Board of Directors

Nicole Porter

Director of Advocacy for the Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, Nicole is the former director of the ACLU's Prison & Jail Accountability Project (PJAP). PJAP's mission was to monitor the conditions of confinement in Texas jails and prisons.

Jacob Flowers

Jacob is a native of Shelby County, Tennessee, and the Executive Director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in Memphis. Jacob worked with Grassroots Leadership in the campaign against privatization and expansion of the Shelby County Jail and Penal Farm.

Millard "Mitty" Owens
Program Chair

Mitty has served on a number of boards linking social and economic justice and has worked in community economic development for the Ford Foundation, New York City government, the Center for Community Self-Help in North Carolina, the Overseas Development Network in Zimbabwe, and New York University. He was a W.K. Kellogg National Fellow, with a focus on culture and social change.

Megan Quattlebaum
Development Chair

Megan is a graduate of the Yale Law School, now working with Attorney and Arthur Liman Public Interest Law Fellow at the Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, PA. Starting in September 2011, Megan will be working as a law clerk to Judge Julio Fuentes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Megan interned at Grassroots Leadershipas a student at Sarah Lawrence College; at the age of 19, she not only researched and wrote our first “Education Versus Incarceration” report, but organized its release of and media strategy.

Laura Markle Downton
Personnel Chair

Laura Markle Downton has served as National Coordinator for Restorative Justice for the United Methodist Church, working to strengthen and mobilize networks among communities of faith engaged in the struggle to end mass incarceration, support private prison divestment campaigns, and promote restorative prevention and alternatives to incarceration.  Laura completed her M.Div. studies at Princeton Theological Seminary specializing in women’s studies. Prior to theological study, she worked in the areas of employment and housing justice and legal services with grassroots organizations in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

Silky Shah
Finance Chair

Silky grew up in Houston and became active as a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. After college she worked with Grassroots Leadership as a student/youth organizer, educating students nationally about university connections to the private prison industry. She later spent six months in Gujarat, India volunteering with organizations focused on women's rights, communalism and displacement. Silky recently worked as an Outreach Organizer at the independent news hour, Democracy Now!, and has just joined the Detention Watch Network as their Organizing and Outreach Coordinator. She also currently co-produces Asia Pacific Forum, a progressive pan-Asian radio show on Pacifica's WBAI in New York.

Gabriela Benitez

Gaby was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated with her family to Memphis at age 6. Living most of her life as an undocumented student and with her family currently facing the deportation of her father, Gaby has a strong commitment to immigrant community organizing. Gaby was a co-founder for Youth for Youth, an undocumented immigrant youth group in the Memphis area, and served the West Tennessee Organizer for the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).  She currently serves as the Domestic Worker Program Coordinator for Latino Union of Chicago and is a member of Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) a project of Undocumented Illinois that works on stopping deportations of individuals in the state.  She is a graduate of the University of Memphis. 

Michael Espinoza

Michael Espinoza was born and raised in Houston, Texas.  He attended Milby High School, Franklin & Marshall College (B.A. in Sociology), and the University of Houston (M.A. in Sociology).  Michael taught high school at the Raul Yzaguirre School for Success, where he began organizing students around the DREAM Act.

He also helped coordinate Houston United, a grassroots activist coalition which has organized Houston’s immigrant’s rights mobilizations.  Michael has worked SEIU Local 1- Houston Justice for Janitors Campaign and as the Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota.  Michael now serves as Houston City Director for Stand for Children, an organization that works to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education. Michael currently resides in Southwest Houston with his wife, Maria, and their two children, Alex and Cathy.

Christopher Petrella

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley currently writing a book-length manuscript entitled Courts, Contracts, and Corporate Corrections: The Paradox of the Private Prison State. He's also co-directing a national campaign aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to the for-profit, private corrections industry.  Christopher has collaborated with organizations including the ACLU's National Prison Project, Harvard Law School's Institute for Race & Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Prison Legal News.  His work has appeared in Forbes, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NBC, and a variety of other publications. He holds degrees from Bates College and Harvard University.

June Rostan

June serves on the national staff of the AFL-CIO. She served for 17 years as the director of the Southern Empowerment Project and has worked on the staff of the Highlander Center. June was a founder of GIFT Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training. She has also worked for the Coal Employment Project, a national organization of women coal miners.

Arjun Sethi

Arjun Sethi is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a frequent commentator on civil rights and social justice related issues. He has previously represented victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers, national security detainees, and criminal defendants on death row.

His commentary has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Christian Science Monitor, and other news outlets. Arjun is a graduate of NYU Law School and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Pete Tepley

A native of Louisiana, Pete is a private attorney in Birmingham. He was formerly a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, where he specialized in lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan.

Gail Tyree

Gail Tyree is the Executive Director of the historic AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis, TN.  She boasts over 30 years of Faith, Labor and Community organizing experience, including serving as Grassroots Leadership campaign director and organizer for many years.  Gail was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow.  She is currently a board member of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association.

Gail Tyree is a native Floridian. She is the mother of three adult children and resides in Southaven, MS with her husband Ronald. She is an active member of Liberation Community Church and a committed voice to faith, labor and community.

Gislaine Williams

Gislaine Williams coordinates the case management department at The Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, a non-profit organization that serves international refugees in Houston, TX. She previously served as the Statewide Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU of Texas, leading the field organizing efforts for the organization’s criminal justice and youth rights campaigns. She has worked in refugee resettlement in Austin, TX and as a worker advocate for the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston. She coordinated advocacy efforts to end immigration detention as a student organizer at Rice University and the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. A native of Honduras, Gislaine grew up in Houston and has participated in a number of grassroots campaigns related to immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, environmental justice, and death penalty abolition.