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Dr. James Comer

Dr. James P. Comer, founder and chairman of the School Development Program at the Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center, was born on September 25, 1934, in East Chicago, Indiana. After earning his A.B. degree from Indiana University, Comer went on to earn his M.D. from Howard University College of Medicine in 1960, and his M.P.H. from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1964.

After completing his M.P.H., Comer completed his training at the Yale School of Medicine, the Yale Child Study Center, and the Hillcrest Children’s Center in Washington, D.C. Comer was also enlisted in the military, completing his service in 1968 at the rank of Surgeon, Lt. Colonel, in the United States Public Health Service.

After 1976, Comer became the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine; in this role, he developed the Comer Process, which was a system of education that focused on child development in inner-city schools. Comer's process has been utilized in more than six hundred schools in eighty-two school districts across twenty-six states. In 1968, Comer founded the Comer School Development Program to promote the usage of his process in schools across the nation; to achieve this aim, an emphasis was placed on collaboration between parents, teachers, and the surrounding community to improve the lives of young students and, in turn, their prospects for succeeding on the path to higher education.

In addition to lecturing and consulting widely across the United States at colleges and universities, medical schools, scientific associations, and public school districts, Comer lectured, observed, and discussed child care, school conditions, and reform around the world, in places such as London, Paris, Tokyo, Dakar, Senegal, and Sydney.

A prolific writer, Comer has authored ten books, including: Beyond Black and White (1972); Black Child Care (with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, 1975); Raising Black Children (1992); School Power: Implications of an Intervention Project (1980); and most recently, Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World (2004). Between 1978 and 1994, Comer wrote more than one hundred and fifty articles for Parent’s Magazine and more than three hundred syndicated articles on children’s health and development and race relations.

Accession Number

A2004.132

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/18/2004

Last Name

Comer

Marital Status

Married

Schools

George Washington Elem School

Washington High School

Indiana University

Howard University College of Medicine

University of Michigan

Yale University

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

East Chicago

HM ID

COM02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Keep On Keepin' On.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Connecticut

Birth Date

9/25/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New Haven

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue (Ribs)

Short Description

Child psychiatry professor and child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer (1934 - ) was the developer of the Comer Process, a system of education that focused on child development in inner-city schools. Comer also founded the Comer School Development Program to promote the usage of his process in schools across the nation. In addition to his work in research and program development, Comer served as the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine for over thirty years.

Employment

United States Public Health Service

Yale University School of Medicine

Corner School Development Program

Favorite Color

Gold

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. James Comer's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer talks about his mother's childhood in Woodland, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. James Comer talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. James Comer describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. James Comer shares a story about his father's toughness

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. James Comer describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dr. James Comer talks about the influence of Zion Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana on his family and in his life

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dr. James Comer recalls the influence of spirituals in his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Dr. James Comer remembers his childhood Sunday mornings

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Dr. James Comer recalls members of the church community at Zion Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Dr. James Comer talks about his current church attendance

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. James Comer recalls his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer describes his childhood neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer recalls successful neighbors from him childhood in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer recalls the racially mixed community of his childhood in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. James Comer recalls how his parents met and married

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. James Comer recalls the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dr. James Comer recalls learning about gender equality by playing football with a childhood playmate

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dr. James Comer recalls learning a lesson about child psychology while attending Easter Sunday service at Zion Baptist Church

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dr. James Comer recalls an encounter with a racist neighbor after a childhood birthday party

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Dr. James Comer recalls two of his teachers at George Washington Elementary School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Dr. James Comer describes the demographics of George Washington Elementary School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Dr. James Comer explains his aspiration to be a doctor

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Dr. James Comer lists his favorite school subjects

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. James Comer recalls his experience at Washington Junior High School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer recalls supportive teachers and a discriminatory one at Washington High School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer lists favorite and least favorite subjects studied at Washington High School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer lists the extracurricular activities he participated in at Washington High School in East Chicago, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer talks about his social circles throughout his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. James Comer lists his favorite sports

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. James Comer recalls overcoming his initial self-doubt at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. James Comer explains how his experiences at Indiana University led him to focus on the psychological dimensions of race and poverty

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dr. James Comer talks about being a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dr. James Comer explains his decision to attend Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Dr. James Comer describes his experience at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Dr. James Comer recalls his limited involvement with the Civil Rights Movement during his college years

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Dr. James Comer reflects upon the experience of school integration

Tape: 3 Story: 14 - Dr. James Comer recalls the positive influence and support he received while attending Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. James Comer lists his professors he at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer explains why he changed his focus from medicine to psychiatry

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer recalls how his volunteer work with Hospitality House in Washington, D.C. led to his interest in public health

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer talks about his study of public health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer notes the duration of his residency at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. James Comer explains how he came to head the School Development Program for the Yale Child Study Center in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. James Comer recalls his time at the Hillcrest Children's Center in Washington, D.C. from 1967 through 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. James Comer talks about developing the Comer School Development Program from his experience with public schools in New Haven, Connecticut, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dr. James Comer talks about developing the Comer School Development Program from his experience with public schools in New Haven, Connecticut, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dr. James Comer explains three of the components of the Comer School Development Program

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dr. James Comer describes the elements and guidelines of the Comer School Development Program

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer talks about successes attained by schools adopting the Comer School Development Program

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer talks about the assessing school improvement for schools using the Comer School Development Program

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer talks about the lack of teacher training and preparation in child development

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer talks about the obstacles that impede recognizing the importance of child development in the educational system

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dr. James Comer talks about the breakdown in community support that occurred after World War II in U.S. society

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dr. James Comer reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dr. James Comer describes the impetus for his book 'Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today's Youth for Tomorrow's World'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dr. James Comer talks about his book 'Maggie's American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dr. James Comer talks about his book 'Maggie's American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family,' pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dr. James Comer talks about his book 'Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can't Solve Our Problems--and How We Can'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dr. James Comer describes how he wants to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dr. James Comer reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dr. James Comer narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dr. James Comer narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

3$8

DATitle
Dr. James Comer recalls how his volunteer work with Hospitality House in Washington, D.C. led to his interest in public health
Dr. James Comer talks about developing the Comer School Development Program from his experience with public schools in New Haven, Connecticut, pt. 1
Transcript
I remember on one occasion in this Hospitality House [Washington, D.C.], I was a volunteer sitting reading with the kids, and these kids were bright as anybody and yet, you know, they're in trouble. I remember on one occasion the, it was Easter season, one kid was crying in the corner, quietly, and it turns out that he had been told by his teacher that, "If you can't bring a dime back for the Easter egg hunt, then you should not come back yourself." That got to me. His mother couldn't help him because she literally did not have the dime. I gave him the dime, he went back to school, but I said, what is going on in the schools? You know, why would you do that to a kid? And that made me, began to realize, that these kids were in trouble. I remember sitting reading to them and they were bright, able, good kids and then going around the corner and there were these day-labor camps almost, or places where men lined up to get jobs and here are these big, able black men all lined up yelling, for, it was a scene out of slavery, you know, where the, the employer or his agent was standing on the back of a truck and he's picking, this one and that one and the other one, you know, and these guys, with their shirts off, it looked like slaves and I said, these kids are going to be in that same lineup in just a few years unless they get an education and the schools not serving them. So, that led me to raise the question, why aren't our institutions serving our kids well and where do you learn more about that? That led me to the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan [Ann Arbor, Michigan]. I wasn't sure public health would serve me well but I needed more time and it was also an opportunity to get some more training that I could use at home if I wanted to practice but also explore the question of why the institutions aren't working the way they should. And I remember Paul [B.] Cornely, who was another one of my professors at Howard [University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C.].$$Would you spell the last name?$$C-O-R-N-E-R-L-Y [sic.].$$Thank you.$$Yeah, C-O-R-N-E-L-Y, I think, Cornely. I remember him saying once that the improvement of medicine was due more to the work at public health than any physician, than all the physicians put together, he said. And I think I resented that as a future physician at the time but it did occur to me that prevention was needed in this situation because you could never, on a one-to-one basis, help all of these kids and that something had to be done with the institutions.$Would you tell us now about the flourishing and the growth and development of what is known as the Comer Process and your [Comer] School Development Program? Would you kind of lay that out for us?$$Yeah.$$And tell us where it is today, 2004.$$Yeah, I made a, I made an error. The two years of [U.S.] military service came right after my internship [at St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago, Indiana]. Then I did the two years training in, then I went to School of Public Health [University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan], two years training in adult psychiatry and a year training in child psychiatry at Yale [School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut]. Then I went to the Hillcrest Children's Center [Hillcrest Children and Family Center, Washington, D.C.] for a year and then I was recruited back to Yale to run the School [Development] Program [Yale University Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut], and that's when we went into the schools [Simeon Baldwin Elementary School and Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, New Haven, Connecticut] that were thirty-second, thirty-third in achievement out of thirty-three schools. They were chaotic, they were the worst in the system. And I remember in that chaos, and kids can't learn in this environment, and I knew that environment was important based on development, based, what I knew about child development and based on what I knew from my own personal experience and so we set out to try and change the environment. Now I say, it makes it sound like we deliberately did that, we knew what to do. We were really trying to survive because the parents wanted to throw us out of there. It was so chaotic and it was chaotic because nobody know what to do, and also everybody was trying to exploit the situation, some to do good, some to do bad, some to run for office and some, and so all of the adult interests were at play and the child's, and the children's needs were being ignored. They were using the traditional method of teaching and with the understanding, and the traditional understanding, that the children with the best brains will get it and those, the others, you know, too bad, they won't get it, and they're not able and, you know, they'll go to steel mills and somewhere but there weren't any steel mills left. So they're going to go on a downhill course because they can't get the education needed to get a job and take care of family, take care of themselves and they're going to transmit to the next generation the problems that they had. So we had to interrupt the cycle in some ways and yet what we were really thinking about, how do you survive here? So what we did was to create a governance and management team that was made up of parents, teachers, administrators, all the adult stakeholders in school. We had to keep it small enough so that, you know, we could work and so it had to be representative and we created other components as we realized it was necessary. For example, what does the governance and management team do? Well you need to have a comprehensive school plan and that's what I realized, schools didn't have any plan, at least the poor plans, poor schools. People just came in and they taught and, taught what they were told, and they didn't expect the kids to get it anyway and there was no plan. There was no direction. And so we realized that not only did you need an academic plan, you needed a social plan. How do you make this a good place? And what kind of activities do you have? And so we created a comprehensive school plan that was both academic and social and there were subcommittees to deal with various parts of that but the governance and management team representative of all the adults had the authority in the school and that's what was missing before and you had, now it could direct activities and create activities as needed so that the comprehensive school plan, people worked on that and that gave them a sense of direction, you know.