004 and 2005 combined for over $500,000, Project Healing: Optimal Theory and Health in the African American Community from the Ohio Commission on Minority Health in 1995 for $100,000, Project Sankofa: Creating a Climate and Culture of Optimal Health in the African American Community from the Ohio Commission on Minority Health Academic, Scientific, and Community Partnership Grant along with the OSU African American and African Studies Community Extension Center in 2000 for $200,000, and in 2016 the Urban Digital Citizen Initiative, 2016 Neighborhood Partnership United Way Grant for $2,800.
Linda James Myers and Rogers Myers (a Master drummer and jazz percussionist) are the parents of two sons, Ikenna Sekou James Myers, a public health physician, and Ptah Harrison James Myers, a retired professional soccer player and head coach for men’s soccer at Jefferson University and the grandparents of six grandchildren: Maximus, Kingston, Selah, Shiloh, London, and Saul.
- American Psychological Association. “Featured Psychologist: Linda James Myers.” April 2019. https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/psychologists/linda-james-myers.
- Gaston, Karl K. Pictorial History, Ellsworth County, Kansas. Ellsworth, KS: Ellsworth Reporter, 1992.