Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee

Selection Committee Members

The Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee was formed to build momentum around the idea that Rochester’s students and families deserve an urgent plan for transformative education systems change. To do this well, the Selection Committee knows it’s critical to leverage the knowledge, skills, and expertise of those most impacted by and proximate to educational inequity. As a result, the Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee is leading an open and inclusive selection process to identify an exceptional leader committed to co-creating a bold and innovative vision for education systems change in Rochester. Opportunities still exist to partner on this transformational opportunity, and we welcome and seek your perspective and input in this important process. Below are Selection Committee members leading this effort.


  • Jerome Underwood (Co-chair), President & CEO of Action for Better Community (ABC), a Community Action Agency that promotes and provides opportunities for low-income individuals and families to become self-sufficient.

  • Angelica Perez-Delgado, President & CEO of IBERO American Action League, a dual-language human services agency that ignites the potential of individuals and families in New York State’s Latino Community.

  • LaShunda Leslie-Smith, Executive Director of Connected Communities, a group dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through antiracist community revitalization and equitable resource coordination in the EMMA and Beechwood neighborhoods.

  • Dr. Dirk Hightower, Senior Associate at Children’s Institute, a non-profit that partners with community agencies and schools to equip and support those who work with children and to strengthen the social and emotional health of children.

  • Sekou Biddle, Vice President of Advocacy for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), a nonprofit working to increase the total annual number of African American college graduates by focusing on activities that ensure more students are college ready, enroll in college, and persist to graduation.

  • David Harris, Partner at The City Fund, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders to help build innovative public school systems. 

  • Reenah Golden, Founder & Artistic Director for The Avenue Blackbox Theatre, a theatre located in Historic Joseph Avenue neighborhood created to offer affordable, meaningful, culturally-rich experiences created by artists of color, youth, queer folk and collaborators.

  • Rick DeJesus-Rueff, Community Member, retired from full-time work after a 44-year career in higher education serving at seven different colleges in a variety of administrative and teaching roles.

  • Mellanye Nesmith, Parent, serves as the Treasurer on ABC’s Head Start Policy Council of Monroe County whose goals are to develop and maintain Head Start as a quality program, foster the philosophy of parent involvement, shared decision-making and improving the quality and effectiveness of the program’s child outcomes. Mellanye is the parent of two young children.

  • Dr. Rita Gaither, Founder of Pearl Resources Inc., a nonprofit committed to eradicating the stigma associated with mental health, providing services for individuals with developmental disabilities, leading people to financial freedom, providing youth opportunities to experience domestic and international travel and providing stability through residential opportunities and leadership programs for young school-age men experiencing homelessness.

  • Holli Budd (Co-chair), Executive Director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, a Rochester-based Foundation that strives to make long-term and meaningful contributions in Monroe and Ontario Counties with half of its grants supporting Jewish Life, and the other half supporting secular activities with a large emphasis on urban education.

Want to join our movement to create to community-centered change?