Rhoshunda Kelly, the new Commissioner of Banking and Consumer Finance sat down with our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to share her journey to top regulator in the state of Mississippi
In March 2021, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced Rhoshunda Kelly as the state’s newest Commissioner of Banking and Consumer Finance with the Mississippi Department of Banking and Consumer Finance.
From a humble start in rural Reform, Mississippi, Kelly has nearly 20 years of experience as a bank regulator, accomplishing things she never thought she could. “I wanted more—we were poor growing up, but I’m here. I have had a great career that has given me so much despite how and where I was raised.”
The first Black female to serve Mississippi in this capacity sat down with us to share her journey, views on diversity, equity and inclusion and how we are all players in shifting the perceptions of Mississippi.
On achieving success
Diversity, equity and inclusion pave the way for full opportunity. Kelly believes everyone should be afforded an opportunity to succeed, but noted that diversity is not simply about racial differences but is also a reflection of a person’s past and socioeconomic status. “As a little girl, my parents told me I could be anything, always saying ‘it’s up to you.’ That should be the case for everyone, a life with no barriers,” said Kelly. No journey is successful without hard work and determination.
As a Black woman in her industry and role, it could be easy to dwell on differences, but the Mississippi State alumna and LSU School of Banking graduate chooses not to. “I am typically the only person of color in the room at events—I don’t notice any more, or it’s just not the first thing I notice,” said Kelly attributing this viewpoint to her upbringing and career journey.
“Growing up poor forced me to always step outside of what I knew.” As a first generation college graduate, Kelly admits she often questioned herself because she didn’t have family or friends who could give her advice because they never experienced what she was facing. Even as a young professional she did not fully comprehend what was possible. “My journey came with questioning if I made the right steps, self-doubt, and worry because I couldn’t see what I could be when I started out at 22.”
Kelly understands that there are likely others who face this outsider feeling, whether on their educational or career journey, and she works to channel her experiences as a way to attract and retain diverse talent in the state of Mississippi and her State Agency. I want the younger generation to know that there are some great opportunities in Mississippi.
On attracting diverse talent
Many view Kelly and her appointment to commissioner as the type of change the state of Mississippi needs to further diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to lead this agency and play such a vital role in Mississippi’s financial sector. I honestly did not view this opportunity as a change until someone pointed it out. My life journey has been about building a better future for my family, leaving a legacy for my children, and changing a generation. The idea of being a part of a bigger change is humbling,” described Kelly. “I just want people to know their potential, to see who they can be or who they want to be,” shared Kelly, a direct link to her personal view that with diversity, seeing is believing.
That manifestation mindset drives Kelly’s approach to recruiting young minds to her agency, sharing her career journey and promoting that these individuals have the opportunity to represent people who look, think and have experiences similar to their own. “It is important that we create a diverse slate, by hiring excited and talented young adults that strike the right balance representing our state, industry and where we want to go in the future.”
In addition to diversity efforts, Kelly shared that inclusion is a vital piece of the puzzle for successful teams. “Women face many challenges in the workforce for several reasons, so we have to be focused on creating an environment that is flexible while remaining aware of the barriers,” explained Kelly while acknowledging that deploying measures to break down barriers takes time and commitment.
“The people make Mississippi special. They are genuine, grounded and want the best for our state,” said Kelly, reflecting on the social and racial disruptions of this past year and Mississippi’s historical response to the unrest and change.
A prime example is the 2020 vote to replace the Mississippi state flag. "Mississippi was at a crossroads and the decision was made that a change in the flag was necessary to move the state forward,” said Kelly. “I believe this decision will have a lasting impact on future generations. By changing the flag, Mississippi is on a path to being a better state today and in the future.”
The flag change was one milestone, but the road map is long. Kelly believes that by working together with open dialogue and a “Just Do It” mindset, we can continue moving her home state forward. “Make room for those things outside what you know and bring awareness to others about the things you do know,” shared Kelly. “The past year made us all uncomfortable; we questioned how others see us, or how we see other people, but we must lead with action.” Kelly believes a commitment to change through example helps shape choices we had no idea existed, shining a light in dark spots.
Kelly’s journey from childhood to professional regulator, wife, mother and leader is full of determination, perseverance and pushing beyond the visible and stereotypes. Kelly says it best, “I choose to dig into me because regret is something I never want. I can live with my decisions if I have no regrets.”
At Hancock Whitney, we celebrate CHANGE champions like Rhoshunda Kelly who are leading us into a more inclusive tomorrow.