Featured Psychologist: Henry Tomes, PhD
In 1963, Henry Tomes, PhD, was the first African American to obtain a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Penn State University. Throughout his career he held many positions that helped shape the United States’ mental health system.
He began his professional career as an instructor at Meharry Medical College and later became the director of their community mental health center. In addition, he directed community mental health programs for the state of Washington and was later promoted to deputy commissioner. In 1989, Dr. Tomes made history as the first African American and psychologist to serve as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. In 1991, he began working with the American Psychological Association (APA) as the first full-time executive director of the Public Interest (PI) directorate. Dr. Tomes served as the executive director of PI for 14 years, where he and his staff used psychology to address social issues and worked to ensure the equitable and just treatment of all, including people of color. Championing the cause of marginalized groups, particularly communities of color was a consistent theme in Dr. Tomes’ career and underlined many of his professional activities. In fact, in 1969, he helped to found the Association of Black Psychologists and in 1970 he served as its co-chair.
Because of Dr. Tomes’ advocacy efforts and significant influence in promoting the well-being of underrepresented communities and marginalized groups, in 2007, OEMA began granting the Henry Tomes Award for the Advancement of Ethnic Minorities in Psychology. The Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests (CNPAAEMI) funds the award annually. It is bestowed on a rotating basis to psychologists from each ethnic minority group who “(a) significantly contributed to the development and promotion of ethnic minority psychology; (b) advocated for the interests and psychological well-being of individuals across multiple ethnic minority communities; and (c) promoted unique opportunities to advance ethnic minority interests in psychological practice, science, and education.” This lifetime achievement award is granted to leaders and trailblazers in ethnic minority psychology that have the same dedication as Dr. Tomes, who was committed to improving mental health and serving the community as a sincere pioneer for human welfare.