ūüĎčūüŹľūüóě Updates, News, and Highlights from Leadership Alabama

ūüĎčūüŹľūüóě Updates, News, and Highlights from Leadership Alabama

June 5, 2023

Updates, News, and Highlights from

As Leadership Alabama winds down another program and fiscal year, we are excited to share many wonderful updates about the past several months.  Once again, we are very thankful for your incredible support, commitment and resources, and our LA and ALI programs continue to be stronger and broader due to your active engagement.

Be sure to scroll all the way through to find nomination information for ALI Class VI.     

Organizational Leadership Changes

As Melissa Morrissette, LA Board Chair, announced on Monday, May 15, Kate Cotton is stepping down as executive director on June 30 as her husband John continues his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Ashley Kaplan, who has been with LA for 15 years and is beloved by all our members, will become the new executive director.  As Ashley moves into her new position, Kate will remain part of the team, working part-time in an operational and development role of Ashley along with Melissa Sherer, who is an extremely valued addition to the organization.  What great news for all of us as we raise a congratulatory toast for Ashley!

Board Dinner at the Goodriches

The last board dinner for this fiscal year was recently held at the gorgeous home of Gillian and Mike Goodrich, LA Classes IX and I, in Birmingham, and what an evening it was!  Everyone gathered poolside to enjoy the beautiful vistas while feasting on a delicious meal and celebrating another terrific programming year for both Leadership Alabama and the Alabama Leadership Initiative (ALI).  Melissa Morrissette, LA Board Chair, offered comments about the accomplishments and events of the past several years and then raised a toast to Kate Cotton’s tenure as LA’s Executive Director.  Then, the board surprised Kate with a commissioned painting by Vicki Denaburg, a renowned Birmingham artist.

Leadership Alabama Board Changes

As the end of our fiscal year is right around the corner,¬†we sadly bid farewell¬†to eight board members who graciously served LA for the past six years (two, three-year terms). They are –

  • Chip Bivins, UA System,¬†Birmingham, LA Class XXII
  • Trey Clegg, Brasfield & Gorrie,¬†Birmingham, LA Class XXVII
  • Melissa Craig, Civic Leader,¬†Decatur, LA Class XXI
  • Helene Hassell, Dauphin Island Sea Lab,¬†Mobile, LA Class XXIV
  • Grits Morris, Civic Leader,¬†Montgomery, LA Class V
  • Sheron Rose, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce,¬†Montgomery, LA Class XXVII
  • Kennon Walthall, Avenu Insights & Analytics,¬†Birmingham, LA Class XXV
  • Danny Windham, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology,¬†Huntsville, LA Class XXIII

As we acknowledge the terrific work of those who just rolled off, we are¬†thrilled to announce the new board members¬†who will be joining the LA board on July 1, 2023. They are ‚Äď

  • Rose Allen, deciBel Research,¬†Huntsville, LA Class XXVIII
  • Robbie Baker, Hancock Whitney Bank,¬†Mobile, LA Class XXI
  • Cedric Campbell, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood,¬†Montgomery, LA Class XXX
  • Matt Clegg, Wilson Investment Group,¬†Auburn, LA Class XXIX
  • Kellie Hope, Business Council of Alabama,¬†Mobile, LA Class XXVII
  • Hank Isenberg, Iron Mountain Solutions,¬†Huntsville, LA Class XXX
  • Macke Mauldin, Bank Independent,¬†Florence, LA Class XI
  • Jeff Stone, Brasfield & Gorrie,¬†Birmingham, LA Class XV
  • Jo Bonner, University of South Alabama,¬†Mobile, LA Class XXXII‚Äôs elected classmate
LA Board Officers for 2023/2024

ChairMelissa Morrissette, LLB&B Real Estate, Mobile, LA Class XXI
Vice ChairLinda Young, Wallace Community College, Dothan, LA Class IX
Treasurer –¬†Michael Patterson, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama,¬†Birmingham, LA Class XXII
SecretaryKyle Buchanan, Hellen Keller and Red Bay Hospitals, Muscle Shoals, LA Class XXV
Immediate Past ChairDavid Nast, United Community Bank, Huntsville, LA Class XX

LA Class XXXII – What a finish to a fabulous class!

LA Class XXXII recently celebrated its graduation at the concluding retreat in Birmingham.¬†¬†Their retreat started on Wednesday evening, when class member¬†The Honorable Frank Brocato, Mayor of Hoover, hosted a lovely reception at the¬†Hoover Randall Home & Gardens.¬†¬†Area LA members were invited to join the class, and it was a wonderful engagement with ‚Äúnew and old‚ÄĚ members.¬†(Inviting area members to class events whenever possible has become a ‚Äúnorm‚ÄĚ for Leadership Alabama retreats throughout the state.)

Pictured above: Pammie Jimmar, Frank Brocato, Jamie Reeves, Michele King, Jeff Samz, and Walter Ernest

Jo Bonner, Chris Roberts, Doug Singleton, Pammie Jimmar, Melissa Sherer, and Michele Kong
Stephanie Yates, Michele King, Jamie Reeves, Jim Hughey, Matt Rohling, Walter Ernest, and Pammie Jimmar
Bill Jones, Erin Stephenson, Walker Jones, and Bill Roark

The retreat ‚Äúofficially‚ÄĚ began on Thursday morning at the¬†UAB Wallace Tumor Institute, when¬†The Honorable Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham and LA Class XXVI, welcomed the class to Birmingham and opened the floor for an informative Q&A session.¬†¬†Afterwards,¬†Dawn Bulgarella, CEO of the UAB Health System and LA Class XXXI, presented ‚ÄúThe Role of the UAB Health System,‚Ä̬†followed by a cutting-edge presentation from Dr. Jayme Locke about the first in-human xenotransplant trials.

Randall Woodfin welcomes Class XXXII to Birmingham.
Dawn Bulgarella shares the impact of UAB with Class XXXII.

For the first time in LA history, the class visited the Alabama Holocaust Education Center (formerly the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center), where LA Board Member David Silverstein, LA Class XXVI, shared the history of the organization and its mission of eradicating hate and antisemitism through education, while bringing awareness to the heightened threats against the Jewish population.

Pictured above: Rabbi Adam Wright visits with Class XXXII during the visit to the AHEC.

The afternoon was filled with the inspiring voice of Dr. John Dorsey, Founder and Executive Director of Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro, LA Class XXI, and his Farm Fellows.  As many remember from the recent anniversary event, John and his team have literally changed the landscape in Greensboro and other surrounding areas in the Black Belt, and his programs actively address the deficiencies in a broad spectrum of issues while providing hope to those they serve.

The class gathered for its graduation dinner at The Club, which overlooks Birmingham’s skyline, and the entertainment was provided by class member and multi-talented Dr. Eric Kirkman, who regaled the class with song while playing a host of instruments.  LA Board Chair Melissa Morrissette offered her congratulations on behalf of the entire board, followed by the distribution of obelisks and class comments.

Pictured above: Eric Kirkman, Pammie Jimmar, Tonja Johnson, and Cheryl Johnson

Pictured below:  Chris Roberts, Scott Harris, Doug Singleton, Cheryl Johnson, Willie Durham, Annette Funderburk, Phil Clayton, Samarria Dunson, and JC Love

On Friday, the class journeyed to the Dream Center in the Woodlawn Community (pictured above), and the morning involved an active conversation with some of the community leaders who are leading positive change in this historic area of Birmingham.  We heard from Joe Ayers, Real Estate Director for Woodlawn United, Dr. Robert Record, CEO of Woodlawn’s Christ Health Center and Mashonda Taylor, Executive Director of Woodlawn United and ALI Class I.  Additionally, while visiting Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) at Woodlawn High School, Trey Echols, President/CEO of Highland Associates and LA Class XXXI, and T. Marie King, Director of Youth Pathways & Experiences at JVTF, explained how JVTF, through the power of food, creates opportunities for academic exploration, environmental stewardship, personal growth and leadership, and pathways to employment.

Mirroring the¬†Purpose Built Communities¬†model, Woodlawn focuses on a ‚Äúcradle to college‚ÄĚ education model, and we were honored to host a panel of knowledgeable and vibrant professionals from the education sector.¬†Dr. Tommy Bice, Board Chair of¬†i3 Academy¬†and LA Class XXIII,¬†Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent of¬†Tuscaloosa City Schools¬†and LA Class XXXI,¬†Mark Dixon, Executive Director of¬†A+ Education Alliance¬†and¬†Dr. Michael Douglas, Superintendent of¬†Decatur City Schools¬†and LA Class XXXI, were part of a robust, candid and eye-opening session about the challenges and current issues that school systems continually face.¬†¬†Afterwards,¬†Dr. Jim Purcell, Executive Director of¬†Alabama Commission on Higher Education¬†and LA Class XXIX, presented data about the big picture of higher education in Alabama.

On Friday evening, the class gathered at Regions Field for a Barons game and casual dinner. Rain withstanding, we still gathered under the tent and enjoyed each other’s company.  On Saturday morning, LA Board Member Chuck Holmes, Executive Director of the Alabama Humanities Alliance and LA Class XXX, did another terrific job of facilitating a thoughtful and reflective caucus of the program year.  Dave Wood, Chair of Wood Fruitticher Grocery Company and LA Class XXX, was THE perfect ending to a fabulous year.  He shared his personal involvement with Hero Flights, which flies veterans to medical and rehab care throughout the country, and everyone was amazed by his selfless commitment to those who serve our country.

Pictured above: Stephanie Prescott, Jamie Reeves, Laura McDonald, Sheri Cook, Pammie Jimmar, Rebekah Elgin-Council, Annette Funderburk, and Eliska Morgan

Click here to see the graduates of LA Class XXXII.
Looking Ahead to LA Class XXXIII

The class has been selected by the regional councils and was approved by the board during its May meeting.  Invitations to join the class were extended two weeks ago, and responses are still being received.  The participants in the upcoming program year will be announced later this summer ahead of their program launch in October. Welcome receptions will be conducted throughout the state in August and early September, and we will communicate the dates as soon as they are finalized. Additionally, note the following retreat schedule for Class XXXIII because events to which area members are invited are always part of the activities.

Upcoming Class XXXIII Retreat Dates 
(All dates are Thursday through Saturday.)

October 12 ‚Äď 14, 2023, Montgomery
January 11 ‚Äď 13, 2024, Mobile
March 7 ‚Äď 9, 2024, Huntsville
May 9 ‚Äď 11, 2024, Birmingham

We want to hear from you!

If you have any changes/updates (employment, title, contact info, addresses, email, phone, etc.), please let us know!  Send your information to Melissa Sherer,, 205.919.6864 (cell).  Thank you.

Alabama Leadership Initiative (ALI) Class V

ALI Class V completed their third session in Mobile in April.  It kicked off on Thursday, April 20, with a warm welcome overlooking the waterway of the Port of Mobile (pictured above) from LA Board Chair Melissa Morrissette, LA Class XXI, and Anitra Belle Henderson, ALI Class I and LA Class XXXII, followed by a graduation lunch where each member recapped highlights from their program year together.  After lunch, the class learned about the history of Clotilda from Karlos Finley, LA Class XXIII, and the impact the Africatown revitalization will bring to the state of Alabama.  The class also participated in a lively round table/small group interview discussion session about the ALI program that resulted in a consensus of ideas to keep their connections and engagements ongoing.  We celebrated this last session with a fun evening in true Mardi Gras style at the Mobile Carnival Museum.

On Friday, April 21, we were joined by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, LA Class II, as he shared thoughtful ways to achieve economic and community success through leadership and relationships (pictured left).  ALI Class V member Jeremy Gray provided his classmates with an informative and transparent legislative update from the Alabama State House.  The session ended with a trip to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.  Helene Hassell, LA Class XXIV, planned an exceptionally interesting day to learn more about the state’s ecosystem and the impactful programs and research happening on Alabama’s coast.  The afternoon on Dauphin Island included a welcome by DISL Executive Director John Valentine, LA Class XXIII, tours of the fisheries and shellfish labs, a water vessel trip in Mobile Bay and a beach dune walk.  Many class members remarked it was their first visit to Dauphin Island and enjoyed learning more about this significant asset to our state.

Pictured above on the Alabama Discovery at Dauphin Island Sea Lab: Lucy Gafford, Bishop Alexander, Danielle Gibson, Jacob Ladner, Miriam Fry, Richmond Gunter, Katie Voss, Jason Perry, Adam Fox, Silvia Espinosa-Laxson, Austin Gaines, Susan Carothers, Emmanuel Bankston, Vimal Patel, Suntrese Williams-Maynard, and Jennifer Amos

Janelle Finley Adams, Katricia Flowers, and Stevi Price
Richmond Gunter, Kevin Ferguson, Dayne Cuttrell, and Andrew Pinyan

So many lasting connections and strong relationships were made within ALI Class V.  In addition to meaningful presentations throughout the program year, it is always a success to see the valuable network of like-minded professionals continue to grow throughout the state.

Click here to see the graduates of ALI Class V
ALI Reunion Event in Birmingham

With the completion of Class V, we were pleased to welcome 50 new graduates into the Alabama Leadership Initiative family.¬†¬†Since the expansion of ALI in 2017, we have brought together five classes, except for 2020 ‚Äď 2021.¬†¬†The classes, comprised of 50 exceptional young professionals from across the state of Alabama, have created lifelong friendships and professional partnerships.

Members from ALI Class III pictured right: Ann Todd, Devon Frazier, Holly McCorkle, Adrienne Starks, Biko Freeman, Laurel Teel, Rashmee Sharif, Jill Andrews, Tony Bonds, Prince Cleveland, Melissa Sherer, Kendra Key, and Landon Nichols

In May, we hosted members from all five classes for the first ALI Reunion at the Jones Valley Center for Food Education in Birmingham.  We had a wonderful evening reconnecting and catching up with so many ALI members from across the state, and we look forward to planning more reunions and ALI events in the future.

Pictured left: Ashley Morrow and Carey Holland



Members from ALI Class I: Precious Freeman, Bakari Miller, Mashonda Taylor, Ashley Kaplan, Jon Hegeman, Mary Elizabeth Roberson, Chris Busby, Amanda Storey, Josh Vasa, Tom Walker, and Cooper Holmes
Ruth Ann Moss, Hallie Bradley, Mary Elizabeth Roberson, Ann Todd, and Rachel Hamm
Looking Ahead ‚Äď ALI Class VI
Nominations are now open! 

The Alabama Leadership Initiative (ALI) program offers young professionals the opportunity to develop personal leadership skills and to establish ongoing relationships with other young leaders across the state. The six-month program is comprised of three two-day retreats that exposes participants to the decision makers in Alabama who are sensitive to the challenges we face as a state and provides the unique opportunity to step inside the circles of those who mold the future of our state.

The Alabama Leadership Initiative is statewide and focuses on three areas.

  • Education
    Class members connect with statewide experts in order to increase their knowledge of the issues impacting Alabama.
  • Connections
    The Initiative provides a unique opportunity to bond with like-minded leaders from throughout the state.
  • Personal Development
    The programming includes leadership training in various areas, including public speaking, effective board involvement and political involvement.

Qualified applicants, ages 25-40, need to have shown leadership and commitment in a professional capacity and within their own communities. Each class is limited to 50 ‚Äď 55 participants, and selection to participate in the program is dependent on the submitted applications. Click here to read more.

Tuition for the program is $1,750, and there is scholarship assistance for those with financial need. An application for assistance is provided as part of the overall application process.

ALI Class VI 2023 ‚Äď 2024 Program Year

Thursday, November 2 ‚Äď Friday, November 3, 2023 – Montgomery
Thursday, February 8 ‚Äď Friday, February 9, 2024 – Dothan
Wednesday, April 24 ‚Äď Thursday, April 25, 2024 – Birmingham

ALI Class VI Nomination Form

Click the link above to access the nomination form and process.

ALI Class VI nominations are due by Friday, June 23, 2023.