Our Board

The ACE Awareness Foundation Board of Directors embodies the spirit of community and the diverse landscape of Memphis. As the highest leadership body of the organization, the board conducts strategic and organizational planning activities as well as fundraising and resource development efforts. It members also serve as ambassadors to the Foundation, working to increase its reach and influence, and enhance its public image.



Named 2020 Woman of the Year by Girls Inc., Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams, principal and founder of Standpoint Consulting, LLC, is a native Memphian who got her start in Memphis City Schools. She has served as special assistant for strategy and planning at LeMoyne-Owen College, a program officer at Pyramid Peak Foundation, and director of collaborative action with Seeding Success, the Shelby County collective impact effort focused on improving cradle-to-career outcomes. Dr. Johnson-Williams took advantage of professional development opportunities with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to sharpen her skills in results-based leadership. She is now an advanced practitioner.

Dr. Johnson-Williams was an assistant professor in the College of Human Resources and Education at West Virginia University. She began her career as a researcher for the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban school districts located in Washington, D.C. She received a PhD in educational policy studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MEd in secondary education from George Washington University, and a BA in economics and French from Wellesley College. She is the board chair and co-founder of Whole Child Strategies, Inc., an organization that supports Memphis communities disproportionately affected by poverty. By collaborating with neighborhood schools and businesses, as well as local and national non-profits, the organization seeks to create economic equity for residents, social stability for families, and educational success for students.



Melissa Russell is a native Memphian, who got her start in public accounting at KPMG after completing her Masters of Accounting at the University of Memphis. She was with KPMG for ten years as a senior tax manager working with multi-national companies on complex tax transactions. She left public accounting in 2013 to join the Pyramid Peak Foundation as the Chief Financial Officer. The Pyramid Peak Foundation is a private foundation focused on improving the lives of women and children through education, women’s health initiatives, and improvement economic opportunities.

Melissa Russell is currently the treasurer for the ACE Awareness Foundation, an operating foundation to educate Greater Memphis about adverse childhood experiences, support families in creating safe and supportive environments for children and change policies and practices to prevent and mitigate ACEs.



A passionate, tireless advocate for children and families for more than 30 years. Barbara Holden Nixon is a native Memphian who founded the Prevention Wrap-Around Services Program for the Memphis and Shelby County Children’s Community Services Agency, where she then served as executive director. Ms. Nixon later became founding director of the First Years Institute, a nonprofit early childhood collaborative based at LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center. She is also a founder of Shelby County’s Books from Birth, an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which promotes kindergarten readiness by providing age-appropriate books for all children from birth to age five.

In 2015, Ms. Nixon established and served as the inaugural board chair for the ACE Awareness Foundation. Over the years, she has served on a number of state and regional committees that have addressed children’s issues. She served two terms on the board of The Med, now Regional One Health, was a member of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s Books from Birth Cabinet, the board of trustees at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, and the University of Tennessee School of Social Work Board of Visitors.

Ms. Nixon is a recipient of the BRIDGES Community Connector Award and, in 2011, she received the Mary F. Todd Advocate of the Year Award from Memphis-Shelby County Children and Youth Council. In 2015, she received the Jim Pryor Child Advocacy Award from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth and the BE THE DREAM Legacy Award, honoring individuals whose lives have embodied the spirit and legacy of service, sacrifice, and hope that defined the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2017, Ms. Nixon received the Legends Award from the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, which pays tribute to innovative women whose work embodies the mission of the foundation—to create a better community through passion for education, the arts, philanthropy, advocacy, social justice, and civil rights.


As former Shelby County Chief Public Defender, Stephen Bush oversaw the public defender’s office, which provides legal representation to citizens accused of criminal conduct that can result in a loss of freedom. He is the architect of The Jericho Project, launched more than a decade ago and considered one of the most innovative jail diversion programs in the country for people with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders. In 2015, Jericho was one of eight U.S. programs that received the national Innovations in Criminal Justice Award by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Center for Court Innovation. Mr. Bush is a national expert on the topic and has spoken at numerous conferences in the decade since Jericho began.
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Bush grew up in the South, the son of an Episcopal priest and a public school teacher. After graduating from the University of Memphis School of Law, he joined the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, where he served for more than 20 years. In 2010, Mr. Bush was appointed the 10th Public Defender of Shelby County, leading the largest criminal defense law firm in Tennessee.

He is married to the Rev. Katherine M. Bush, the chaplain at St Mary’s Episcopal School. They attend Grace St Luke’s Episcopal Church and have been active in several Memphis congregations, including Calvary, the Church of the Holy Communion, and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Mr. Bush was active in parish and diocesan youth ministry for more than a decade and led numerous mission trips for youth to live and work among the Lakota in South Dakota.


Cindy Ettingoff is chief executive officer of Memphis Area Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance in civil matters to people in Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby, and Tipton Counties. MALS helps individuals and families facing critical — sometimes life-threatening — situations such as domestic violence; mortgage foreclosure, eviction or homelessness; wrongful death or denial of health care, food stamps, unemployment compensation, and other assistance; consumer fraud or predatory lending; and special challenges of children and the elderly.

Ms. Ettingoff has been a practicing attorney in Memphis and the surrounding areas for more than 25 years. In private practice, she primarily focused on labor and employment law and mediation. A graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Ms. Ettingoff is a member of the American Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, Memphis Bar Association (Alternative Dispute Resolution), and the Association for Women Attorneys (Access to Justice Committee). In addition, she serves as a pro bono mediator through the Mid-South Community Justice and Mediation Center.


An assistant professor at the University of Memphis Lowenberg College of Nursing, Dr. Marie Gill has experience in cardiovascular nursing, patient education, and nursing education. She teaches undergraduate nursing students in evidence-based practice, nursing research, and transitions into professional nursing practice. Her research focuses on health literacy interventions to promote sobriety in Drug Court Diversion Program clients. She has worked with counselors and treatment providers in the Shelby County Drug Court Program to identify clients at risk for dropping out of the program. Dr. Gill expanded her program of research as co-principle investigator of a grant-supported project to integrate adverse childhood experiences research across the university’s undergraduate and graduate nursing curriculum.

Dr. Gill currently serves on the Healthy Memphis U Committee, Undergraduate Council, Dean’s Advisory Committee, PhD Program Task Force, NCLEX Task Force, and Culture of Health Team. She also co-leads LCON’s Student Research Forum for undergraduate and graduate students.


Dr. Cassandra Howard is Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital. She works with physicians and hospital administrators in the 319-bed full-service hospital to ensure patients are receiving the highest quality care. Dr. Howard was previously the medical director for the emergency department at Methodist Germantown. She is a 2014 graduate of the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Physician Leadership Academy.

Prior to her current position, Dr. Howard was medical director of emergency medicine at the Germantown hospital. She is also an assistant professor of advanced practice and doctoral studies at the College of Nursing, University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She has more than 29 years of exemplary service in the United States Air Force in the Air National Guard and is currently the senior medical officer for Tennessee. Dr. Howard holds the rank of colonel and serves as the state air surgeon assigned to Joint Force Headquarters in Nashville.