Unknown dream: Portia Espy’s path leads to the presidency of the new Mississippi Urban League

Entangled in the threads of experience is an underlying river flowing to a final destination, although the definition of the finality is not known until one reaches the other side of the sky. In accordance with the nature of any watercourse, there are a number of turns that undergo a sudden change in direction, often resulting in a sudden stop on a shore or a prolonged stay on an embankment.

These pauses, whether brief or long-lasting, connect a path back to the river – to the flow of life, which is often led by a melting pot of experiences, people, choices and, of course, divine intervention.

For Portia Ballard Espy, a resident of Madison, her direction, like that of many others, has never been specifically mapped out. However, she can confidently attest that every choice she made led to the life-changing decision to become president of the new Mississippi Urban League.

His destination was an unknown dream built by a mixture of opportunities and southern hospitality. After earning a degree in mass communication / journalism from Southern University and the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Portia began working in the energy sector. After marrying her husband, Mike, in 1999, she moved her Louisiana roots to Magnolia State. To date, the couple participate in various organizations in the community and are members of The Links, Incorporated, and Jack and Jill of America. Their willingness to give back is reflected in both their extracurricular activities and the workforce.

Portia’s service core has continued to grow as an employee at a handful of Fortune 500 companies where she has contributed to a number of philanthropic events. She said: “I have always given back as an employee… to help people in the community live a better quality of life. While working as the Human Resources Manager for Entergy Mississippi, Portia became the Head of Philanthropic Affairs. This gave him the opportunity to oversee corporate giving and gain additional insight into the nonprofit world.

Following her career at Entergy, Portia was appointed Deputy Director of the Mid-South Delta Initiative at the Kellogg Foundation in 2007. A few years later, she became Executive Director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. During this time, she started her doctorate. studies at Jackson State University. In May 2021, she obtained her doctorate in public policy and administration.

In addition to earning three letters behind her name, she earned a number of Management and Leadership Certificates from the Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education.

However, even with a huge education, Portia still struggled to answer the question, “If everyone had the opportunity to live in a house with doors, what would the world be like?”

The Mississippi Urban League, formerly known as the Mississippi Road Map, was incorporated in 2019 and plays a vital role in answering this important question.

Located in Jackson as a branch of the National Urban League, the organization’s primary areas of focus are education, employment, housing, health, and justice.

Founded in 1910, the Urban League typically focuses on the African American population due to its history of marginalization. However, the overarching goal of this organization is to help anyone in a community in distress by providing a range of opportunities to thrive.

Learning to thrive is like working to create a world void of equity gaps. This is accomplished by providing a variety of community resources. The Mississippi Urban League prides itself on promoting healthy living by providing a fitness center for youth and adults. The organization uses its commercial kitchen to teach customers how to cook healthy meals, which can be prepared with fresh ingredients from the community garden. The nearby literary garden helps children grow as readers. Other education-focused initiatives include an after-school program and a learning lab. Mothers are invited to attend the baby café where they learn good breastfeeding techniques and learn to raise their children in a holistic and positive way.

In addition, the organization strives to help clients obtain meaningful and sustainable employment. According to Portia, the overall goal of the Mississippi Urban League is to “be part of a positive Mississippi that encourages people to be good, engaged and healthy citizens.”

A “positive Mississippi” ensures that every citizen lives in a safe, affordable and energy efficient home on fair terms. It ensures that every child is ready for college, work and life. He defends the value of democracy and the participatory nature of the public service. For the Mississippi Urban League team, a “positive Mississippi” is not a dream but an achievable goal, which can be achieved through hard work and determination. Portia’s hard work and determination, coupled with her experiences in corporate America, paved the way for success in the nonprofit arena. She said, “God put me in these positions to prepare me for this job. All the things I have learned in all places and spaces have been used to complete the missions of the Mississippi Urban League.

Currently, the organization has three full-time staff and one fellow. Food distribution efforts are run solely by volunteers, on whom the Mississippi Urban League is largely dependent. For those interested in volunteering or would like to learn more, call the office at 601-987-6783. Since the organization is primarily funded by grants, it relies heavily on the generosity of individual donors. For those who wish to support the Mississippi Urban League, donations can be made on their website or mailed to their address.

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