Henry Tomes, Jr.

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’60g, ’63g Psychology
Henry Tomes, Jr.

2015 Distinguished Alumni Award

Henry Tomes, Jr. ‘60g, ’63g Psychology helped shape our nation’s public health system through a 42-year career dedicated to the psychological well-being of marginalized and underrepresented communities throughout the country. He is the first African-American to obtain a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Penn State. Throughout his long and distinguished career, he held many positions that contributed significantly to the transformation of the United States’ mental health system from institutionalization to community-based services. Human justice, individual and group well-being, and equitable treatment for all individuals have been his hallmark.

After graduation, Tomes served as head of the Clinical Psychology Department at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN and directed Meharry's community mental health center, where his reforms made the center one of the country's most innovative.  During the Carter presidency, he was invited by First Lady Rosalynn Carter to serve on a task force that helped bring about passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.

In 1989, Tomes made history as the first African-American and psychologist to serve as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. His administration focused on prevention and rehabilitation, and he helped create nearly thirty “clubhouses," which help people recovering from serious mental illness transition back to the community. In 1990, the American Psychological Association recognized his achievements with the Distinguished Career Contribution to Service Award.

From 1991 until his retirement in 2005, Tomes was the executive director of the Public Interest directorate of the American Psychological Association (APA). There, he used psychology to address social issues and worked to ensure the equitable treatment of all, including people of color.

In 2007, the APA created The Henry Tomes Awards for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Psychology. These lifetime achievement awards honor psychologists from each ethnic minority community—African-American, Alaska Native/American Indian, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and Latina/o American. In 2008, Tomes received the College of the Liberal Arts Outstanding Liberal Arts  Alumni Award

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