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Building a lasting legacy on the Coast

Keva Scott, Laura Sullivan Ethridge and Dr. LaQuanta M. Nelson

Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture | Makeup by Bria Fowler, Elle Louise, LLC & Brooke Soto, Electric Lady Hair Studio | Location: Hancock Whitney Plaza

Driven to make a difference

Hancock Whitney’s Laura Sullivan Ethridge shows resilience is her superpower

“The most important part of success is filling your life with the love and laughter of family, friends and coworkers.”

When Boston native Laura Sullivan Ethridge says she was born “Boston strong” and became “New York resilient,” she can back up that claim. She was living in Manhattan when 9/11 happened. Her office was next to the World Trade Center.

“That day and the months that followed taught me the importance of resilience,” she recalls. “Many of us walked miles to safety, finding out in the ensuing days and weeks who had lost loved ones.”

Working for American Express at the time, she had to commute to New Jersey for months, without any of her work belongings like computers or files.

“We all rallied to help each other; we pieced together the files we needed; we rebuilt work strategies to support our clients, and we got back to work,” Ethridge says. “People really pulled together to support each other and build back, one step at a time. Every time I face adversity, I think of that time, and it gives me the courage and inspiration to work through it.”


She has since needed to rely on that strength and resilience. In 2012, her husband, Steve, suffered a stroke. It was a scary time. She worried about her husband and her sons, who were tweens. But she was awed by her husband’s tenacity and determination to return to work as fast as he could.

“We lived far from family, but they stepped up and rotated traveling to help us rebuild our lives,” Ethridge recalls. “I reminded myself of my 9/11 experience, taking it one day at a time and visualizing the long game. He recovered quickly, and we recognized our long-term goal was to find a way to move closer to family in a place that felt more like home.”

That goal led them to Mississippi, her husband’s home state, and today, she and Steve are happily settled in Pass Christian (their sons are grown and living in other states). She works as chief marketing officer for Hancock Whitney Bank, where she is fulfilling her desire to have a positive impact. That desire is what drew her to financial services, because, as she explains: “In its purest form, it’s about helping people pursue their dreams.”

Ethridge says she is hardwired to be passionate about her work and about leading a life of service.

“My family set a high bar by always showing up to celebrate life’s big and small moments,” she says. “My parents and grandparents were very ‘values driven,’ and they wanted to ensure the next generation of our family had the support to succeed in education while also learning the importance of a strong work ethic. We were expected to do chores, play team sports, get summer jobs and help others when we could.”


Ethridge’s grandparents, father and mother all believed in the importance of serving others and doing so with passion.

“For Grandpa Sullivan, that meant raising his hand to fight in World War II; my Grandpa Maines served as a Philadelphia police officer, and both my grandmothers were educators, writing math books, teaching the blind and deaf and turning every life experience into a thoughtful teaching moment,” she says. “My father became a trial lawyer, a judge and then a law professor and had the courage to do the right thing. “My mother was probably my greatest influence and often was called ‘a force.’ Her courage, coupled with passion, led her to co-found the first purposefully integrated preschool in the country. She also mentored at-risk teens and volunteered for countless committees, all while getting her master’s degree. Despite all of that, she never missed our field hockey or football games. She mastered the ‘to-do list’ and instilled in us to be helpers and hard workers. She did all this with a twinkle in her eye.”

Ethridge is proud of the values instilled in her and of the path those values led her to take. She was in the first class of AmeriCorps in 1994, where she served at an organization that helped low-income women get the training to run their own business.

“It was just an amazing experience to move to a new city with real challenges, work in such diversity and live off a very small wage,” she recalls. “I can still recall how I budgeted for my daily meals, my bi-weekly outings, all while staying on my $11,000 annual budget. I learned a lot about how important small and micro businesses can be to the fabric of our economy. I learned about working among a peer group that was incredibly diverse—it was exciting to be part of a movement that was on a national scale.

It was that first post-college experience that gave Ethridge a sense of giving back to the community.

“That call to service was so deep,” she says. “There is a reason I ended up married to a man who was in the Navy for so long.”

She began her own career path in the nonprofit and government sectors, where she worked in communications. She learned leadership from John Gardner, a Stanford professor who talked a lot about the value of leaders understanding the inner workings of government, nonprofits and the business world. “That got me on the path towards business school,” Ethridge says. “Once there, I had to think about leveraging my experience to open those next doors. The storytelling of communications linked nicely with marketing.”

She landed a job with American Express, a brand that attracted her because of its stellar reputation as a training ground for customer-centric marketing and leadership development.

“From there, each opportunity kept opening doors” Ethridge says. “Looking at the journey to date, landing at Hancock Whitney feels like such a wonderful link to all those zigs and zags,”

And the job has been a perfect fit for her and for the bank. Under her guidance, Hancock Whitney has won several advertising and public relations awards.


While anyone would describe Ethridge as successful, she says success for its own sake hasn’t been her driving force.

“Don’t just chase the salary, but pursue a career where you can thrive, and adjust your financial expectations accordingly,” she says. “The most important part of success is filling your life with the love and laughter of family, friends and coworkers.”

Ethridge describes herself as a creative problem-solver who nudges with a smile and finds the laughter in everything.

“I’ve always been driven to make a difference,” she says. “I’m committed to my family, fr-amily (friends who are family) and team.”

Ethridge cites a book that holds meaning for her, Maya Angelou’s “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now,” and says she feels the same way about her experiences. She is a music lover who makes playlists for almost everything – a large team meeting, parties or just a car ride.

“Music is a great companion to all of life’s moments,” she says.

She loves walking the beach, hiking a trail with a view, taking a boat ride, writing and planning parties. Her hope for the future is simple, she says: “I am focused on doing the very best job I can at Hancock Whitney by keeping up with how technology enables us to better connect with our clients across our footprint, helping our communities thrive, attracting new clients and supporting young talent to develop into future leaders.”

Throughout her personal and professional experiences, Ethridge has learned to appreciate authenticity and transparency. She says it is important to “find cause to laugh and laugh loudly.”

Living intentionally

Boys & Girls Clubs’ CEO Keva Scott empowers youth, uplifts communities

“In my experience, the key to overcoming adversity lies in maintaining a clear vision of one’s life and goals, remaining adaptable to change and staying true to one’s core values.”

Keva Scott knows all too well how it feels to be labeled a “bad kid.”

“If you grow up like that, you must believe in yourself because no one else does …,” Scott says. “I am still that same little girl who wanted a better answer, so she asked more questions. I saw a way around the obstacles. I was not afraid of you, even if you were bigger.”

Scott is still meeting challenges fearlessly as CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, a position she has held since 2015. Reflecting on her 27-year career in youth development, she marvels at the way God has used a so-called “bad kid” to do so much good.

“I have a deep resilience and tenacity about life, and I think that all things are possible,” she says. “I love family. I love my kiddos! I love this work I do, and it fuels me.”


Scott maintains that she did not look for Boys & Girls Clubs; it found her. She wrote plays in college, and the daughter of the Clubs’ CEO starred in one of her shows, which led to an invite to come work for the organization.

Ever since, Scott has been on a mission to create opportunities and safe spaces where young people can learn, grow and succeed.

“The continual challenge and reward of making a positive difference in the lives of our youth is what has kept me motivated and committed to this field for nearly three decades,” she says. “The ability to influence and support children and teenagers, helping them realize their potential and overcome challenges, deeply resonated with a need I had growing up. Now, I get to see the transformative impact community programs can have on young lives.”

Since Scott took the helm, the Clubs’ impact has expanded to over 6,700 youth annually. Not one to falter in a crisis, she faced a $650,000 deficit during her first year and has since grown the budget to $4.3 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she kept the doors open, transforming facilities into virtual learning hubs for children of essential workers and expanding virtual programming.

“In my experience, the key to overcoming adversity lies in maintaining a clear vision of one’s life and goals, remaining adaptable to change and staying true to one’s core values,” she says. “These principles have not only helped me navigate difficulties, but also shaped my approach to leadership and life.”

Her tenure also has seen the addition of new club sites and innovative programs like S.T.E.A.M. MakerSpace Studios, music production studios, the ImPact mentoring program and a developmental sports league. A workforce development project is under way now that will serve young people ages 18-21, Scott notes proudly — “one of the few programs of its kind within the Boys & Girls Clubs Movement.”


With a youth development career that has spanned several states, Scott has developed programs that have reached tens of thousands of at-risk youths and secured millions in funding. As a National Training Associate for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, she has influenced many more beyond her immediate sphere. Her efforts have earned her numerous accolades, including Southeast CEO of the Year, Mississippi CEO of the Year, Sykes Leadership Award for the Southeast Region and the Forever Young Award.

“I love being part of the solution — creating environments that support and empower young people to reach their potential,” she says. “Moreover, my work is important because it helps build stronger communities. When young people are nurtured and supported, they become adults who contribute positively to society. They become leaders, innovators, and caretakers of the next generation.”

Scott not only sees potential in the burgeoning leaders at the Boys and Girls Clubs, but also in the Coast’s professionals and business owners. This is why she co-founded the Legacy Business League, a network designed to support minority entrepreneurship and provide resources for business development.

According to Scott, this initiative helps bridge gaps in access and fosters economic growth within the community. She also sits on the board of directors for Goodwill of South Mississippi and the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.

“Engaging in community service provides a platform to address social issues directly, helps build social cohesion and enriches our own lives through the act of helping others,” she says. “It’s a powerful way to initiate change and ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to succeed.”


Beyond being a visionary leader, Scott is anchored by her faith and intensely devoted to her family — namely her two goddaughters and her 10- and 9-year-old sons, whom she considers her greatest inspirations. Those who don’t know her well may be surprised to learn that Scott has a silly and spontaneous side and loves to joke and laugh. Outside of work, you can find her riding her bike, running, swimming or taking a quiet walk to process her thoughts.

Scott also enjoys game and movie nights with the kids, but lately, writing her dissertation has absorbed most of her downtime. Showing her commitment to lifelong learning, she’s pursuing her doctorate in human capital development at the University of Southern Mississippi and expected to graduate this year.

“I aim to continue supporting more individuals and businesses to achieve economic success and, in turn, contribute to their communities,” she says.

While Scott has accomplished much of what she set out to do in several organizations, she’s by no means finished. She doesn’t see success as an ultimate destination because she still strives to achieve more each day.

To others who desire success, Scott offers the following advice: “Live your life intentionally.”

“You are not here by mistake, so live your life like you were meant to be here,” she says. “Do not waste your time on earth, but be intentional with every moment.”

Redefining B.O.S.S.

Lifelong educator Dr. LaQuanta M. Nelson is breaking the mold

“I desire to open doors, kick through ceilings and open windows for other amazing women across all fields to experience elevation and freedom.”

After two decades in the education field, Dr. LaQuanta M. Nelson finally has realized and accepted that she is a unicorn.

“I haven’t and never will fit in the mold that others have for me,” says the CEO of The BOSS Educator brand. “Instead of viewing as a deficit, I know now that it’s my superpower.”

Nelson explains that BOSS is an acronym for bold, optimistic, spontaneous and substantial. A self-described Energizer Bunny, the Biloxi resident has learned over time that the proverbial glass is neither half full nor half empty, but actually refillable — and she has the power to refill it.

“I’m a masterpiece, a messy work of art,” she says. “And I’m on a mission to help others, through empowerment experiences, see that they are, too!


Time flies when you’re having fun, and Nelson scarcely can believe how fast her first 20 years in education have passed.

“My mother was and still is the greater teacher of my life,” Nelson says. “Her love of reading was passed on to me as a small child. She always had a book around, in her hand, and encouraged me to do the same.”

Her second-grade teacher showed her what it meant to teach with love, and then a high school teacher saw Nelson’s leadership potential and cheered her on. Combined, these influences drove her toward her destiny.

“As the product of a single mother growing up in poverty, I know the life-changing transformation that education can bring,” Nelson says. “According to all statistics, you should still be only calling me ‘Quana,’ which was my nickname growing up, and not ‘Dr. Nelson.’”

While education clearly was Nelson’s calling, she always envisioned it differently. To the Crystal Springs, Mississippi, native, learning is life, and it should be fun, impactful, empowering and inspiring. She has applied this philosophy to her roles as mentor, motivational speaker, consultant, teacher, assistant principal, principal, district-level New Teacher Academy coordinator — and now SHE-E-O of her own brand.

Nelson’s job titles may have changed, but her answer to the question “What do you do for a living?” never has. She proudly and emphatically replies, “I am a teacher!”

“The years have progressed, but I am still a teacher; the only thing that has changed are my students,” she says. “They were once sixth-grade students, but now they include administrators, teachers and so many leaders from across a wide variety of businesses.”


Throughout her career, Nelson has witnessed and experienced the many biases that women must endure to be viewed as equal. These struggles have fueled her with passion to champion other women and girls and help them become the best versions of themselves.

One way she does so is by hosting an annual girl’s empowerment conference called Camp Confidence, which is free to all participants.

“I believe that the earlier we can help our youth understand their amazing power and unlimited potential, the more we set the world up to a brighter, better place for all,” Nelson says.

The camp averages between 75-100 participants annually, ranging in age from 10 to 18. Throughout the event, the girls are equipped with strategies to build confidence, effectively communicate, resolve conflict peacefully and even refine their dining etiquette skills.

“Of course, this is not done alone,” Nelson says. “Volunteers from the community are always all hands on deck to support this effort each year. Girl power should be my middle name!”


All Nelson’s actions and decisions are rooted in her belief that everyone is capable of greatness. The many accolades she has received, ranging from Administrator of the Year and Community Changemaker of the Year to Maverick of the Year and, most recently, one of the Top 40 Black Leaders, show how determined she is to defy expectations.

“I desire to open doors, kick through ceilings and open windows for other amazing women across all fields to experience elevation and freedom,” she says.

Freedom is how Nelson defines success. Everyone is on different paths, she says, traveling at different speeds, and people operate at their highest level when they realize there’s more than one way to reach a destination.

“I’ll never forget my first few years as an administrator, feeling like I needed to dress a certain way, talk and walk a certain way, eat a certain lunch,” she recalls with a laugh. “Let’s be honest, there are norms and expectations. And while we need structure to thrive, self-imposed restrictions … minimize collaboration and communication, which decreases overall impact.”

Being brave and bold, yet humble, and showing up personally and professionally as your most authentic self, she adds — “That’s SUCCESS!” Another strategy Nelson swears by is frequent self-reflection.

“I keep my mirror and grace with me at all times,” she says, mentioning that she also keeps a journal. “It’s important that I ask myself, “Is my intention matching my impact? Am I leaving people, places and programs better than I found them?’”


Despite her many achievements, Nelson is most proud of being mom to Tyler Jacob, whom she describes as “an 11-year-old going on 88.” As the parent of busy young boy, her time is not as free as it once was, but she finds that if we are willing, there are always ways to pour into the lives of others.

“I’m on a mission to change the world through education,” she says, “but the greatest place that I create that change starts in my home with my own child.”

It was years before Nelson could talk about her painful divorce, due to the associated shame and stigma. Calling comparison a “thief of joy,” she says her life truly started once she’d escaped this mindset.

“I am not my failures; you are not your failures,” she says. “We must be brave enough to pull out the mirror, be honest with ourselves, learn from the experiences and forge ahead better, not bitter.”

Failure and disappointment are inevitable, which is why Nelson lives by this mantra: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break.”

” Things won’t always to go we planned or desire; I believe that it’s what we do in those moments separate the good from the great,” she says.  “I’ve learned to press through and flex it out!”

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