Comer Receives APA Disruption-Revitalization Award

June 11, 2019
by Cynthia Savo

James Comer, MD, MPH, gave a Frontiers of Science Lecture on innovations of children’s mental health over time at the 2019 APA Annual Meeting at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on May 20, 2019. The theme of the Annual Meeting was “Revitalize Psychiatry: Disrupt, Include, Engage & Innovate.”

APA Immediate Past President Altha J. Stewart, MD presented Dr. Comer with an award recognizing him and the Black psychiatrists who disrupted a 1969 meeting of the APA Board to bring attention to the mental health concerns of African Americans. Their same push for social justice led to the creation of a Black Caucus within the APA and, eventually, the Black Psychiatric Association. Dr. Comer received a standing ovation when he received the award.

The Minority Center of the National Institute of Mental Health, created through the advocacy of the BPA and APA, provided funding that enabled the Comer School Development Program (SDP) to survive during a critical time in the infancy of the Yale work, and, in time, inform national school and education policy and practice.

In his presentation, “Why are we still waiting?: Resistance to prevention and promotion with mental health issues,” Dr. Comer described the SDP, an education intervention project that emerged out of the racial unrest and efforts to promote social justice in the late 1960s. In response to a Ford Foundation challenge grant, the late Dr. Albert Solnit, former director the Yale Child Study Center, invited Dr. Comer to be the Principal Investigator and lead the effort to find a way to help make it possible for African-American children to achieve at the same academic levels as other groups. 

Co-presenter Andrew Ferguson, chief education officer of the Dalio Foundation, outlined strategies for building local and national support for the recommendations of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. Dr. Comer served as the honorary co-chair, and Ferguson represented the Dalio Foundation

Submitted by Lauren Perry on June 11, 2019