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Drexel University Alumni Spotlight

Jihan Woods

Jihan Woods
MD MEDICINE ’13


Finding Santa, Finding Self

“Talking about race and how it impacts children is so important,” says Jihan Woods, MD. A 2013 graduate of the Drexel College of Medicine, Woods specialized in child and adolescent psychiatry, and her interest in the intersection of race and youth mental health has informed her career from her fellowship research to developing a mobile app.

Of psychiatry, Woods says, “There’s opportunity to engage and build rapport with patients over time, and to understand how their backgrounds – their stories – affect their lives.” And for Woods, the stories children hear about race and culture are integral to their mental health.

After earning a medical degree at Drexel, Woods completed her residency and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern, where she studied how parental messages about race impact the wellbeing of children, particularly Black children.

“I’ve always been interested in the mental health of African American youth,” says Woods. “I am a Black woman, and I have two Black children, so the topic is really important to me. There’s a long history of racism and racial tension in the U.S. It’s important have conversations about that, because when we all talk about race, we all have a better understanding of ourselves and of people who don’t look like ourselves.”

Continues Woods, “When it comes to children, it’s also important for parents to have these conversations, not just with Black kids but with all kids. Children will try to categorize people based on superficial characteristics such as skin color, so parents can start having age-appropriate conversations about race as soon as kids start to show an interest.”

Race, representation and mental health are also at the center of why Woods conceptualized and developed the mobile app Find Black Santa. She says, “I created the app after trying to find a Black Santa for my own children and discovering I wasn’t able to. I wanted them to have the Santa experience but in a way that represents us. Providing a positive representation of Black people to Black children, even in a mystical figure like Santa, is important to their development.”

Woods launched the app in 2018 and saw 500 downloads in the first year. Now, that count is close to 20,000, and Woods is expanding her business. Says Woods, “My background really propelled me to think about what kind of business Find Black Santa could become.”

Through the app, in addition to finding in-person or virtual Black Santa events or shopping merchandise, followers can now take part in a new webinar series called “Hot Cocoa with Dr Woods,” where she and guests discuss a range of topics from Santa (of course) and technology to race and youth mental health. Says Woods, In the first two episodes, I spoke with artist Kenyatta Forbes about the cultural identity of Black children. In another, the guest was author Tieska Jumbo, who wrote the book ‘Danny’s Christmas List,’ which features a Black Santa. For Black children, in particular, having children's books with Black protagonists, or having Black art in the home, are simple yet powerful and positive ways to demonstrate self-love and pride.”

Says Woods of the webinar series, “I wanted to create an entertaining way to engage people in these important conversations.”

Continues Woods, “It’s a good thing that more conversations are happening around about issues like race and culture, because the more conversations there are, the more challenge there is to the status quo, and the more open our minds become to people’s differences.”