Growing up in the Cold Spring area of Buffalo, Shaun Nelms knew he would have a career that allowed him to support and help others just like his mom supported her community. The son of a community activist, Shaun never thought about becoming an educator until his junior year in college. During that year Shaun mentored a young man while working with a mentoring program with the local Boys and Girls Club, that encounter changed his life and gave Shaun the desire to continue to help others. Fast forward twenty years later, the former mentor has held various positions; Teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, Chief of Schools/Community Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Superintendent, University of Rochester Director of Research Center (Center for
Urban Education Success) and Associate Professor.
Cold Spring was a predominantly African American neighborhood in the late 70’s and mid 80’s, there was a sense of family and community pride. Shaun’s mother was the Block Club President and PTA President of his elementary school (Dr. MLK Jr Multicultural Institute #39). The neighborhood was right next to the Fruitbelt neighborhood, where Shaun’s grandmother lived and the family attended church. Shaun’s dad was the disciplinarian who provided for his wife and children the best he could. As a kid Shaun had the nickname “Motormouth.” Shaun shares “I earned the name Motormouth from my grandmother. When I was young I
had a speech impediment so I would talk extremely fast to get the words out. My grandmother would call me Motormouth to get me to slow down and to enunciate my words.” Who knew little Motormouth would become a speaker and advocate that has become known for the clarity in his messages.
Although Shaun and his family lived well below the poverty line, they didn’t have a poor person’s mentality or experience. Shaun’s mom signed up her children for every free camp in Buffalo. From Boy Scouts to swimming lessons at the Masten Park pool, Shaun
went on to attend and later became a counselor at Cradle Beach Camp during his summers. Participation in Summer Reading camps, the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employee program, and a host of other programs and employment opportunities help shape Shaun. The experiences along with a solid academic foundation courtesy of City Honors School, where Shaun attended from grades 5-12 created a great base for Shaun’s future. Very social as a student, Shaun was the class president, class clown and the teacher’s pet all at the same time. Most of Shaun’s schoolmates probably didn’t realize how impoverished his family was and the pain it caused at the time. Attending an affluent school such
as City Honors, was a daily reminder of the economic and structural barriers Shaun’s family and those in his community faced. Those barriers didn’t stop him and after high school Shaun went on to continue his schooling at Fredonia State College (1999), The University of Rochester (Masters in Education Leadership 2003)
and The University of Rochester where he earned his doctorate in 2014.
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