Dr. Portia Ballard Espy Joins the Mississippi Urban League As President/CEO

The Mississippi Urban League (MUL) has named a new president and CEO, Portia Ballard Espy, Ph.D., former executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

New President/CEO of Mississippi Urban League
Dr. Portia Ballard Espy

Espy, the second woman to lead the organization, assumed her role on June 15, following the retirement of Beneta Burt. Burt had served as president and CEO of the MUL since 2018.

“It is my absolute honor and privilege to serve as Mississippi Urban League’s president and CEO,” said Espy. “I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of Beneta Burt and those members of the Urban League family who’ve come before me to blaze a path toward health and wellness, economic self-reliance, and equity for African Americans as well as other deserving citizens.”

As president and CEO, Espy’s initial focus will be to work closely with the Mississippi Urban League’s board of directors and staff to expand the programmatic efforts begun in 2018 as an Urban League affiliate.

“We are truly excited to have Dr. Portia Ballard Espy join the Mississippi Urban League,” said James Covington, chair of the Mississippi Urban League Board of Directors. “Dr. Espy brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in organization building and executive management. Her educational achievements and many years in the private sector, as well as the nonprofit sector, make her uniquely qualified to lead the MUL,” said Covington.

Espy was chosen after a national search that included a local and national certification process. The Mississippi Urban League is an affiliate of the National Urban League, led by President Marc Morial.

Morial said Espy is an excellent choice to build on the work of Burt.

“Her breadth of experience, contacts, and know-how will be instrumental to the Mississippi Urban League, and I am excited about the opportunity to work with her to address the challenges of the African-American communities in Mississippi,” said Morial.

Espy brings to the Mississippi Urban League vast executive-level experience in manufacturing, energy, aerospace, and nonprofit sectors. She has worked as an executive in human resources management, grants management, and external affairs for Pellerin Milnor Corporation, subsidiaries of Royal Dutch Shell plc and Entergy Corporation, and Raytheon Aerospace.

She later entered the nonprofit sector to serve as associate director at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Mid-South Delta Initiative, chief administrative officer at the Children’s Defense Fund – Southern Regional Office, and both director of Community Building and executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

Espy was instrumental in the Winter Institute’s transition from its original home at the University of Mississippi and led the effort to establish the organization as an independent 501c3 located in Jackson, Mississippi.

Espy is a native of Franklinton, Louisiana and a graduate of Franklinton High School. She obtained a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from Jackson State University and a certificate in nonprofit management from Harvard Kennedy School, both in May of 2021. Espy also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and an M.B.A. from Loyola University of New Orleans.

Portia and her husband, Mike, reside in Ridgeland, Mississippi. They have a blended family that includes three children, Ian, Jamilla, and Mike.

For additional information, please contact Angele Shaw at 601.987.6783 or

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