Von Gordon: ‘Creating Courageous Spaces’

We’re very proud of our very own Von Gordon, youth engagement manager for the William Winter Institute and a determined community leader in the state of Mississippi.

As a former vice president of the Operation Shoestring board and a founding board member of Refill Cafe, Von is committed to reaching young people at times when they are most vulnerable and helping them find the courage to become their best selves.

In this video, Von talks about how much of his work revolves around “creating spaces.” He talks about creating “courageous spaces” that help people learn more about one another, making a “leap” that allows people to hear each others’ stories and know more about other people in their community than they’d known before.

The result of that is mutual understanding, which can often lead to “shared benefit and shared growth.”

“I’d like for people… to think about wanting for others the same things they want for themselves,” he says. “It’s about a mindset.”

Von Gordon’s video is a part of a video series produced by Blue Magnolia Films as part of a project put on by the Community Foundation for Mississippi.

Our Statement on Justice for Black Lives

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” – James Baldwin

June 2, 2020

Dear Friends,

On May 25th, we regretfully added to the ever-growing list of those lost to senseless brutality, George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man who was tragically killed by a police officer using excessive force. Mr. Floyd’s death was captured on video for all the world to see as he called out for his mother and repeatedly stated that he could not breathe. If one has a heart, it is difficult to see another human being suffer such inhumane treatment. However, for many, this is simply history repeating itself, over and over again.

Floyd’s murder came on the heels, too, of recent news coming to light about the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman sleeping in her own home in Kentucky, and a former police officer and his son killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. At some point, people become weary of unwarranted cruelty and oppression, and they reach a tipping point, something we’ve also seen repeat itself. This tipping point is what we’re now witnessing as people take their righteous anger to the streets.

We do not believe looting and burning of communities is the answer to this problem. We do understand the outrage, the fatigue, and the desire to be heard. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose quotes are often co-opted and cherry-picked to focus on only what is more conciliatory, said in his 1967 speech The Other America,

“…it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

His words are chillingly accurate today. And we cannot ignore evidence indicating that what started as peaceful protests turned dramatically through a combination of police aggression, white supremacist gangs, opportunists of many races, and raw anger, all enflamed by agents provocateurs at the federal level.

All who live in this country deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and to have their voices heard equally. Ignorance should not be given power, ever, and when it is, we must use our power to correct it at the polls. We must be diligent and courageous in doing our research and voting for leaders who believe in the rights of all people. We have to promote growth and be willing to learn. We must build our courage to step across the imaginary divides, engage in dialogue, build relationships, and understand our shared ideals. People of all races, especially white people, must learn to stand up against racism in its many forms. Don’t just be a bystander who observes the injustices being perpetrated in our society. Be an active bystander, someone who takes action when they witness harm, and, better yet, be an active participant in dismantling injustice and white supremacy at every level of your life.

We can do this by becoming more informed, learning about our shared humanity, and working diligently to inform those who are in our respective spheres of influence. Learn our history. Practice critical thinking and analysis. Grow comfortable with complexity and inconsistency. Practice talking about race. Practice listening, and believe others about their own experiences. Investigate the racial representation in your social groups, churches, business and work settings, and decision makers in the organizations you’re affiliated with or support. Put aside your fear of failure, and don’t let perfection keep you from the work. Be kind to yourself and others. Keep going.

The Winter Institute Staff
Portia Ballard Espy
Jacqueline Byrd Martin
Vondaris Gordon
April Grayson
Jennifer Heath
Jeran Herbert
Jake McGraw

“I recall being horrified as a child during the ’60s hearing the stories of people being killed due to racial violence, and I remember the same level of horror when my grandmother shared stories of similar terror taking place throughout her lifetime. When is this going to stop?” – Executive Director Portia Ballard Espy


Push for Vote By Mail to increase voter participation:

Read, Watch, Listen. There are dozens of resources for how you can learn and help, as a quick internet search will show. Here are some we hope will get you started in deepening your learning and conversations:

Participate. We are continuing to host Zoom calls open to your participation. The next three focus on the trauma of what is happening now in our country—the continued racialized murders of Black people at the hands of police, the long history of white supremacy and racism that allow it to continue, and the other traumas and oppression inseparable from that.

Sign up for a call here: https://forms.gle/5HwkRpKzTXBK4teE9


Trauma Awareness Symposium on August 17 at Jackson State University

ACEs Trauma Awareness Conference - William Winter InstituteThe ACEs Awareness Foundation is presenting the Trauma Awareness Symposium on August 17. The symposium will be held at Jackson State University, and is being organized in concert with the Essie B. Williams Earl Glenn Family Foundation for Better Living.

The goal of this symposium is to increase community awareness of how adverse childhood experiences lead to trauma. When children experience trauma it can have lasting effects on them in adulthood, which is why the community needs to be informed and able to show compassion and sensitivity to those who have experienced trauma.

Early bird tickets are available until July 15, and include one hour of virtual consultation to help you implement or head trauma-informed strategies within your community.

Click here for the PDF on the event, or visit https://www.acesawarenessfoundationms.org/register/ to learn more and sign up.

Staying connected during this time of COVID-19

Portia Espy - Executive Directory - William Winter Institute for Racial ReconciliationDear Friends of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation,

We hope that you are taking care of yourselves, your families, friends, and community members as we all adapt to the uncertainties associated with the global pandemic that is COVID-19. The new “normal” associated with this threat has created a culture of elbow bumps, loads of hand washing/sanitizing, and, most importantly, social distancing.

While this may be the current reality, I want you to know that we’re not distancing ourselves from the important work we do on behalf of people across the many communities in and outside of Mississippi through Community & Capacity Building, Policy & Civic Engagement, and Youth Engagement.

In an effort to keep our families and our communities safe, we began working remotely on March 16th and will continue to do so until the current conditions improve. We are maintaining our regular work hours, and you can reach us by calling our office at 601.557.0056 or emailing us at info@winterinstitute.org. Please know that we’ll be at the ready to assist you.

Public health experts tell us in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 we must avoid groups, limit proximity to other individuals, and curtail travel. We consider being “in community” and working with community members in-person a gift, and it’s the basis of our work, which makes social distancing especially difficult. Although this puts a damper on our normal activities, it is important that we all adhere to these recommendations if we are to keep one another safe.

On our part, for now we have postponed hosting or participating in convenings that do not conform with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations. Instead, we’re looking at ways to utilize technology in an effort to facilitate our mission of building bridges and ending discrimination based on difference.

Please know that we’re standing here with you and will do our part to help us weather this storm as a community. As is our experience, we can overcome almost any obstacle if we’re not afraid to work together. We’re looking forward to being in community with you now and always.

Kindest Regards,

Portia Ballard Espy
Executive Director, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation

RSVP Now: National Day of Racial Healing Program in Jackson on January 21, 2020

Join us Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Location: Two Museums (222 North Street, Jackson, Miss.)
Time: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.


On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the William Winter Institute will present an afternoon and evening of Mississippi programming for the National Day of Racial Healing 2020. The event will take place at the Two Museums (222 North Street) in downtown Jackson.

The National Day of Racial Healing is part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort. TRHT is a national, community-based process of transformative, sustainable change, addressing the historic and contemporary effects of racism.

This year’s celebration will begin at 1 p.m. in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium, with afternoon programming focused around two discussions. One will explore the question “Why do we need racial healing?” and the other will focus on the role of education in racial healing.

Throughout the afternoon, JSU’s MADDRAMA will perform “edutainment” skits and spoken-word poetry.

Several speakers have confirmed for the afternoon discussions, including Rhea Williams-Bishop, director of Mississippi and Lousiana programs of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Dr. Daphne Chamberlain of Tougaloo College; and Dr. Jodi Skipper from the University of Mississippi. Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans and founder of E Pluribus Unum, will also be a participant.

The afternoon session will end with a special VIP keynote; look for the announcement in early January.

After a break, the evening session will begin with an introduction and screening of the HBO original documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality,” followed by a discussion of the film and the idea of racial healing through social justice in the United States.

The 2020 National Day of Racial Healing programming presented by the William Winter Institute will be free to the public, but there is limited seating available.

Please RSVP at https://winterinstitute.org/wp2020/2020dayofhealing/.

Support our collective movement to end inequity for all people.