The Honorable William F. Winter, Chair Emeritus
Born in 1923 in Grenada, Mississippi, William F. Winter served in the armed forces in World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded a BA from the University of Mississippi in 1943 and an LL.B. in 1949. He has since been awarded over five honorary degrees.
His credentials within the academic community are long standing: Jamie Whitten Professor of Law and Government at the University of Mississippi School of Law (Fall 1989); Eudora Welty Professor of Southern Studies at Millsaps College (Spring 1989); Fellow, Institute of Politics, Harvard University (1985) and President, Ole Miss Alumni Association (1978). He continues to practice law with the Jackson, MS, firm of Watkins Ludlum Winter & Stennis, P.A. which celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in 2005.
William Winter is most well known, however, for his role in leading the charge for publicly-funded primary education while he was the fifty-eighth governor of Mississippi from 1980-1984. His governance echoed his belief that all people, regardless of race or class, should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as the most privileged enjoys. In a substantial way, Governor Winter’s accomplishments were honored in 1997 when President Bill Clinton initiated “One America,” an unprecedented national conversation on race. Winter served on the board of One America, helping to bring the only deep-South public forum to the University of Mississippi. President Bill Clinton has called Winter a “great champion of civil rights.”
Positive changes stem from great leadership, and William Winter is one of many guiding lights for Mississippi and America. On May 12, 2008, Governor Winter was honored at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Portia Ballard Espy, Executive Director
Portia Ballard Espy is the Executive Director at the Institute. She previously served as Chief Administrative Office for Children’s Defense Fund Southern Regional Office and Assistant Director of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Mid-South Delta Initiative. She holds a B.A. from Southern University, Baton Rouge; an M.B.A from Loyola University, New Orleans; and she is currently a Ph.D. student in the Public Policy and Administration Program at Jackson State University.
Portia has an extensive background in Human Resources Management, Executive Coaching, Team Building, and Mediation. She considers herself a griot and enjoys collecting the data (through traditional and nontraditional means) that have become her family’s American story.
Vondaris “Von” Gordon
Youth Engagement Coordinator
Vondaris “Von” Gordon is a native of Moorhead, MS, in Sunflower County. He joined the Institute to develop and coordinate youth programs as Youth Engagement Coordinator. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he was a student leader and helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. He served as a founding board member of the Winter Institute and the only student representative.
Von has worked in the private sector in franchise and corporate multi-unit restaurant operations and in business development for one of Pepsi’s top franchise bottlers. Von is the married father of two, and he is passionate about equipping youth to build stronger communities through education, empowerment, and racial healing. He thinks the best salads in the world are the ones with no dressing.
Director of Community Building for the Welcome Table
April Grayson is Director of Community Building for the Welcome Table. A native of Rolling Fork, MS, April was Documentary Educator at the Institute from 2005 through 2008. She has led community oral history and documentary projects in Philadelphia, McComb, Tallahatchie County, and other communities.
Her oral history project on the integration of the University of Mississippi School of Law and Medical School, in conjunction with Kate Medley, won the Mississippi Historical Society’s Oral History award. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Film from San Francisco Art Institute. Her short films have shown in film festivals, galleries, and museums in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and South America. As a teenager, she was an avid waterskier.
Jacqueline B. Martin
Civil Rights Liason
Jacqueline B. Martin is a civil rights veteran from McComb, MS, and serves as the community liaison for the Civil Rights/Labor History curriculum development project at McComb School District. She has served as civil rights tour guide for high school and college students, as well as teachers and other interested citizens.
Jackie has organized many of McComb’s civil rights tours and commemorations, especially those honoring local civil rights veterans. She joined the Institute as a Community Building Manager and participates in intergenerational community work in Mississippi. She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Belhaven University and is a certified Training Professional through the WLPI at the University of Southern Mississippi. Jackie enjoys mystery novels and western movies.
Coordinator for Rethink Mississippi
Jake McGraw is the coordinator for Rethink Mississippi and editor of rethinkms.org, a collaboration of emerging leaders in Mississippi to begin critical discussions about the state’s long-term issues. Jake has deep-seated passion for combining the power of ideas with community organizing methods.
While studying public policy and economics at the University of Mississippi, Jake co-founded the campus integration initiative One Mississippi as well as a community empowerment organization in San Mateo, Belize. Jake also has significant experience working in both state and national politics. A native of Oxford, MS, Jake researched the history of progressive education policies in the South while attending a master’s program at “the other Oxford” in England. He returned home to join the Winter Institute in spring 2013. Jake is an avid golfer and squash player–a frequent source of ridicule among his colleagues.