DRA Continues Partnership with Harvard Kennedy School for Leadership Development

December 04, 2019

30 leaders from across the 8-state Delta region meet in Cambridge, MA for executive leadership training.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Delta Regional Authority (DRA) is continuing its partnership with Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) to offer an advanced education opportunity exclusively to alumni of the Delta Leadership Institute (DLI) Executive Academy. The program, designed and led by Harvard faculty, focuses on cultivating “authentic leadership” to move Delta communities forward. DLI will send 30 representatives from across the eight-state Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt regions.

The 30 representatives will gather on the Harvard University campus for the four-day course beginning Tuesday, December 3rd and ending Friday, December 6th. The program will be led by retired Air Force Brigadier General Dana Born, Co-Director at the Center for Public Leadership at HKS.

“I am very proud of Delta Regional Authority’s continued partnership with Harvard Kennedy School for Leadership Development,” said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell. “Both DRA and HKS pursue a common goal of building communities and improving lives, and our efforts to further develop the Delta region’s outstanding community leaders helps us achieve this goal.”

The Program brings together representatives of the public, private, and non-profit sectors from across the Mississippi Delta region. DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell and select DRA and DLI staff will participate along with the delegation of Delta leaders.

The 2019 Authentic Leadership participants include:


  • Brandy Wilkerson, Thomasville | Planning Director, Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission
  • Winfield Ezell, Northport | Founder/CEO, Obsidian Creative Studios


  • Alex Johnston, Little Rock | Chief Communications Director, Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services
  • Cliff Jones, Jonesboro | Deputy Director, Delta Center for Economic Development, Arkansas State University
  • John Davis, Monticello | Assistant Professor, Director of Government Relations, University of Arkansas at Monticello
  • Len Blaylock, Warren | Production Supervisor, Hydra 70, General Dynamics – Ordinance and Tactical Systems
  • Eric Atchison, Little Rock | Vice President for Strategic Research, Arkansas State University System


  • Andy Sisulak, Marion | Staff Member, Office of Illinois State Senator Dale Fowler
  • Ella York, Marion | Law Clerk to Honorable Reona J. Daly, United States District Court – Southern District of Illinois
  • Joni Barwick, Marion | President, Turtle Marketing Group Company
  • Kristy Stephenson, Metropolis | Assistant State’s Attorney, Massac County
  • Martin Rowe, Harrisburg | Managing Director, Legence Bank
  • Susan Odom, Harrisburg | Extension Specialist – Community Development, University of Illinois Extension
  • Tina Gibbs, Harrisburg | Community Relations Coordinator, Ameren Illinois
  • Tom Harness, Carterville | Owner/CEO, Harness Digital Marketing


  • A.J. Walker, Baton Rouge | Senior Public Affairs and Development Associate, Venture Global LNG
  • Makesha Judson, Baton Rouge | Director of Special Projects and Legislative Liaison, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services


  • Mani Hairston, Jackson | Senior International Small Business Manager, Mississippi Development Authority


  • Cynthia Dean, Sikeston | Chief Executive Officer, Missouri Bootheel Regional Consortium, Inc.
  • David Wyman, Dexter | Area Engineer, Missouri Department of Transportation
  • Jay Lancaster, Sikeston | Director of Public Works, City of Sikeston
  • Marcie Lawson, Sikeston | Executive Director, Sikeston Regional Chamber & Area Economic Development Corporation
  • T.R. Dudley, Potosi | Mayor, City of Potosi
  • Luke Holtschneider, Jefferson City | Deputy Director, Missouri Department of Economic Development


  • Gwyn Fisher, Memphis | Regional Director, Greater Memphis, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
  • Jim Crone, Eads | Government and Corporate Relations/Comprehensive Solutions, Train U.S., Inc.
  • Joel Howard, Covington | Area Director, Rural Development – United States Department of Agriculture
  • Lindsay Frilling, Union City | Chief Executive Officer, Obion County Joint Economic Development Council
  • Maleia Evans, Dyersburg | Business Services Representative, Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board

Since 2005, DLI's Executive Academy has enhanced the leadership skills, policy knowledge and networks of community members in the Delta region. DLI graduates become members of the Delta Leadership Network, which includes more than 500 community leaders who understand the importance of regional collaboration, resource sharing and innovative thinking. DLI is a program of DRA in partnership with four institutions of higher education in the Delta region: University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

About the Delta Regional Authority

Established in 2000 by Congress, Delta Regional Authority makes strategic investments of federal appropriations into the physical and human infrastructure of Mississippi Delta communities. Led by the Delta Regional Authority Board - comprised of the Federal Co-Chairman, appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and the governors of the eight states - Delta Regional Authority fosters local and regional partnerships that address economic and social challenges to ultimately strengthen the Delta economy and the quality of life for Delta residents. Delta Regional Authority works to improve regional economic opportunity by helping to create jobs, build communities, and improve the lives of the 10 million people who reside in the 252 counties and parishes of the eight-state Delta region.

About the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Harvard Kennedy School aims to improve public policy and public leadership in the United States and around the world through research, teaching, and direct engagement with policymakers and public leaders. Nearly 20,000 alumni of the School’s degree programs and 44,000 people who have taken executive education courses at the School work in more than 200 countries. In addition, faculty, staff, and students of the School are currently undertaking projects to advance knowledge and strengthen public policy and leadership in dozens of countries. Around the world, the skills and energy of the Harvard Kennedy School community are dedicated to helping make people’s lives safer, more prosperous, and more fulfilling.

DRA Media Contact: 
Shawna Blair

DRA Program Contact:
Aury Kangelos