Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald is Director of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO), and also serves as the Regional Administrator for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic & Social Justice (SRBWI). SRBWI operates in 77 counties across the Black Belts of Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Delta Mississippi. CDF-SRO also serves as the lead for the W.K. Kellogg funded Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) Initiative.
In 1970 she was employed by the Atlanta-based Southeastern Public Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee. In this position she participated in the Children’s Defense Fund’s Children Out of School in America, a national study of exclusion of children from public elementary and secondary schools; and monitored Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In 1976, she was hired as southern director for the Children’s Foundation, which educated citizens and members of Congress about the need for expanded access to federal food programs.
In 1982 Ms. Fitzgerald became a project director for the Southern Regional Council working with rural electric power customers in 12 southern states to increase minority representation on rural electric cooperative boards. Moving back to her native Mississippi, she served as former Congressman Mike Espy’s District Director from the beginning of his first term in 1987 until she joined the Clinton for President Campaign in 1992.
Before joining the Children’s Defense Fund, Ms. Fitzgerald was appointed White House Liaison and Executive Assistant to then Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy by President Bill Clinton in January 1993. Shortly thereafter, she was named the Department’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she worked with local, state and tribal governments; coordinated the Administration’s long-term recovery of midwestern states affected by The Great Flood of 1993; and was a member of USDA’s executive review panel selecting rural Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities.
Ms. Fitzgerald serves as a board member for the Mississippi Head Start Association, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the advisory committee for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, and is a member of the State Children’s Welfare Coalition and the Global Women’s Action Network for Children. She also received honorary membership to Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs & Administration from Mississippi State University in 1999. Ms. Fitzgerald holds a B.A. in sociology from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the proud mother of four children, Rashida, Yusef, Layla and Joi.