Vangela Wade Named as MCJ’s New President and CEO

The Mississippi Center for Justice Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Vangela M. Wade, a leading attorney and educator, will become its next president and CEO, effective January 15th, 2020. Reilly Morse, who has held the position for the past six years, will become MCJ’s general counsel.

Attorney Wade’s appointment will ensure that MCJ can expand its successful advocacy for racial and economic justice in Mississippi while strengthening its focus on building institutional infrastructure.

“The board of directors is delighted over the election of Vangela Wade as president/CEO of MCJ,” said Martha Bergmark, founder/senior counsel and board member. “Vangela brings more than twenty years of legal experience in her home state of Mississippi, a record of strong leadership of MCJ’s board, and deep commitment to equal opportunity and dignity for all Mississippians. We are confident she is the right person to build on MCJ’s current momentum and lead us into our next stage of growth.”

“I am delighted and sincerely moved to be entrusted with the privilege of this role, for an organization committed to pursuing legal strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide,” Attorney Wade said. “I believe I’m an ordinary person with the opportunity to do extraordinary work in my home state.”

Attorney Wade is a native Mississippian with a long-standing connection to MCJ—and long admired Bergmark and MCJ’s record of fighting for racial and economic justice across the state. She is eager to tackle the conditions that keep her home state ranked at the bottom of measures of health, education and income.

Wade grew up on her grandfather’s small farm in northeast Mississippi, where she helped pick cotton and harvest sweet potatoes. She remembers using whites-only water fountains and having to enter doctors’ offices through a back door marked colored-only. Attorney Wade said, “I have witnessed significant advancements toward racial and economic equity in Mississippi but we have work to do. I want to help lead that work.”

The issue of access to health care is one she knows personally. Wade started law school in 1993 as a recently-divorced single mother looking for a way of building a more comfortable life for herself and her son. It wasn’t easy: a doctor discovered a lump in her breast shortly before she started her first semester of classes. She had no health care insurance and could not afford a biopsy, and she feared a diagnosis of an underlying health issue would be treated as a preexisting condition. She didn’t get a biopsy until after graduation. The lump turned out to be malignant, but chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatment have kept her cancer-free for more than 20 years.

Attorney Wade has gone on to have a distinguished career that included stints as a law clerk for a judge on the Mississippi court of appeals; a prosecutor for the Madison County District Attorney’s Office; and an adjunct law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. She currently runs her own firm, which focuses on family law, heirs property, estate planning and administration.

She joined the MCJ board in 2016 and has served as secretary/treasurer, chair of the audit committee, and chair of the board of directors.

As she assumes her new role, Reilly Morse will continue his service to MCJ as general counsel where he will provide strategy and guidance on current and future legal challenges. During his tenure as president, MCJ added a robust impact litigation initiative in memory of board member George Riley and two new campaign areas: immigration and food security. Under his leadership, MCJ also pursued voting rights, election discrimination, and racial profiling cases and defended the rights of LGBTQ and immigrant communities.

The board also announces with pleasure that Walter Boone will lead MCJ’s board of directors. Boone, a partner in Balch & Bingham, LLP, joined MCJ’s board in 2010. He has served as secretary/treasurer, chair of the audit committee, and vice chair.