Meet AIIJ’s Board of Directors

The Board is the policy-making and oversight body of AIIJ. Members are Brett Blackledge, Brant Houston, Mark Kelly, Jerome Lanning, Carol Nunnelley, Emily Jones Rushing, and Odessa Woolfolk.  

Brett BlackledgeBrett Blackledge

Government and Investigations Editor at The Naples Daily News in Florida, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting while working with The Birmingham News in 2007. His Pulitzer Prize-winning work detailed nepotism and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system. The series also earned Blackledge a national public service award from Associated Press Media Editors.

Blackledge began his 28-year career as a journalist in 1986 with The Associated Press and later joined the Washington bureau of AP as a national writer focusing on investigative and enterprise projects. At the Washington bureau, he worked with an AP team that received a Scripps Howard Foundation award for coverage of a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

Prior to moving to Naples in 2014, Blackledge was Public Service and Investigations Editor at The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware.

houston_brant1Brant Houston

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting in the department of journalism at the University of Illinois. Prior to becoming the Knight Chair in 2007, he served for more than a decade as the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors and a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Before joining IRE, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at daily newspapers. Houston was part of the newsroom staff of The Kansas City Star that won a Pulitzer Prize for its work on the 1981 walkway collapse at the city’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Houston is chair of the board of directors of Institute for Nonprofit News, a coalition of nonprofit journalism centers he helped found. He is author of “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide” and “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.”

Houston’s grandparents lived in Birmingham’s College Hills neighborhood, and he was a visitor to the city during his growing-up years.

HOH_4661Mark Kelly

Has written about the history, politics and culture of Birmingham and Alabama for most of the past quarter-century. He is now publisher of Weld for Birmingham, a media company that publishes a free weekly newspaper and maintains an online news and information site and blogging network ( Online and in print, Weld, which was launched in 2011, reports on news, politics, arts, culture, entertainment and other items of interest in the Birmingham region. Kelly also is lead columnist for Weld.

He was a reporter and city editor for Black & White, an alternative news weekly, from 1993-98, and worked as an independent writer. He is the author of A Powerful Presence: The Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and the History of Birmingham, which Alabama historian Leah Rawls Atkins called “the best narrative history we have of the city and region.”

Kelly also wrote Toward a New Birmingham, a monograph on the life and times of Birmingham’s first African-American mayor, Richard Arrington, Jr., published originally in the Birmingham Weekly. He currently is at work on another book, Back to Nature: A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain.

Kelly also has worked in economic development, government and public relations. He began his professional career with the Birmingham Metropolitan Development Board, from 1987-1993. From 1999-2003, Kelly was a senior advisor to Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid and director of the city’s Office of Public Information. In that job, he helped create TechBirmingham, a public-private partnership to support growth of technology-related industries in the Birmingham area.

Kelly left City Hall in 2003 to return to writing and public relations consulting. In 2006, he served as campaign manager for Patricia Todd, whose election to the Alabama House of Representatives made her the first openly gay elected official in Alabama history.

LanningJerry3520xc (2)Jerome Lanning

Birmingham attorney who is active in the work of Alabama non-profits. Lanning is of counsel with Butler Snow LLP. He is in the firm’s finance and real estate group.

Lanning also is Vice President and General Counsel of Freshwater Land Trust, a Birmingham-based group that acquires, conserves and connects open spaces that are critical for the protection of rivers and streams and that provide recreation for the community.

Prior to joining Butler Snow this year, Lanning practiced with Johnston Barton Procter & Rose LLP in Birmingham for 49 years. He graduated from Amherst College and received his law degree from the University of Alabama.

IMG_0195Carol Nunnelley

Alabama journalist who led enterprise and investigative reporting at The Birmingham News over three decades, coverage that addressed the city and state’s intractable problems of race, poverty and inept and corrupt government. She was managing editor of The News from 1992 through 2000.

She joined Associated Press Media Editors in 2001 to develop programs that worked with newsrooms across the country, including National Credibility Roundtables Project and NewsTrain. The Roundtables Project worked with news organizations to improve trust between journalists and the public.  NewsTrain reached more than 4,000 reporters and editors with affordable regional training.  In 2008, Nunnelley received APME’s top award for working for the betterment of journalism. 

Beginning as a reporter at The News in 1966, Nunnelley covered Birmingham’s evolving race relations, a subject historically neglected by the newspaper; exposed neglect and abuse in Alabama’s segregated juvenile corrections system; and uncovered misuse of federal dollars intended to alleviate poverty. 

As managing editor, Nunnelley oversaw  projects on failures in state child protection services and in the oversight of facilities for the elderly; investigations into the application of the death penalty in Alabama and the poor performance of state schools; and reporting on health problems of Gulf War veterans.

Nunnelley is the author of Building Trust in the News, a best-practices guidebook for editors. Since 2009, Nunnelley has been a teacher, writer and editor. She edited Ethnic Media: Their Influence on Politics and Participation, wrote a biography for young readers of the first woman to serve on Alabama’s Supreme Court, and collaborated with  H. Brandt Ayers, publisher and columnist at the Anniston Star, on a collection of his writings over 50 years. 

erushing2014Emily Jones Rushing

Combines a background in journalism with experience in nonprofit work, retiring from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham as Director of Communications and Marketing in 2013.

Her work at the Community Foundation included leadership in developing national guidelines for disaster recovery and in creating national standards for community foundation marketing materials and communications. During her time at The Birmingham News, she was deeply involved in developing neighborhood coverage and served as the first Metro Editor in 1978. She was part of a team of reporters recognized by Associated Press for coverage of the effects of an extreme heat wave in 1981. In the late 1980s, she edited 100-year anniversary books for The Birmingham News and her alma mater, Converse College.

A long-time Birmingham resident, she is currently a member of the Alumni Board of Converse College, the Birmingham YMCA Association Board, Advisory Board of the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center at UAB, and the Forest Park-South Avondale Neighborhood Advisory Board.

img005Odessa Woolfolk

Known for her work as an educator, public administrator and civic activist. During her extensive career with the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), she directed the Center for Urban Affairs, taught urban history, was staff associate in the UAB center for International Programs and was Assistant to the President for Community Relations. At her retirement from UAB in 1993, the university established the Odessa Woolfolk Presidential Community Service Award given annually to a member of the faculty.

Her professional experience also includes: Birmingham high school teacher, senior administrative positions with the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity and with community development organizations in Utica and Albany, New York; New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Woolfolk is recognized as one of Birmingham’s and the region’s most influential citizens because of her professional and volunteer service in the fields of housing, education, civil and human rights, community development and public welfare. She is known as one who crossed racial, ethnic, geographic and socio-economic boundaries to promote civic engagement, community leadership and race relations.

She was State Chair of the National Conference of Christian and Jews, first African American President of Operation New Birmingham’s Board of Directors and a founding member of Leadership Birmingham and Leadership Alabama.

She was the driving force behind establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and was its opening administrator. She is its Emerita President and Board Chair. The Institute named a gallery in her honor.

A Birmingham native, she graduated from the A.H. Parker High School; earned a B.A. Degree from Talladega College in Alabama; a Master’s from Occidental College in California, and has pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago and Yale University. She was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor and the Birmingham Gallery of Distinguished Citizens and has received honorary doctorates from Talladega College and Occidental College, of which she is a graduate, as well as others.

Her personal credo is: “Only enlightened, intelligent, personal concern for the world in which we live can solve the problems of our day.”