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ABC names Jerome Underwood CEO

Jerome Underwood discusses his plans for ABC as new CEO and president
Tianna Manon
Jerome Underwood discusses his plans for ABC as new CEO and president

Action for a Better Community has named a new leader.

Jerome Underwood will replace James Norman, current ABC CEO and president, who is retiring after leading the organization for 25 years.

If you recognize Underwood’s name, it’s because he’s no stranger to community efforts. He is best known for his work in the Rochester City School District working in the Youth Development and Family Services department.  However, his work there ended Friday as he prepares to start his new role on Feb 5.

“It’s not lost on me that this is (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) weekend,” he said at ABC’s announcement on Friday morning. “It’s not lost on me that this is the 200th year of Frederick Douglass birthday. And it is not lost on me that the confidence shown in me to give me the keys to the car that is ABC is extreme. My intent is to build on what has been built.”

Underwood clarified that he has no intention to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he wants to build on the foundation already laid by former president Norman.

But he does plan to agitate a little more. He used laundry as a metaphor saying, when you first put dirty clothes in the washing machine, it shakes them up and jumbles them around. He said he wants to continue discussing poverty and racism as he takes over.

“Those are uncomfortable conversations for some people but we have to find a way to have those conversations,” he said. “Not just the conversation, but what are we going to do to break down the systems that uphold so many of the walls that allow poverty to continue?”

Norman doesn’t leave his post until the end of January but said he’s excited about Underwood taking over. He said it’s important that the Rochester community remain Underwood’s primary focus.

“To Jerome you're going to work for the community. You work for the board but the board becomes a representative of the community in a sense,” Norman told him. “It’s the community that owns ABC and what you do in the service to the community means you’ve got to select staff who believe in the mission and you must continue to engage the community.”