The richness of Marshall A. Nelson’s life was reflected by what he had given to others. He was an early crusader for local civil rights – his bold and persistent efforts having benefited an untold number of women and minorities by helping them to gain access to corporate America. At an early age, he distinguished himself as a leader by receiving five academic and athletic scholarships, coming out of Syracuse’s St. John the Evangelist High School in 1953 (this was at a time when the total number of minority students graduating from Syracuse high schools barely reached 15). He attended King’s College on full scholarship and credits the help he received while young for his successful career that soon followed.
“I received so much help from people that helped me succeed,” said Marshall. “It is very important that we try to help young people as much as possible.”
Marshall spent his career working in the human resources field, including more than 30 years at Niagara Mohawk, now National Grid. While there, Marshall made it his mission to see that women and minorities were well-represented among Niagara Mohawk’s employees and vendors. By the time he retired in 1994, he had garnered numerous local and national commendations and awards for his contributions to the community.
“Marshall was a champion and a catalyst for the diversification of our employee population,” said Melanie Littlejohn, then Central New York regional executive at National Grid and former board chair of the Community Foundation. “Outside of the company, he was a huge community champion. He represented the good in all of us.”
It was Marshall’s unwavering commitment towards equal opportunity and the importance of educating and mentoring the community’s minority youth that prompted the National Grid Minority Employee Advisory Council to establish The Marshall A. Nelson Urban Scholarship Fund with us in 1998. The fund was seeded by employee and community donations.
“Knowing that education could be the key to unlocking many doors, the Council wanted to ensure that we gave students an opportunity to unlock those doors, or if there was a hindrance that somehow the scholarship could help remove those barriers,” said Melanie.
Since it was established, the fund has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarship assistance to meet the needs of Syracuse’s urban minority youth, underscoring its message that young people deserve a chance to climb the ladder of success. In 2014, the fund partnered with the Syracuse Say Yes STEM Endowment Fund to help it make an even greater impact. In this new role, the fund supplements the tuition costs of Syracuse City School District students that go on to achieve post-secondary education in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.
Before he passed, Marshall was pleased with the successes that had come out of the fund and was excited about the growing influence that resulted from its partnership with Say Yes.
“Education is the one thing that will give most minority young people the opportunity to compete in this world,” said Marshall. “When you look back at some of the people here in Syracuse, and in the country, who have done well, they attribute a good education as one of the main contributors to that success. We can do a better job at helping today’s young people and showing them that we care.”