Our Team

Get to know the people behind MELA

Biz Harris, Executive Director

Biz charts the course for the organization, builds strategic partnerships, and maintains a culture of innovation, equity, and core-values alignment. She leads the organization in building and adapting strategic plans, and coordinates staff to meet goals aligned to MELA’s mission. 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. Harris has demonstrated continued success in bringing people together to work toward a common goal. 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. When Morgana Freeman, Executive Director of the Tallahatchie River Foundation, devised the concept for the Mississippi Early Learning Alliance in 2018, she asked Harris to join the team as one of the organization’s founding members, alongside former Executive Director Dr. Angela Bass. In addition to her work with MELA, Biz is the founder and volunteer director of Nurture Our Future, a non-profit that provides out-of-school learning & enrichment experiences, parent support and service referrals, and books to families in Laurel, Mississippi.

April May, Coalitions and Programs Director

April supports MELA’s role as a backbone organization in coalition building. She oversees incentive programs, devises strategies to recruit coalition members and grow the number of engaged members, and ensures the meetings are facilitated effectively. April is from Jackson, MS. She brings 18 years of experience in education and early childhood professional capacity-building, as well as her deep connections within the early learning community of Mississippi to her role. April has an intricate understanding of the childcare system: she serves on the board for the Mississippi Early Childhood Association, was a member of the State Early Childhood Advisory Council (SECAC), and launched the first Mississippi Leadership for Children Network with forward-thinking colleagues and Leading for Children, Inc.

Chloe Lake, Communications Director

Chloe leads MELA’s work highlighting the successes of the Mississippi early childhood community. She oversees and executes the communications promoting Mississippi Early Learning Alliance’s events and programs. Chloe has nine years of experience working in public health communications, six of those focused on translating maternal and child health data into easy-to-understand findings and recommendations. She resides in Louisiana, and she would love to see a southern state become a model for childcare and early education in the United States. In an age of information-overload, Chloe understands how to cut through the noise to deliver powerful messages to the right people. She prioritizes strategic communications approaches that go beyond building awareness to change people’s minds, attitudes, and behaviors.

Our Board

Dr. Devon Brenner, Board Chair

Director of Social Science Research Center, Mississippi State University

Dr. Ira Murray, Board Vice Chair

Associate Director of Research and Development, Initiative for Race Research & Justice at Vanderbilt University

Ross Weems, Board Treasurer

First Vice President, BankPlus Private Client Group

Dr. Alexander Washington

Director of Federal Government Affairs, Entergy Services, LLC

Dr. Suzette Matthews

Director of Development, University of Mississippi School of Law

Mandy Mahoney

U.S. Program Director at the Regulatory Assistance Project

Corey Hinshaw

Attorney at Watkins & Eager PLLC

Rich Long

Dr. Richard Long

Executive Director of Learning First Alliance

Dr. Jameshyia Ballard

Director of the Mississippi WIC Program, MS State Department of Health

Alex Martin

Senior Counsel, Entergy

Andrew Wilhelm

Dr. Andrew Wilhelm

Division Director of the Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine Division at the University of Mississippi Medical Center

Kimberly Leroy Washington

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager at Mississippi Power

Morgana Freeman

Executive Director of the Tallahatchie River Foundation