STAAR Leaders of Rochester, Inc.

2019 STAAR Leaders Community Leadership Award Recipient - Mr. Jerome Underwood

Jerome Underwood is the President and CEO of Action for a Better Community,  a nonprofit human service and community development corporation.

Action for a Better Community (ABC) is one of nearly 1,000 nationally recognized Community Action Agencies (CAA), originally established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to fight America’s war on poverty.  Offering services in Monroe and Ontario counties, ABC annually serves over eight thousand customers offering an array of programs and services in the areas of employment, early childhood education, youth services, adult education services, health services, community development and energy conservation.  ABC’s mission is to promote and provide opportunities for low-income individuals and families to become self-sufficient.

Before joining ABC in February of 2018, Jerome spent 9 years in various management positions with the Rochester City School District (RCSD).  RCSD is an urban district comprised of 28,000 students, 5,500 staff, and spread out across 55 buildings (schools and administrative buildings). As Senior Director of Youth Development & Family Services, he was responsible for the District’s implementation of Dr. Joy DeGruy’s Relationship Model of Educational Intervention, My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, Attendance Improvement, Camp Good Days Leadership Camp, and the Student Leadership Congress.  In carrying out these functions, Cultural Responsiveness and Black Male Achievement were keen foci. The scope of that role included strategic planning, management, budgeting and ensuring that the necessary resources, services and continuing professional development are available to managers at all levels.  From 2009 to 2012 Jerome was the District’s Senior Director of Operations, with oversight of facilities, food and transportation.  He was asked to transition to the student and family service aspect of the organization due to his unwavering commitment to youth development and deep community connections.

In 1998 after a successful career in banking, Jerome joined Datrose, Inc., as Vice President and CFO.  He served in that capacity for 11 years.  Headquartered in Webster, NY, Datrose is an award winning, nationally acclaimed business process outsourcing firm specializing in Human Resource, Finance and Administrative Outsourcing.   At Datrose, responsibilities included all financial policies, controls, and timely reporting of data. Jerome was also accountable for strategic planning and management of overall company risk, such as information technology and business continuity.


Prior to his tenure at Datrose, Jerome spent 9 years in commercial banking with HSBC Bank.  While serving as Vice President & Commercial Product Manager for Community Reinvestment, he represented HSBC in a consortium of banks that developed a multi- million economic development fund aimed at revitalizing small businesses in Western New York. His work helped to improve the bank’s Federal rating from marginal to acceptable.  The role encompassed developing and implementing strategies to ensure that the commercial credit and investment needs of all New York State communities were being met, with an emphasis on low-to-moderate income areas.  As a Commercial Lending Officer, he managed a $100 million loan portfolio comprising a diverse array of profit and non-profit businesses.

Born on the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua, Jerome holds an MBA in Finance from RIT, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from St. John Fisher College.  He is a graduate of the United Way’s African American Leadership Development Program (AALDP), and is now part of the program’s faculty.  Jerome is the immediate past Board Chair of Action for a Better Community (ABC) – a position he held for 7 years.  He also sits on the board of the Greater Rochester Community Transportation Foundation, and is a former board member of the Rochester Joint Schools Construction Board, a seven member board selected by the Mayor and Superintendent of Schools to oversee the modernization of Rochester’s schools.  In the 2015-16 school year, Jerome served as Rochester Institute of Technology’s Minett Professor, a position chosen by the university’s President and past Minett Professors.  He is a founding member of the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group.

An avid lover of soccer, Jerome is Director of Coaching for River Flow Soccer Club, and is past President of the Flower City Soccer League – both organizations use soccer as a tool to teach life skills to youth.  He enjoys mentoring adolescents, and does motivational speaking in the subject areas of African History, Spirituality & Culture; Leadership, Education, and Personal Management.

 Jerome is married to Lorna and they have three adult children, Nkosi, Damali and Shakir.

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