Our Staff

Raymond C. Pierce

President and CEO

Raymond C. Pierce serves as the President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation, where he leads the organization’s historic mission of advancing educational opportunities for African American and low-income students in the southern states. Since joining SEF in January 2018, Pierce has focused the organization on policy research, education legislation and leadership development. SEF has also launched a workforce development initiative and is expanding its efforts for strengthening parental engagement in support of improving student learning.

Prior to joining SEF, Mr. Pierce was Dean of the School of Law at North Carolina Central University. Pierce earlier served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as a political appointee in the administration of President Bill Clinton. During that time, Pierce also served on the White House Domestic Policy Council working group in the development of the Empowerment Zone and related economic and workforce development policies. Mr. Pierce has also been a partner in the business practices at the law firms of Baker Hostetler and Nelson Mullins, where he represented clients in the steel, energy, transportation, and financial services industries. He also represented clients in higher education matters. Earlier in his career, Pierce was employed in Cleveland, Ohio, as an attorney in the law department of the LTV Corporation, a Fortune 50 Energy, Steel, and Aerospace Defense company, where he focused on commercial transactions. Pierce began his career as a civil rights attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, with the John W. Walker Law Firm.

Pierce has served on the Council of Legal Education of the American Bar Association and is a past Vice President of the North Carolina Bar Association. Mr. Pierce has served as an appointed member of the North Carolina State Banking Commission and the board of directors of M&F Bank and M&F Bancorp, where he served on the audit and corporate governance committees. He is a permanent member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference.

Mr. Pierce earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Syracuse University, a Juris Doctor degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and a Masters of Arts from the Divinity School at Duke University.

Kenita T. Williams

Director, Leadership Development

Kenita Williams joined the Southern Education Foundation in 2017 and serves as the Director of Leadership Development. In her role, Kenita oversees SEF’s leadership development portfolio, creating and managing a cadre of fellowship programs and resources designed to cultivate a constellation of change agents to enact policies and practices that lead to a more equitable education system throughout the South. Kenita brings a wide range of knowledge and critical experience to SEF, having held positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Over the course of her career, Kenita served as the Partnerships Manager for Atlanta Public Schools, Senior Program Manager for Public Policy at the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF), spent several years as a consultant for JFM Consulting Group, and worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative correspondent for then-Senator Barack Obama. Kenita is also a Teach for America (TFA) alumna and spent three years teaching third-grade in Atlanta.

Kenita earned her B.A. in Political Science and History from Yale University, her Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a teaching certificate from Georgia State University. She is currently enrolled at Johns Hopkins University working on her doctoral degree in education.

Fred Jones

Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy

Fred Jones is the Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Southern Education Foundation. His core responsibilities include advocating for the advancement of SEF’s public policy priorities at the local, state, and federal levels. Fred has led the creation of SEF’s policy positions statement and is focused on extending SEF’s legislative footprint throughout the South. In the fall of 2017, he completed the Riley Institute Diversity Leaders Initiative at Furman University named in honor of the former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley.

Fred received his B.A. in Political Science from Tufts University and his M.B.A. from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Titilayo Tinubu Ali

Director of Research and Policy

As Director of Research and Policy for the Southern Education Foundation, Titilayo manages the development of SEF’s research-informed policy positions and advocacy initiatives that strengthen educational opportunities for African American and low-income students in the southern states.

Titilayo previously served as Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst and as a consultant at the Learning Policy Institute where she was one of the co-authors of the book On the Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Changing Children’s Lives. Titilayo’s prior research has included studies of local school governance, assessment of early care and education programs in New York City, and analysis of professional development interventions in Head Start classrooms. Titilayo has served in a variety of roles in the nonprofit, for-profit, philanthropic and policy sectors. She began her career in communications and later practiced law at two global law firms, counseling clients on labor, employment and corporate matters.

Titilayo earned her J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law, her M.A. in Sociology of Education and Education Policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, and her B.A. in English, with honors, from Spelman College. She is a member of the State Bar of California and a court-appointed citizen advocate for children in foster care.

Lisa Chester

Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development

Lisa Chester, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Development, establishes and executes partnership activities and fundraising opportunities to increase the reach and impact of the organization’s ongoing research, advocacy and programming efforts within the South.

Her career has spanned the media industry for 15 years with Fortune 500 corporations in areas of strategic planning, integrated media and business development. In addition, she has previously served as executive leadership for Warrick Dunn Charities, Inc., a nonprofit founded by former National Football League running back and Atlanta Falcons minority owner, Warrick Dunn. As the Executive Director, she oversaw fundraising and national programming efforts to improve the lives of low-income families.

Lisa attended the Atlanta University Center and graduated from Morris Brown College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Media Arts. She later received her Masters of Business Administration.  Lisa also completed a fellowship of the New Leaders Council Institute-the premier national leadership and political advancement program and was named by The Atlanta Tribune as “The Ones to Watch” in 2014. She was recognized as a 2016 Atlanta Business Chronicle 40 Under 40.

Lisa is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Education Advancement Foundation for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and as a Board of Director for Ferst Readers, which advances early childhood literacy across the nation.

Gretchen Wright

Director of Communications

Gretchen Wright is the Director of Communications for the Southern Education Foundation. In this role, she develops and implements communications strategies to support SEFs research, policy, and leadership development work.

With more than 30 years of experience conducting media relations outreach and other communications work for nonprofit organizations, Gretchen was most recently Director of Communications for Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Prior to that she was the Director of Strategic Communications for the Learning Policy Institute.

For nearly 20 years, Gretchen was Vice President and a principal at PR Solutions, Inc, a women-owned public relations form in Washington, DC, that works with nonprofit organizations focused on social justice. There, she developed and executed communications strategies to promote a range of progressive policies related to health, education, workplace, civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights.

Gretchen earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Michigan and was a Women in Leadership Coro Fellow.

Leighton O'Sullivan

Chief Financial Officer

Leighton O’Sullivan, CPA joined the Southern Education Foundation as Chief Financial Officer in April of 2020. He brings more than 25 years of experience in accounting operations in non-profit and for-profit companies. His leadership style is one that promotes a culture of accountability, commitment to high quality work, customer service and increased internal controls.

Leighton’s last position was the Chief Financial Officer at IFS Group, a securities firm, prior to that, he held positions at Clark Atlanta University as the Associate Vice President and Controller, the Controller and the Director of profit clients. His career experience includes oversight and responsibility for the direct management of accounting operations, financial reporting, financial audits, including A-133, entity compliance, treasury, acquisitions, project management, risk management, business valuations, Sarbanes Oxley, and system implementations.

Leighton received his B.B.A. degree, cum laude, in Accounting from Baruch College in New York, moved to Atlanta over 20 years ago and maintains an active Georgia-issued CPA license.

Sujith Cherukumilli

Legislative and Research Analyst

As the Legislative and Research Analyst at the Southern Education Foundation, Sujith supports the Director of Government Affairs and the Director of Research and Policy on organizational strategy, legislative research, and stakeholder engagement tactics critical to advancing SEF’s mission.

A native of the Metro Atlanta area, Sujith brings a range of experience in policy, K-12 education, and higher education to SEF. Sujith previously served as a Public Policy Fellow in the Baton Rouge Office of the Mayor-President, where he helped manage the implementation of Cradle to K, an early childhood parent engagement initiative in the city’s Head Start system. In the summer of 2019, Sujith completed a Leadership for Educational Equity fellowship at SEF and became acquainted with the organization’s mission and values through his work. Prior to moving back to the South, Sujith taught 7th Grade English in Las Vegas for two years as a Teach For America corps member. During his time as a teacher, Sujith assisted the Nevada State Democratic Party with their successful 2018 midterm election efforts; completed a legislative internship in the D.C. office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV); helped start and served as the Vice President of the South Asian Young Professionals Alliance, a Las Vegas-based organization geared toward extending opportunities for political and civic engagement to young South Asian professionals; and worked closely with two colleagues at his school site to plan and execute his school’s first-ever 8th grade Washington, D.C. trip. As an undergraduate, Sujith served as a New Student Advisor for incoming first year and transfer students.

Sujith earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Public Affairs from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2017, where his breadth of on-campus involvements led to his selection as the student commencement speaker, and his M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in 2019.

Danielle Harris

Research and Development Associate

Danielle Harris is the Research and Development Associate at the Southern Education Foundation, where she helps to advance research priorities and supports funding efforts. Danielle holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia Southern University and possesses more than a decade of experience in education through her previous work with Atlanta Public Schools. While there, she served as a Site Director where she revamped an out-of-school enrichment curriculum that aligned with the development needs of the students enrolled in the program. Additionally, her work led to three out-of-school time programs becoming nationally accredited through the Council on Accreditation. Outside of her professional work experience, Danielle volunteers with the United Way of Greater Atlanta as a member of their Youth Advisory Council with the Opportunity Youth initiative.

Raegan Johnson

Leadership Development Program Associate

Raegan Johnson serves as the Leadership Development Program Associate at the Southern Education Foundation, where she supports the Director of Leadership Development in program design and implementation. Before joining SEF, Raegan served as a Graduate Assistant for the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. There she assisted in the processing of discrimination complaints and the delivery of trainings and events to enhance campus diversity. Previous internships include the Department of Educational Leadership and the Office of Diversity and International Affairs at Tennessee State University, where she received her B.B.A. in Management. She recently completed her M.P.A. in Nonprofit Management in December 2018 at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Chandra Halstead

Office Manager

Chandra Halstead is an Office Manager for the Southern Education Foundation. Ms. Halstead currently provides executive & logistical support for the Office of the President & Corporate Development. Prior to joining SEF, Chandra was the Overseas Grants Assistant for the Ford Foundation’s Office of Management Services, providing administrative, logistical, and consultant support for overseas offices located in Hanoi, Johannesburg, and New Delhi. Chandra received an Associate’s Degree in Executive Secretarial Science from the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

Stephanie Flowers

Advocacy and Community Organizing Manager

Stephanie Flowers joined the Southern Education Foundation as the Advocacy and Community Organizing Manager. Her work focuses on advancing education equity for Black and Brown students in the South by increasing the advocacy capacity of grassroots organizations. Stephanie has 15 years of experience in building the capacity of grassroots organizers and assisting neighborhood organizations and residents through community change efforts, capacity building, and peer networking programs. She attended Atlanta Area Technical School and received her J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership certification from the University of Georgia, Troy State – Family Development Credential.