Michael Paul Melendez – uAspire First One Awards Boston

By: Chris Loney | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Michael Paul Melendez

Simmons College

Reverend Dr. Michael Paul Melendez received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, graduate degrees from both Boston University and Case Western Reserve University. He is an ordained Episcopalian deacon and a professor and director of the MSW Program at Simmons College.

A first generation Mexican American, and one of seven children, Michael moved around the country with his family, as his father was a career airman in the United States Air Force. Neither of his parents had completed high school, though his father did eventually earn his GED while serving in the Air Force. Many of the teachers in the four high schools Michael attended discouraged him from applying to college. His parents could not conceive of college due to the expense and rarely, if ever, spoke about it. Moving frequently, Michael developed a passion for reading, especially history books, where he found that often his heroes were intellectuals. Despite discouragement from many, save an occasional teacher, he was determined to go to college and applied to the University of Arizona. Given that he had to pay his own way, Michael worked quite a bit and consequentially his grades initially suffered. Through hard work and encouragement from a few professors, however, Michael eventually succeeded as he continued with his education.

Michael’s nearly 30-year career has been devoted to helping people struggling with addictive and mental health disorders, and he is an expert on the social welfare needs of people living with HIV/AIDS as well as advancing culturally competent care in the field of social work. As a full professor at a school that attracts first generation college students, Melendez has mentored hundreds of students who are the first in their families to attend college. In that capacity, he helps with everything from career development to navigating the academic system, and listens to students’ fears and frustrations while sharing his own experience as a first generation undergraduate.

Since moving to Boston in the early 1980s, Michael has been an active and engaged member of the community. He was an early volunteer at AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and eventually served as president of the AIDS Action Board of Directors. In 2010, the organization honored him as an original hero in the fight against AIDS. He is currently a founding board member of Higher Ground, a nonprofit human service organization dedicated to reversing the negative trends related to health, education and social development of young people and their families living in the Roxbury, north Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods of Boston. He is a past president of the board of directors for the Latin American Health Institute and a founding board member of the Women of Color AIDS Council. He has also served on the boards of directors for the Family Service Association of Boston, the Community Impact Committee of United Way, and Alternative Family Matters. A deacon in the Episcopal Church, Michael also serves as a member of the National Episcopal AIDS Committee and is Chair of the Boston-based Burgess Urban Fund of Episcopal City Mission. He has contributed to numerous publications including chapters in Dimensions of Human Behavior, Social Services and Social Action in the HIV Pandemic and articles in Substance Abuse and Women in Therapy. In 2006, the National Association of Social Workers honored him with a “Greatest Contribution” award for his work in the field.