Besides speaking with a former participant, there’s no better way to get a feel for what you’ll experience than looking at last year’s agenda, skimming previous action projects, and browsing the biographies of past staff and speakers.

Action Project

As part of the NEW Leadership ® program, you will complete a political “Action Project.” Each year, we focus on a different issue—typically in a policy area that topped the agenda of a recent legislative session. As part of the project, you will research the issue from the perspective of an assigned interest group or coalition of interests. The project will culminate in a mock legislative committee hearing on proposed legislation related to the chosen policy area.

2023 Staff and Guest Speakers

At Mississippi University for Women, the NEW Leadership ® MS program is organized by Dr. Chanley Rainey, Director of the Women’s Center for Research & Public Policy, with assistance from Dr. Erin Kempker, Professor of History and Women’s Studies. In addition, Peer Mentors and Faculty in Residence are hired each summer to assist with the institute.


NEW Leadership ® Mississippi Faculty in Residence mentor students, guide students in research and rehearsals for the Action Project, provide general oversight of student behavior and assessment of student achievement in coordination with mentors, and facilitate engagement with elected officials.FIRs are women political leaders who agree to stay on campus with the students for the duration of the program. This allows for an intensive learning and mentoring experience, ensuring students receive the kind of high-quality mentoring that will prepare them, socially, for a career in politics and public service. As part of the Action Project, FIRs are each assigned to a small group of students with whom they can develop especially strong relationships, but the program also creates many opportunities for interaction with other students. In addition, the program offers a range of contexts for mentor-mentee interactions, ranging from policy research to professional dinners, from FIR-led panels to coffee breaks.

Michelle Easterling

Judge, 16th District Circuit Court of Mississippi

Michelle D. Easterling is a Clay County native and Circuit Court Judge of District 16, Place 3. In this position, she serves the citizens of Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Oktibbeha County. She won election to the court following a closely contested race that went to a run-off on November 29, 2022.
Before her election as to the bench, Michelle served three terms as the Clay County Prosecutor, a position she first won in 2013. She also served as the municipal prosecutor for the city of West Point, MS from 2016-2022; as the board attorney for East Mississippi Community College; and as the 16th Circuit Court District’s representative to the Mississippi Bar Association. She was elected to the latter position by her fellow attorneys in the 16th District.
For 25 years, she has maintained a general civil practice in the State and Federal Courts of the Northern District of Mississippi, with an emphasis in the areas of domestic relations and family law, workers’ compensation, Public Employees’ Retirement System disability, and business and corporate services.
Michelle has demonstrated a commitment to community service in the Golden Triangle region, serving as past Chairman of the West Point/Clay County Community Growth Alliance; past President and Assistant District Governor of the West Point Rotary Club, District 6800; Honorary Commander, MSG-Columbus Air Force Base 14th Flying Training Wing; and Assistant District Governor of Rotary District 6800. She has also chaired the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee, was an inaugural member of the Bessie Young Council Board of Directors for the University of Mississippi School of Law, and has been a Fellow of Mississippi Bar since 2017.
Michelle earned Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa honors in college, and is rated “AV” by Martindale-Hubbard. She has been recognized for Leadership, Advocacy and Service by the Clay County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and selected as a “Leader in Law” and “Top 40 Under 40” by the Mississippi Business Journal.
Michelle has been married to her husband, Thomas Easterling, for 25 years. They have two sons, Grayson and Jack, and are members of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, where Michelle has serves as a Parish Chancellor, member of the Vestry, and Sunday School teacher.

Kristie Metcalfe

Municipal Attorney, City of Jackson, MS

Kristie is a municipal attorney serving the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi.
Kristie has extensive legal experience in Mississippi’s legislature and judiciary. After law school, Kristie began her legal career as a law clerk for Chief Justice William L. Waller, Jr. with the Mississippi Supreme Court and then for Judge Ermea (EJ) Russell with the Mississippi Court of Appeals. After her time as a law clerk, Kristie joined the Mississippi Senate as legislative counsel, where she remained for eight years. Kristie then served as an attorney for privacy and civil rights at the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services before becoming an attorney for the city of Jackson.
Kristie holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and English from the Mississippi University for Women. She is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law, where she was Executive Board Notes and Comments Editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and a member of the Moot Court Board.
Kristie loves to Tunisian crochet in her free time. Her work in that area has earned her an exhibiting membership in the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi. Kristie is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy novels and college football.

Adrienne Wooten

Judge, 7th District Circuit Court of Mississippi

The Honorable Adrienne Wooten is a native of Meridian, Mississippi. Judge Wooten, is the first African American female to hold the position of Circuit Court Judge of District 7, Place 1 in Hinds County, Mississippi, a position she won after a historical run-off election on November 27, 2018.
Prior to her transition to the Judiciary, Judge Wooten was a solo practitioner whose areas of specialty included criminal law, premises liability, personal injury, drug product liability, product liability, mass tort litigation, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and family law. Judge Wooten also served for 11 years in the Mississippi State Legislature representing District 71. She served on the committees of Insurance, Judiciary B, Judiciary En Banc, Municipalities, University and Colleges, and Public Health and Human Services during the last years of her legislative tenure.
Judge Wooten began her career 22 years ago as an associate at the Law Firm of Blackmon & Blackmon, PLLC, and in 2004, she began operating the Law Office of Adrienne Hooper-Wooten, PLLC, with offices in Ridgeland and Lexington, Mississippi. For 19 years she actively litigated civil matters and served as an Assistant Public Defender for Holmes County for 15 years representing indigent defendants.
Judge Wooten is a member of the American Bar Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Metro Jackson Black Women Lawyers Association, Mississippi Women’s Lawyers Association, Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi State Bar, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She is the daughter of the late Tommy Hooper, Sr. and Jo Ann Hooper. Judge Wooten and her husband, Dewayne, have two (2) fur babies, Buster and Biff Wooten.


Faculty in Residence are joined by Peer Mentors as they guide students throughout the week of NEW Leadership MS. Peer Mentors are graduate students, law students, or early career professionals who have participated in a previous NEW Leadership MS summer institute. As such, they are well-positioned to help current students navigate the program and to advise them regarding opportunities they might pursue during and immediately after their undergraduate studies.

Isabella Escobedo

NEW Leadership ® Mississippi Alumna, 2022

Isabella Escobedo moved to Mississippi in 2015 and settled in the small town of Gore Springs on the outskirts of Grenada.
She studied history, pre-law, and sociology as a Statesman Scholar at Delta State University, where she graduated summa cum laude as an honor graduate in 2022. She will be an incoming University of Mississippi School of Law J.D. candidate this fall and hopes to work with local Mississippi governments in the future. At Delta State, she was involved in Student Government Association, DSU Diversity Equity and Inclusion, the DSU History Club, the DSU Run Club, Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society and Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society. She graduated from the Delta State Honors Program, where she researched topics in early United States constitutional history. In addition to her involvement in campus organizations, Isabella served as a supplemental instructor in the History department and a tutor in Delta State’s Writing Center.
In 2021, Isabella was awarded the Jack Winton Gunn Award, the highest scholastic honor at Delta State University. She is a four-time recipient of the William McKinley Cash History Scholarship and a recipient of the L.Q.C. Lamar History Scholarship, William N. LaForge Memorial Scholarship, Allen and Rose Drake Burrell Scholarship, and the John & Dorothy Merrill Journal Award. In 2019 she placed first in the Delta State Oratorical Competition for her speech “Know Your Rights: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the U.S.”
In the spring of 2022, Isabella served as the Delta State University-Delta Council-StaplCotn Congressional Fellow for Senator Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi. In 2020, she interned for the U.S. Department of State/Foreign Service Corps for the Central-South Region of the United States (LA, AR, MS). She also has over four years of experience at three Mississippi law firms, where she found a passion for aiding local Mississippi governments.

Mackenzie Pearce

NEW Leadership ® Mississippi Alumna, 2021

Mackenzie Pearce is a native of Guin, AL, a graduate student in American University’s Master of Public Policy program, and a Funding and Engagement Fellow at Vote, Run, Lead. She earned her B.A., with honors, in political science with a concentration in nonprofit advocacy and a minor in philosophy from the Mississippi University for Women in 2023.
At MUW, Mackenzie served as President of the Student Government Association and the Ina E. Gordy Honors Council in addition to numerous other campus organizational membership and leadership roles. She is a two-time winner of the MUW Political Science Student of the Year award and recipient of several scholarships, including the Ina E. Gordy Centennial Scholarship, the university’s most prestigious.
Mackenzie has extensive experience in campus organizing and activism, local governmental relations, and event planning and publicity. She also has a strong passion for women’s rights, voter access and education, and rural area development. Beginning in high school and continuing throughout her undergraduate studies, Mackenzie interned at Guin City Hall—in her hometown—assisting with office administration, communications, and program development. She has served as chair of the Women’s Caucus of the College Democrats of America, and worked as a 2020-2021 Democracy in Action Fellow for Mississippi Votes, a 2021-2022 Equal Pay Intern with AAUW MS, and an intern at The W’s Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy in the spring of 2021. In addition, Mackenzie was an intern and, later, administrative assistant at The Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Rachel Shirley

NEW Leadership ® Mississippi Alumna, 2017

Rachel Shirley is a 2017 graduate of Mississippi College in Clinton, MS. She majored in history with a minor in business administration. Afterward, Rachel earned a Marketing Management Technology degree from Hinds Community College in Pearl, MS.
Rachel has been an intern with Governor Bryant’s and First Lady Bryant’s offices and completed a remote internship with the social media team of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After graduating from Hinds, she working as social media liaison and administrative assistant for the Special Events Coordinator at the community college for a time. Currently, Rachel works remotely with a political marketing firm based in Utah. As Rachel stated while in college, “TV is actually educational, I binged watch The West Wing show while taking an American Presidency class and understood so much more.”

Keara Williams

2022 Summer Intern, Center for Women’s Research & Public Policy

Keara Williams is a licensed teacher with endorsements in English, Biology, and Social Studies and was recently hired as a faculty member at Aliceville High School in Alabama, where she will teach ELA for grades 10-12. In addition, she is a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Sciences (MLIS) program at the University of Southern Mississippi. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in Social Studies as well as a Master of Arts in Teaching at Mississippi University for Women.
At The W, Keara participated in Phi Theta Kappa and was honored with the 2020-2021 Edsel and Joyce Cooper award and was selected as the 2022 Dave Evans Scholar. In 2022, Keara interned at the Center for Women’s Research & Public Policy, a position in which she helped to plan and administer the NEW Leadership Mississippi summer institute.
Keara lives in Columbus with her daughter, Khaleesi, who is four years old. She is a local photographer when she isn’t a student, mother, or educator. She also enjoys watching Chicago PD, All American, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things.


Biz Harris

Executive Director, Mississippi Early Learning Alliance

Biz, a native of Laurel, MS, is the Executive Director for the Mississippi Early Learning Alliance. Biz earned a Master’s of Divinity degree from Emory University in order to explore how communities of faith work together to make change, and brings passion for collaboration and community to her work. Over the course of Biz’s four years at MELA, the organization has launched a collective impact initiative, hosted two in-person and two virtual capitol days with between 30 and 120 attendees at each, and coordinated a shared policy agenda that included early education and early childhood health and development priorities. 

Early in her career, she was the co-coordinator of the Mississippi Education Policy Fellowship Program, which focused on building the capacity of preschool-12 and higher education leaders, practitioners, and advocates to advance equitable policies for Mississippi students. Following that, she worked with the Tallahatchie River Foundation to launch their local collective impact initiative around pre-kindergarten. In addition to her work with MELA, Biz coordinated the first Laurel Mayor’s Children’s Council, bringing together 25 organization, institution, and agency leaders to draft a shared plan for children from cradle to career. 

Biz is a mother to two young children and is also the founder and volunteer director of Nurture Our Future, a non-profit that developed a mobile children’s museum in a decommissioned school bus and funds Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for over 1800 children under age 5 in Jones County, Mississippi.

Hester Jackson-McCray

Representative, Mississippi House; District – Desoto

Hester Jackson-McCray was born in Drew, Mississippi but spent many years living in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her Associate in Science degree from Triton College and her LPN certification from the Chicago Board of Education. She also earned certification as a Dementia Practitioner through the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. Her career in nursing stretched over more than three decades until complications from a knee replacement surgery led her to retire. Her love of baking led to Hester’s Unique Catering and Character Cakes, a catering business that has helped sustain her and six grandchildren who lived with her at one point.
Since 2001, Hester has been a resident of Horn Lake. She has been called “the definition of perseverance,” because of her continued pursuit of elected office. She first ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Horn Lake in 2009, then lost a race for the local board of aldermen and her first attempt at representing District 40 in the House. Finally, in 2019, she won in a tough election against Ashley Henley, the Republican incumbent who had defeated her in the previous election. Winning by fourteen votes, Hester survived an election challenge that went all the way to the Mississippi legislature, where a bipartisan House committee heard testimony from local election officials who confirmed the fairness of the election and the accuracy of the results. Despite a request from Henley to order a new election, the Republican-controlled House voted unanimously to affirm the election results. When she took her seat in February of 2020, Hester made history, becoming the first Black woman ever to represent her district in the state legislature and the first Black person to do since Reconstruction.
Hester’s platform emphasized support for public education and support for teachers, including full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan (MAEP) and teacher pay raises, with the slogan “S.O.S. – Save Our Schools.” She has also championed voting rights and, before the initiative process was ruled invalid by the Mississippi Supreme Court, filed a ballot initiative to establish no-excuse early voting in the state. In the House, she serves as a member of the Conservation and Water Resources; Drug Policy; Energy; Gaming; and Public Utilities committees.
In 2021, Hester received the National Foundation for Women Legislators’ Elected Women of Excellence Award, having been nominated by her colleague, Representative Lataisha Jackson. The award honors “pacesetters [whp] have engendered an environment where women can now serve in public office and fight for the issues they are passionate about.” She is the co-chair of the Mississippi Early Voting Initiative and a member of AARP Chapter 5371, DeSoto-Marshall County Mississippi Federation of Democratic Women and the NAACP.
Hester is a member of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven. She has two adult children who attended Mississippi public schools and eight grandchildren.

Kyle Kirkpatrick

Assistant Secretary of State, Elections Division

Emily Liner

Owner, Friendly City Books

Emily Liner has over a decade of experience in government and politics. She has worked on a number of federal campaigns, at the think tank Third Way, and in the private sector at a Fortune 500 technology company. Throughout her career, she has advised policymakers on a wide range of economic issues and helped candidates build financial resources for Congressional races. She has taught civic engagement at the Mississippi Governor’s School at Mississippi University for Women and served as the chair of the DC young professionals chapter of She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages women to run for office. She now lives in Columbus, Mississippi, where she opened Friendly City Books, an independent bookstore. Emily received an MBA from the University of North Carolina and a BA in Government from Georgetown University.

Whitney Lipscomb

Deputy Attorney General, Mississippi Office of the Attorney General

Whitney is one of the Deputy Attorney Generals for the State of Mississippi. She oversees the Civil, Solicitor General, Legislative, Opinions and Policy Divisions. Prior to this, she served as the as Deputy Chief of Staff and Counsel for Governor Phil Bryant. In this role she provided strategic counsel to the Governor on a wide range of policy and legal matters. Whitney previously practiced law in Gulfport where she did civil defense work and regularly represented state entities.

Nancy Loome

Executive Director, The Parent’s Campaign

Nancy Loome serves as president of The Parents’ Campaign Research and Education Fund and as co-founder and executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, a Jackson, Mississippi-based network of more than 64,000 Mississippians committed to improving and supporting public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and a Master of Education degree in Counseling.

For twelve years, she directed university career centers, first in Mississippi and later at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri. While in Missouri she served on the Board of Directors of the Joplin (MO) Metro-Area Chamber of Commerce and consulted businesses in the area of employee development.

In 2004, while a stay-at-home mom in a Mississippi community celebrated for its strong public schools, Nancy became frustrated with her local legislators’ surprisingly unfavorable votes on public education issues. Volunteering with the Coalition for Children and Public Education, she developed a state-wide email network of concerned citizens with whom she communicated about legislation affecting public schools. This set the stage for the 2006 incorporation of The Parents’ Campaign, a nonpartisan, grassroots, public education advocacy group. In its first year, it won the Mississippi Legislature’s support for full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Since then, the organization has increased state appropriations to public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars and has helped to win passage of school improvement legislation as well as legislation to improve early childhood education.

Nancy’s civic involvement has included service on the boards of the Joplin (Missouri) Metro-Area Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi Building Blocks, the Roger F. Wicker Center for Creative Learning, and the Mississippi PTA. She has also served on the Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Mississippi advisory committee, the Clinton Public School District strategic planning team, the Mississippi Teacher Evaluation Council, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation Early Childhood Learning Labs team, the Mississippi Department of Education’s Federal Programs Committee of Practitioners, and the PTO and booster club boards of Clinton’s public schools.

Loome is a recipient of Delta State University’s Outstanding Alumnus Award—and a member of their Alumni Hall of Fame—the Rep. Leonard Morris Award for Public Service and Integrity, the Mississippi College Department of Education and Leadership’s Education Advocacy Award, the Delta Kappa Gamma Red Rose Award, the Mississippi School Board Association’s Friend of MSBA Award, the Mississippi Association of Educators’ A+ and Friend of Education Awards, the Mississippi PTA’s Legislative Advocate of the Year Award, the Clinton Public School District’s Friend of Education and Parent of the Year Awards, the Mississippi Department of Education’s State Parent of the Year Award, and the Mississippi Association of School Administrators’ Spirit of Education Award. She was named one of the most influential citizens by “Mississippi Top 50.”

Nancy lives with her husband, Jim, in Clinton, Mississippi. They are proud parents of two daughters and a son, all graduates of the Clinton public schools.

Dana McLean

Representative, Mississippi House; District 39 – Lowndes, Monroe

Dana McLean was born in Russellville, Alabama but spent part of her childhood in Columbus, Mississippi. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and French at the University of Alabama and received her JD and LLM from Stetson University College of Law.
After living and working as an attorney in Florida, Dana and her daughter relocated to Columbus, Mississippi in 2013 and she began a career in real estate, serving the Columbus, Caledonia, and Steens communities. also joined the Exchange Club, served as President of the Columbus Arts Council, and sat on the Lowndes County Crime Task Force’s Education Committee.
In the spring of 2019, she decided to challenge Jeff Smith, a powerful incumbent of 28 years, for the Republican nomination in the primary election for Mississippi House District 39. Dismayed at the state of education policy and concerned that it did not seem to be a priority for elected leaders, Dana was already going to public forums and paying close attention to politics. When former Representative Smith voted down a local 2% restaurant sales tax that was essential to the operation of Columbus’ local development association, Dana was convinced new leadership was needed. The day before the filing deadline, when it was clear no one else was going to challenge Smith, she threw her name into the hat. Traveling Lowndes and Monroe counties in her 1988 Airstream Excella camper, Dana led an insurgent, grassroots campaign. Despite being at a severe financial disadvantage (Smith raised $74,000 to McLean’s $14,550), Dana prevailed. She won by 162 votes.
Dana has served in the legislature since January 2020 and serves on the Agriculture, Constitution, Judiciary B, Judiciary En Banc, Public Health and Human Services, Universities and Colleges, and Workforce Development Committees in the House.
Dana is a member of the National Association of Realtors, Greater Golden Triangle Realtor Association, Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, Exchange Club, and Columbus Arts Council.

Callie Poole

Project Manager, Social Science Research Center, Mississippi State University

Callie Poole serves as a Project Manager within the Systems Change Lab at the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) and is currently working on a project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation focused on child care quality and supports for child care providers in Mississippi. 

At the SSRC, Callie has previously worked on several other projects. From 2018 to 2022, Poole was part of the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Child Health and Development Project: Mississippi Thrive!, a cooperative agreement with the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Children’s of Mississippi. The project goal was to improve Mississippi’s early childhood developmental health system, particularly for young children from birth to age five. Poole served as a co-leader for this project’s Networking Coordination workgroup and was a member of the project’s Outreach, Policy Research, and Centralized Intake & Referral System workgroups. Poole was also part of the Mississippi KIDS COUNT research and development team, an Annie E. Casey-funded program that provides policy-relevant data about the well-being of children in Mississippi, from 2018 to 2022. 

Poole’s past projects also include working on the evaluation team for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, which provides technical assistance to schools around the state in implementing effective and sustainable school wellness councils as part of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act of 2007, and Mississippi’s Market Rate Survey project, which helps determine the market rate of child care provided by licensed centers and is funded by the Department of Human Services. 

Poole holds a B.A. in psychology from Millsaps College with minors in English and business and a concentration in human services. She also holds an M.A. in education from Prescott College with a concentration in cultural studies. Before coming to the SSRC, Poole worked in children’s behavioral health and early childhood and elementary education.

Lee Anne Robinson

Deputy Director, Legislative Budget Office

Lee Anne Robinson graduated from Millsaps College in 1995 cum laude with a degree in Political Science. She then attended MS State University and received her Master’s in Public Policy and Administration in 1997. Lee Anne began working for the MS Department of Rehabilitation Services in May 1997 through November 1998. In December 1998, Lee Anne began as a Program Evaluator for the MS Legislative PEER Committee. She left the PEER Committee in 2003 to begin working at the MS Legislative Budget Office as a Budget Analyst. After 8 years, Lee Anne became the Administrative Services Director at the MS Insurance Department. In 2013, she returned to the MS Legislative Budget Office as a Budget Analyst. While a Budget Analyst, she handled many different agency budgets including the Department of Mental Health, the MS Department of Health, Community and Junior Colleges, the MS Department of Corrections, and the MS Department of Education.

Lee Anne was named the House Budget Officer on October 7, 2016. In this capacity she works with the Chairman of Appropriations and House leadership to develop fiscal policy for the state. On April 1, 2021, Lee Anne was named Deputy Executive Director of the MS Legislative Budget Office. In this capacity, she coordinates with the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, and all members of the Mississippi Legislature to formulate a $22 billion state budget. As the organization’s Deputy Executive Director, she manages 30 employees who perform fiscal and policy analyses and provide information technology support to 300 legislators and their staffers.

Lee Anne has been married for 24 years to Ward Robinson and has two children, Mary Everett who is 17, and James who is 12.

Jennifer Sebren

Deputy Director, Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER Committee)

Jennifer Sebren is a Deputy Director with the Mississippi PEER Committee, a joint legislative oversight committee, and has been with PEER since 2006.  She also holds the position of secretary for the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society, which seeks to further the field of program evaluation across the country. 

During her tenure at PEER, she has been involved in the evaluation and improvement of various Mississippi state agencies and programs. Jennifer holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Mississippi College and a Master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She enjoys traveling, playing the piano, and decorating for all seasons, holidays, and celebrations.

Lindsey Simmons

Partner, Simmons Consulting

Lindsey Simmons has a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s in business administration, both from Mississippi State University. She obtained a juris doctorate from Mississippi College School of Law. After law school, Lindsey was in private practice for several years, and then worked at the Mississippi Supreme Court for four years. Lindsey was also an adjunct professor of Legal Writing at Mississippi College School of Law for six years.

Lindsey’s legal background brings a new area of expertise to Simmons Consulting. In addition to legislative services, Lindsey offers grant writing and monitors legal opinions for our clients.

Shalonda Spencer

Founder and CEO, Maespen Consulting

Shalonda Spencer is a proud Mississippi native and graduate of Jackson State University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. She is currently completing an Executive Masters in International Relations at Syracuse University.

Shalonda has over a decade of experience in government affairs, human rights, social and racial justice. She is a proven social entrepreneur, policy expert, and advocate who has influenced political and social decisions as a strategist and made policy recommendations to government officials on the local, state, and federal levels. Shalonda also has experience with electoral campaigns at the state and federal level. She worked on Senator Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2015 and President Joe Biden’s super Tuesday election in Mississippi in 2020. Currently, she is the Political Director for Brandon Presley’s gubernatorial campaign.

Shalonda has served as a Legislative Assistant for the United States House of Representatives for the 2nd Congressional District of Mississippi and as the Advocacy Coordinator for ACLU of Mississippi, focusing on the affiliate’s criminal justice reform and voter rights centers of work. She was an Economic Justice Fellow at the Mississippi Women’s Foundation, a position in which she received training in Mississippi politics through the Foundation’s Policy Institute and advocated for economic security to increase wages and job advancement for women. While residing in Mississippi, Shalonda also taught Urban Politics as an adjunct professor at Millsaps College. Outside of Mississippi, Shalonda has served as a Foreign Policy Analyst for the Mennonite Central Committee; as Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Trying Together in Pittsburgh, PA, where she advocated for high-quality early learning education for children and families; and as Executive Director of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), where she took the lead on national security and foreign policy issues that affect our nation’s capital. 

Recognized for her contributions to the advocacy and public service field, she has been acknowledged in Who’s Who of Mississippi Women and highlighted during Women’s History month by Jackson State University’s Alumni Department. In 2021, Shalonda was one of 50 leaders selected for inclusion in the inaugural U.S. National Security and Foreign Affairs Leader List compiled by the Diversity in National Security Network (DINSN) and the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) after a competitive nomination and selection process. Most recently, she was honored by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition as one of five Women Trailblazers in Foreign Policy, and awarded the 21st Century Leader by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Micayla Tatum

Early Childhood Policy Director, Mississippi First

Micayla Tatum is the Associate Director of Early Childhood Policy at Mississippi First. She supports Mississippi First in the development and execution of its early childhood policy agenda, with a particular focus on Pre-K and childcare.

Micayla taught for more than five years, is a 2016 Teach for America alumna, and is the chair of her local NAACP’s Education Committee, where she launched the Bettye Smith Brown Memorial Scholarship. Micayla was also a Teach Plus Mississippi Senior Policy Fellow and a recipient of Amherst College’s Class of ‘54 Commitment to Teaching Fellowship Award (2021). She earned two BAs in American Studies and Anthropology as well as a certificate in Native American and Indigenous Studies at Amherst College and an MEd in Education Policy and Leadership at American University.

Taylor Turnage 

Youth Civic Engagement, Colleges & Universities Coordinator, Mississippi Votes

Taylor Turnage is a native of Byram, MS and is an alumna of Tougaloo College where she earned her Bachelors of Science in Biology. She currently serves as the Youth Program Director at MS Votes. Taylor has been a leader in her community for almost a decade, having served on the executive committees of multiple organizations such as the NAACP and AAUW. She is also a Fellow in the inaugural cohort of the Regional Organizers for Community Change (ROCC) Fellowship.

Beth Waldo

Candidate, District 15, Mississippi House of Representatives

Beth Luther Waldo is a life-long native of Pontotoc and a graduate of Blue Mountain Christian University. Beth is currently the Director of Pontotoc County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Association and a Realtor. After college, Beth worked for the Department of Human Services. She and her business partner constructed commercial buildings to lease to Dollar Generals and built residentials properties to sell. Beth has owned and operated several small businesses: an assisted living facility, a restaurant/events venue, and a flower shop.
Beth is running unopposed for an open seat in District 15 of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Beth not only loves her hometown of Pontotoc County, but she also loves the state of Mississippi and looks forward to this new opportunity to serve. She comes from a political family and has been interested in politics from a young age. While Beth loves to travel, one of the highlights of her day is reading a fiction book each night at bedtime.

Hannah Williams

Policy Lead, Mississippi Votes

Hannah Williams is a native of Jackson, MS and an alumna of Jackson State University, where she completed a Bachelors of Art in History. She is currently completing a master’s degree in museum studies at Harvard. After a brief career in film and modeling in Atlanta, GA, Hannah joined the team at Mississippi Votes, first as an Operations Manager in 2019. 

Hannah has long been passionate about politics and public policy. She grew up working alongside her mother, a prominent civil-rights attorney in Mississippi. Her work on criminal justice and voting rights advocacy at MS Votes recalls her childhood experiences fielding phone calls and read letters from incarcerated clients at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state’s most infamous prison and the subject of a recent civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

International Women’s Forum of Mississippi

The purpose of the IWF is to bring together a statewide, diverse group of influential women of significant and diverse accomplishments and to provide them with a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences so that they may be made aware of their counterparts in other fields and ascertain mutual interests and attitudes. The Forum seeks to foster associations among preeminent women to enable them to exert their influence and to seek the empowerment of women throughout the state, region and nations.

Amy Whitten, President

Principal, The Whitten Group, P.A.

Beverly Hogan, President-Elect

Frm. President, Tougaloo College

Nora Miller, Treasurer

President, Mississippi University for Women

Rhea Williams-Bishop, Secretary

Director, Mississippi & New Orleans Programming, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Rita Wray, Immediate Past President

CEO, Wray Enterprises, Inc.