Cultivating Community

Since our start, we’ve attracted individuals drawn to making a difference through courageous listening, intentional space, and compassionate honesty.


Vondaris “Von” Gordon

Executive Director

Von is a native of Moorhead, MS, in Sunflower County. He joined the organization to develop and coordinate youth programs as Youth Engagement Coordinator. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he was a student leader and helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. He served as a founding board member of the Winter Institute and the only student representative. 

Von believes in building deep relationships and creating transformation and movement towards belonging and justice for communities, organizations, and individuals. 

He is a member of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network.  Close to home he serves on the board of directors of Operation Shoestring in Jackson, MS and supports the work of the Mississippi Afterschool Network.  He also serves on the Community Advisory Councils of the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Junior League of Jackson.

Von also serves nationally as a board member of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation.

He and his family now reside in Jackson, Mississippi, stewards of Choctaw land.

April Grayson

Director of Community & Capacity Building

A native of Rolling Fork, MS, April was Documentary Educator at the Institute from 2005 through 2008. She combines her commitment to racial equity and social justice with her passion for storytelling, documentary fieldwork, and art practice. A graduate of Millsaps College (BA in English) and the San Francisco Art Institute (MFA in film), April has worked in film and video, oral history practice, and arts education, screening films in festivals, galleries, and museums on four continents. She has led community oral history and documentary projects in Philadelphia, McComb, Tallahatchie County, and other communities. 

Since 2013, April has been part of the Community and Capacity Building team, which facilitates trust building and learning processes for communities of all kinds. She assists communities with memorialization and historical memory projects around the local histories of racial violence as well as resistance and leadership. April is a TECE fellow and is passionate about cultural exchange for all ages. She divides her time between Oxford, MS, and Northern New Mexico.

Jackie Martin

Jacqueline B. Martin

Community and Capacity Building Coordinator

Jacqueline is a civil rights veteran from McComb, MS, where she was a trailblazer in city administration. She serves as the community liaison for the Civil Rights/Labor History curriculum development project at McComb School District. She has served as civil rights tour guide for high school and college students, as well as teachers and other interested citizens.

Jackie has organized many of McComb’s civil rights tours and commemorations, especially those honoring local civil rights veterans. She joined the Institute as a Community Building Manager and participates in intergenerational community work in Mississippi. She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Belhaven University and is a certified Training Professional through the WLPI at the University of Southern Mississippi. Jackie is a trusted mentor to many and is particularly gifted in coaching other practitioners  and learners.

Jennifer Heath

Jennifer G. Heath

Community and Capacity Building Coordinator

Jennifer was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. The time spent in this area deeply shaped who she is as a resident of the state of Mississippi, the United States, and the world.

Jennifer received her degree in social services from Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, and had an extended career in the faith community. She has a background in early childhood education, spiritual development, and team building. Jennifer is passionate about allowing every person to have their worth and value appreciated and recognized. 

Jennifer joined the team in March 2020. As a mother and community member she strives to make the world a better place.

Chauncey Spears

Chauncey Spears

Systems & Leader Engagement Manager

Chauncey R. Spears is a veteran educator and community champion originally from Memphis, TN.

He believes that education can be the key to human flourishing and has committed his life’s work for cultivating educational equity in communities around Mississippi.

He has a BA in Sociology from the University of Memphis with graduate studies in Sociology and Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is completing a MPPA in Public Administration and Policy from Jackson State University. With years of work experience in educational administration and policy with the Mississippi Department of Education, he brings a wealth of experience and insight to the work of the Alluvial Collective. As a husband, father of two, and an active community member, he is passionate about issues of equity and access to opportunities for more groups of people in Mississippi.

Board of Directors

Annette Hollowell, board of directors

Annette Hollowell

Board of Directors

Annette Hollowell wears many crowns —  mother, entrepreneur, facilitator and lawyer with a particular calling towards community building, peace work and Black liberation. Her storytelling is rooted in ancestry, culture, and Mississippi’s long standing legacies of Black landownership. Annette was one of the first staff members of our organization in its infancy, when it was known as the Winter Institute, and she was a valued participant in our community building program Welcome Table New Orleans.

Jason Coker, board of directors

Rev. Dr. Jason Coker

Board of Directors

For over 20 years, Rev. Dr. K. Jason Coker has been a dynamic leader in the religious and nonprofit sector. Best known as an engaging speaker, thought leader and social entrepreneur, Dr. Coker has committed the best part of his professional life to alleviating persistent rural poverty in America. He serves as the president of Together for Hope (, a rural development coalition headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi. He holds a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale University Divinity School and a PhD from Drew University Theological School. Dr. Coker’s passion for fighting poverty comes from growing up in the grinding poverty of the Mississippi Delta.

He is the author of James in Postcolonial Perspective: The Letter as Nativist Discourse (Fortress Press, 2015) and Faded Flowers: Preaching in the Aftermath of Suicide (Smyth & Helwys, 2020). He is also the co-editor of Bible and Theory: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Stephen D. Moore (Fortress Academic, 2020). He is currently writing two new books The Corporation of God: A Biblical Critique of Global Capitalism (Cascade Press, 2023) and James: A Critical Commentary (Bloomsbury, 2023). Besides his books, he is the author of dozens of academic articles and book chapters as well as numerous popular blog posts ( In addition to writing, Dr. Coker and his work with Together for Hope will be the subject of an upcoming documentary Hope Arising (

Michael Thomas

Board of Directors

Michael Thomas is the President of Systems Consultants Associates, Systems Electro Coating, Systems Automotive Interiors and Systems Automotive Interiors Alabama. He has a wide variety of financial, budgetary, managerial and systems improvement experience. He is a degreed Accountant with over 30 years of experience in financial and organizational management. He has managed budgets of over $400 million and has supervised as many as 50 managers and more than 2,000 employees. He has overseen operational functions including human resources, business services, transportation services, information technology services, facilities management, property/inventory accounting, and campus police, to name a few. Since the early 2000s, Michael has committed considerable energy, effort and study on organizational systemic improvement through human resource professional development, performance metrics monitoring and reporting and quality customer service.

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