NASW 2015 Mid-Career Leader Winner: Jama Shelton, PhD (MSW '04)


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – New York City Chapter has honored Jama Shelton, PhD, a Silver School Master of Social Work Alumna, adjunct professor, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, with its Mid-Career Exemplary Social Work Leader Award for her "visionary and exemplary work."

McSilver Institute Director and Silver School Professor Dr. Mary McKay said, "Dr. Shelton is a national authority on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth homelessness, who earned this honor for her more than ten years of direct service provision and groundbreaking program development for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, as well as for her exceptional research, scholarship and advancement of the profession as a teacher, mentor and trainer."

Currently, Dr. Shelton is the Deputy Executive Director of the True Colors Fund, a national organization that works to end LGBTQ youth homelessness through public engagement, advocacy, research, community organizing, and youth collaboration. It is estimated that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, with identity-based family rejection being most frequently cited reason for homelessness within that population. Previously Dr. Shelton spent nine years at New York City’s Ali Forney Center, where she helped build the nation’s most expansive housing program for LGBTQ youth.

"As a formerly homeless youth myself, I am well aware of the critical need for building education and awareness for all families and all youth, as well as the importance of inclusion and the impact of rejection," Dr. Shelton said. "My own life experience led me to pursue social work education and practice. As a result, I take the work I do educating the next generation of social service providers through my scholarship and teaching, as seriously as I my work directing policy and service provision at the True Colors Fund."

In addition to her MSW from the Silver School, Dr. Shelton holds a PhD in social welfare from Hunter College/CUNY Graduate Center. Her doctoral dissertation on the experiences of unstably housed transgender and non-gender conforming youth received a 2014 Outstanding Social Work Doctoral Dissertation Award Honorable Mention from the Society for Social Work and Research. As a McSilver Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellow, she is focusing on the development of technical assistance tools for homeless youth service providers. In particular, she is evaluating the True Inclusion Assessment, a tool she developed to gauge homeless youth serving agencies’ level of LGBT-inclusive and affirming care.

I am so grateful for the community I’ve found at NYU. My colleagues at the McSilver Institute and in the Silver School have consistently supported my professional development and have helped shaped my career. I’d like to especially acknowledge Dr. Peggy Morton and Dr. Mary McKay for their continued mentorship. Dr. Morton has been a touchstone since I was a student in the MSW program. When I first met Dr. McKay, I thought ‘she gets me!’ She has helped me integrate my community practice work with my scholarship, emphasizing the rapid translation of findings into resources for the community."

Among other significant achievements, earlier this year, Dr. Shelton was a panelist at a policy briefing convened by the White House in partnership with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the True Colors Fund to discuss the federal government’s goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020. There she presented findings from a new national survey of service providers working with youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The survey pointed to even greater challenges for transgender homeless youth than lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. A lesson Dr. Shelton drew from the survey also expresses an underlying philosophy permeating all of her work: "If we identify and address the needs of those who are most marginalized, it will make a stronger system for everyone."