Class of 2002

Major: Fine Arts

Turning a Life Around

“CCM is where I found five great mentors who helped shape my life.”

Doctor with a mohawk haircut in a white lab coat in a hospital hallway.Dr. Peter Tatum ’02 possesses an exceptional proficiency for unwavering focus and boundless energy. It’s what has allowed him to become a neurologist who is also working on his master’s in public health, a musician with several credits to his name and a recognized fine artist, all while raising four children with his wife, Karen. At birth, his parents were deemed unfit by the State of New Jersey, and he was placed into foster care. While growing up, Tatum did not always put his extreme focus and energy to good use. He got into trouble often, was placed into remedial classes in grade school, and had many altercations including getting his car shot up by someone he used to be acquainted with. As he relays, he was not associating with the best of people. That is until he enrolled at County College of Morris (CCM).

“CCM is where I found five great mentors who helped shape my life,” says Tatum, who earned his Associate of Fine Arts from the college. “I really did start right. One thing that really stands out about CCM is everybody is ready to help you.”

The five people who shaped him were Fine Arts Professor Keith Smith; Eric Jiaju Lee, who used to teach at the college; Jack Martin, CCM’s first athletic director and basketball coach; Marcus Pryor, a former basketball coach and counselor at the college; and Derrick Turner, who formerly worked at CCM.

“They knew I was getting into a lot of trouble, but they still saw the potential in me,” says Tatum. “A lot of people in my life were giving me negative feedback only, even on doing art. And then I found these five who went out of their way for me and for the first time I was being praised.”

Yet, it took him a while to find a solid direction. Although he had success as a musician who released a couple of hip-hop albums and was developing his fine art skills, he earned his living unloading trucks and stocking shelves.

When his first child was born, he decided to turn things around. Having taken several aptitude tests, the recommendations included careers in science, so he enrolled at Rutgers-Newark and then earned his MD from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He joined the Air Force, in part, because it would fund his Rowan education and he also thought the structure in the military would help him develop discipline while serving his country.

He decided to specialize in neurology because of the abundance of unknowns, the prospects for making groundbreaking discoveries and the opportunities for research. After finishing a neurology residency at Tufts Medical Center, Tatum completed a clinical neurophysiology fellowship at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center where he learned how to perform and interpret electromyography and electroencephalogram tests. He also wants to be part of leveling the socioeconomic disparities in health care, which is why he is earning a master’s in public health.

man doing graffiti art.A fine artist who works on canvas, his artistic roots originated in graffiti, which he also continues to this day. While at Tufts, he painted a mural on a concrete wall in the room where neurology residents gather and painted several pieces in Cambridge’s Graffiti Alley.

“If I am not working on my creative ideas,” he explains, “I can’t sleep or focus.”

His creativity captured the attention of the Boston Globe which did an extensive front-page article on his life and work as a neurologist and artist, “From menial jobs to a Tufts neurologist, a doctor’s long and torturous journey.” Being familiar with his work, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia invited him to put on a solo multimedia exhibit from July 21 through August 30, 2023 A biography is currently being written on Tatum’s life and a film crew has been capturing his life and work for a future docuseries.

Grateful for all he has accomplished, he marks his experience at CCM as his first turning point.

“It was one of the few places in my life where I was accepted as I am. The people who were dealing with me were looking for my positives and strengths and helping me to build upon them.”