UNUM Fellows program to equip Southern leaders with resources that advance racial and economic equity within their communities


September 29, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Today, Mitch Landrieu’s E Pluribus Unum (EPU) announced its inaugural class of UNUM Fellows. The select group of 14 accomplished and diverse Southern elected leaders will embark on a year-long journey to address inequitable and discriminatory policies and practices within their communities. Uniquely positioned to redesign broken systems, they begin this signature program amidst a renewed national movement towards racial and economic justice. 

As part of EPU’s foundational research journey in 2018, the organization found that people place a great deal of hope in their local political leadership and better embrace the concept of racial equity when local leadership actively seeks to advance it. Through this opportunity, fellows will gain or expand upon their understanding of how to address racial and economic equity within communities. Each UNUM Fellow will learn from nationally-recognized experts, consult with peers across the South and design and implement an equity-based project that will create sustainable, meaningful change. 

“Elected leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for communities on discussions of racial and economic equity because of their ability to change inequitable and discriminatory policies and practices,” said Landrieu. “Just a few years ago, I was in a very similar position as our Fellows. I know what’s at stake, and I know how important it is to have support and access to resources, experts and tools. That’s where EPU comes in—we designed a program that creates the space for local elected leaders to better realize their power to make lasting change, and leverage the invaluable support of peers, expert advisors and community partners to do so.”

While success will look different in each community, Fellows will leave the program equipped to: 

  • Foster meaningful participation among key community partners and leaders to drive the advancement of equity goals and projects;

  • Advance initiatives—beginning with their Fellowship project—that address racial and economic disparities in communities;

  • Cultivate long-term visions for equity within their communities that outlive any single term or administration;

  • Talk about racial and economic equity in ways that advance discourse, with a common language and understanding; and

  • Act with urgency with the support of a strong peer network and community.

The program’s first cohort class includes a diverse set of elected leaders, from rural mayors to suburban school board members to county commissioners and big city mayors. The inaugural UNUM Fellows are:

  • Wardine T. Alexander—City Councilor, Council President Pro Tempore, Birmingham, AL

  • Willie F.  Brooks, Jr.—County Commissioner, Shelby County, TN

  • Jane Castor—Mayor, Tampa, FL

  • Katie Cristol—County Board Member, Arlington County, VA

  • Byron Gipson—Solicitor of the Fifth Circuit, Richland and Kershaw Counties, SC

  • Reid Goldstein—School Board Member, Arlington County, VA

  • Dorothy L. Heffron—School Board Member and Vice Chair, Chesterfield County School Board, VA

  • Keith James—Mayor, West Palm Beach, FL

  • Shayla Nealy—City Councilmember (Mayor Pro Tem), Union City, GA

  • Steven L. Reed—Mayor, Montgomery, AL

  • Brian E. Rowland—City Councilmember (Mayor Pro Tempore), Prairie View, TX

  • Jennifer Vidrine—Mayor, Ville Platte, LA

  • Bettina Umstead—School Board Member and Board Chair, Durham Public Schools Board of Education, Durham, NC

  • Virgil Watkins, Jr.—County Commissioner, Macon-Bibb County Board of Commission, Macon-Bibb County, GA

“At this moment, there’s a magnifying lens on the disparities in our communities, so we are working with these leaders to identify the mechanisms and resources they need to take action on racial and economic equity,” said Roxanne Franklin Lorio, EPU’s Managing Director of Programs. “We deeply understand the significant demands on elected leaders, particularly in the midst of the current pandemic and political moment, and we’re honored to have this group step up in this time of reckoning to put action behind their words.”

UNUM Fellows participants will gain access to a wide range of nationally recognized partner organizations and individuals that will provide valuable and actionable skillbuilding around racial and economic equity. Program partners include:

  • Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; 

  • Center for American Progress (CAP);

  • The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP);

  • FrameWorks Institute;

  • Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a project of Race Forward;

  • Hope Policy Institute;

  • National League of Cities University (NLCU);

  • PolicyLink; and 

  • What Works Cities. 

To learn more about UNUM Fellows, visit

About E Pluribus Unum

Founded by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2018, E Pluribus Unum (EPU) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to build a more just, equitable, and inclusive South, uprooting the barriers that have long divided the region by race and class. Incubated at Emerson Collective, EPU is focused on changing the divisive narratives that perpetuate systemic and interpersonal racism, cultivating and empowering courageous leaders who are advancing racial equity, and championing transformative policy change. Learn more at