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Jackson Workforce Leadership Academy

Academy Description

The Jackson Workforce Leadership Academy is a leadership fellowship for workforce development professionals. The Academy is a partnership between the City of Jackson and the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program with support from the Kellogg Foundation. The Academy will run from March 25, 2020 to January 2021 and is designed to strengthen the leadership pipeline and deepen collaborative relationships within the city of Jackson so that fellows and the organizations they represent are better able to advance the economic well-being of the people they serve. The 18-24 Academy Fellows will have the opportunity to work with leading practitioners from around the country, engage in leadership development activities, and use practical planning tools to develop effective workforce strategies and programs that build their local workforce system.


About the Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. The Aspen Institute has earned a reputation for gathering diverse, nonpartisan thought leaders, creatives, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world's most complex problems. But the goal of these convenings is to have an impact beyond the conference room. They are designed to provoke, further and improve actions taken in the real world.


About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

Prospective Applicant Information

  • Application Released: Monday, January 6, 2020
  • Informational Webinar: Thursday, January 16, 2020; Register for the informational webinar here.
  • Application Due: Friday, February 7, 2020
  • Applicants Informed of Decision: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
  • Applicant Confirmation Due: Monday, March 2, 2020
  • Opening Retreat: March 25- 27, 2020


Who is qualified to participate?

● Located and working within Jackson, MS.
● Workforce development representatives working within nonprofit organizations, business associations,
community colleges and universities, union-based training efforts, and public agencies.
● In a position of leadership and decision-making authority related to workforce development efforts, with the
capacity and ability to execute strategies on behalf of their organization.

Documents for prospective applicants:

Participant Overview

Commitment to Participate

The 2020 electronic application can be accessed and completed Here

A PDF version of the 2020 application questions is available Here

Local Advisory Council Members

Ms. Ivye Allen, Foundation for the Mid South
Dr. Robert Blaine, CAO, City of Jackson

Mr. Robert Leard, President, Regions Bank, Chair

Dr. Ira Murray, President, United Way of the Capitol Area

Dr. Gloria Mwase, MiBEST

Ms. Mary Powers, MS Dept. of Employment Security

Ms. Paula Sammons, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Mr. Richard Sun, Co-Founder, MS Coding Academies
Ms. Bettina Brandon, Manager of Workforce Development, Entergy Services
Dr. Alexander Washington, Workforce Development and Diversity Specialist, Entergy Nuclear
Gen. A. Leon Collins, Minact, Inc.
Dr. Chad Stocks, Vice President for Workforce Development, Hinds Community College

Facilitation Team

Dr. Robert Blaine

Dr. Robert Blaine

Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Jackson

Dr. Robert Blaine serves as the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the City of Jackson. In his role as CAO, Blaine manages an organization of over 2,200 employees and a budget in excess of 350 million dollars. He arrived at this position through a background in academic administration. Prior to his appointment with the City of Jackson, Dr. Blaine served as Associate Provost at Tougaloo College. Prior to that appointment, he served as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and CyberLearning, Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan, Director of Orchestral Studies, and Professor of Music at Jackson State University. Dr. Blaine leverages his experience as a transformative academic leader as he assists Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in the transformation of the City of Jackson into a 21st Century, intelligent city, through their economic model for human dignity.

Jessica Nelson

  Jessica Nelson

Mobility Innovation Team


Jessica Nelson grew up in Houston, Texas, spending summers in Jackson with family. She attended Texas A&M University for two years and left school during the recession to join the military. She spent five years on active duty with the United States Marine Corps as a Geospatial Intelligence Analyst and one year in the Reserves as an Intelligence Chief. She served in Okinawa, South Korea, Kuwait, and several states. After getting that experience and wanting to expand on the knowledge gained in the military, Jessica went back to complete her degree at Smith College in Massachusetts. She graduated with a degree in Psychology, concentrating in trauma and Community Engagement and Social Change. She joined the City of Jackson this year as a Lead for America Hometown Fellow under Dr. Blaine and will be working on workforce development and assisting with Ready to Learn. Her goal is to work in the nonprofit sector.


Nafeesa Edges

Nafeesa Edges

Mobility Innovation Team

Nafeesa is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and a graduate of Jackson State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a concentration in Legal Studies. Her past research studies have focused on social justice issues such as access to healthcare in rural areas of Mississippi, and the City of Jackson’s 1% tax increase. Nafeesa is a second-year Master’s student at Jackson State University studying Public Policy and Administration with a concentration in Community and Economic Development. As a 2019 Lead for America Hometown Fellow, Nafeesa is a member of Dr. Robert Blaine’s Mobility Innovation Team (MIT). She works on the City of Jackson’s workforce development project, increasing occupational opportunities for college graduates. She is a University of California- Historically Black Colleges and Universities Scholar.

John Cooper

Mya Lee

Mobility Innovation Team

Mya Lee is a Lead for America Hometown Fellow serving on the Mobility Innovation Team under Dr. Robert Blaine, Chief Administrator for the City of Jackson. Mya earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Jackson State University, and is currently pursuing her Masters in History there as well. Mya has volunteered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) advocating for legislation to benefit those affected by AIDS/HIV, as well as connecting the goals of the organization with social movements. She has held executive positions on both the local and national levels with Golden Key International Honour Society, providing services and opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students transitioning from college to career, and focusing on at-risk youth from ages birth to 17 through literacy, education, and real-world preparedness initiatives.


John Cooper

John Cooper

Mobility Innovation Team

John Cooper is a graduate of Morehouse College where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. His experiences and education were put into practice when he served as vice president of his student body where he was responsible for heading a 27-person legislative branch, while serving as vice president of the student government executive board. He spearheaded a mayoral townhall forum, implemented a meal voucher program for current students confronting food insecurity, designed various programs surrounding the holistic development of students, and worked with local leaders to design methods of improving safety for high school and college students in the West End/Vine City community. Following Morehouse, John served as a long-term substitute teacher at Republic Charter School where he taught senior service learning in Nashville, Tennessee. Currently, he is a Lead for America Fellow working on Dr. Blaine's Mobility Innovation Team with a focus on education.


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