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Powerful forces

Three leaders find fulfillment, success by sharing their unique gifts

Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture


Christen Duhé

MGCCC spokesman’s star continues to rise

If Christen Hartley Duhé could have a word with her younger self, she’d tell her to stop with the self-doubt; “You have everything you need to be successful.” 

Everyone defines success differently, but for Duhe’, it’s having a husband who supports her and pushes her to be the best version of herself, a great group of girlfriends who serve as her sounding board, and her dream job at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Her accomplishments did not come without sacrifice; the Bay St. Louis native put herself through college at the University of Southern Mississippi, waiting tables and bartending throughout her undergrad studies. Then, she worked full time at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce and bartended on weekends to pay for grad school. 

“I have definitely progressed as a professional and a leader, but at my core, I am still learning and growing as a person and a professional,” says Duhe’, who serves as associate vice president of institutional relations at MGCCC. “Sure, I have a fancier title now and more responsibility, but at the end of the day, I’m just doing my best and putting my best foot forward.” 

It’s hard to imagine now, but at one time, Duhe’ knew nothing about public relations and had no ideas of working in higher education. She stumbled upon public relations by accident while taking a University 101 class her freshman year and researching careers she might be interested in. 

“Every job I’ve had, and the people I’ve met along the way, have helped mold me into the professional I am today.” 

Now, she describes PR as the thread running through her life and resume’. 

“At its core, public relations is about building and maintaining relations,” she says. “There’s no template for public relations, and that’s why I love it so much. Each day is a challenge, and I have to constantly be on my toes. 

“I love that I wake up every day and I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I thrive in that kind of environment.” 

A natural collaborator, Duhe’ is at her best working with a team and driving toward a common goal. For instance, she’s taken great pleasure and pride in watching the evolution of Coast Young Professionals since she became its director in 2008. Many of the CYP initiatives started over a decade ago have grown bigger and better, such as the Black Tie and Blue Jeans Gala and Walking on Water. 

“I think (collaboration) is how a lot of great ideas are born, and it’s why I will always value my time as the director of Coast Young Professionals, because I was able to work with so many outstanding young professionals to create some fantastic projects and events,” she says. “I’m also lucky to work with a great team right now, and we come together to collaborate on various ideas and projects.” 

Ever a pioneer, Duhe’ was the first director of MGCCC’s Business Development and Hospitality Resort Management Center, which was brand new when she took the helm in 2012. She transitioned into her current role in 2016 and now oversees the college’s public relations, advertising, and marketing efforts and acts as its spokesperson. 

“Every job I’ve had, and the people I’ve met along the way, have helped mold me into the professional I am today,” she says. 

Passionate about learning and unafraid of change, Duhe’ is a living testament to the power of self-belief and active listening. Her advice to other young professionals: “Make mistakes, because that’s how you learn; just don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.” 

“It’s not about you; you don’t know it all,” she says, “and if you really want to be successful, you have to be quiet and listen to those who came before you who are trying to help you.” 

Among the voices Duhe’ has heeded are those of her mentors, including MGCCC President Mary Graham and Jonathan Woodward, MGCCC’s executive vice president of teaching and learning/community campus, who encouraged her to pursue her doctorate — which she will complete in August of 2022. Ideally, she’d love to stay at the college and put her education to good use there. 

Despite the many distinctions she has earned, including recognition from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi and the Southern Public Relations Federation, top 10 business leader honors from local and state publications and the Young Careerist of the Year award from Lighthouse Business & Professional Women, Duhe’ has no intention of resting on her laurels. 

“The direction I want to go is forward,” she says, “and I want to continue to live my truth and be the best Christen that I can be.”

THE Orator

LaShaundra McCarty

Gulfport’s public information officer is determined to make her life count

Whatever role she accepts, LaShaundra McCarty is committed to leaving things better than she found them. 

That includes her present position as the city of Gulfport’s public information officer and community relations manager, which she has held for two years. In essence, the job is a continuation of what McCarty has been doing for decades: helping people and organizations tell their stories in a compelling way. 

“We all have the capacity to leave a mark on the world by exercising our gifts,” she says. “I am driven by the desire to do as much good as possible for as many as possible. We can all do that, starting with our sphere of influence.” 

McCarty’s sphere of influence always has included her hometown of Gulfport, and in her formative years, she spent lots of time at the city’s Little Theatre. The venue introduced her to performance and got her used to standing before an audience. 

Today, McCarty considers public speaking her niche — particularly on the topics of personal development and using your gifts to achieve your dreams. 

“That is when I am most in sync with my purpose,” she says. “I do it because people need to be reminded of how valuable they are.” 

McCarty’s path to personal empowerment wound through the University of Central Florida, followed by graduate school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Emerson College. She also did a stint as a missionary in Johannesburg for the United Congregationalist Church of Southern Africa. Between her time in Boston and Johannesburg, she graduated from seminary and was ordained 

Once she’d satisfied her wanderlust, McCarty returned home in 2009 to a declining economy. Unable to find a job, she started consulting for organizations that didn’t have marketing departments — offering them web and graphic design services. 

“What I learned was that I am the key to my own opportunities, my willingness to jump into the unknown,” McCarty says. “My relentlessness when it comes to obtaining what I want to have all contributed to getting lost in Lyon, carrying the memory of a life-changing homestay in Morocco, starting a consulting business during a recession and even saying yes to a job that would mean staying a little more still than I was accustomed to. I have enjoyed the unpredictability of it all.” 

“I am driven by the desire to do as much good as possible for as many as possible. We can all do that, starting with our sphere of influence.”

When she accepted Gulfport’s PIO position, McCarty saw it as an opportunity to give back to the city that had prepared her for adulthood. In grad school, when movies like “The Matrix” and “Harry Potter” were pushing the creative envelope, she thought she would do visual effects for films. 

“None of my career has been what I projected; I started this journey as a graphic/web designer,” she says. “I am open to where it goes as long as speaking and improving the community are involved.” 

Beyond being the public face of Gulfport, McCarty’s talents led her to create the online show and podcast UNbound Creatives, in which she talks with artists and visionaries like Lexi Williams, owner of Aloha Glamour boutique, and CeCe Shabaz, marketing and brand strategist at Memorial Hospital. Her hard work and skill earned McCarty the One Coast Top Ten Under 40 Award in 2018, the DeRose-Hinkhouse Award for her work in the production of Just Women Magazine and other honors. 

Those who have witnessed the gifted orator in her element remark on her knowledge of branding and marketing and her ability to hold her audience’s attention. Within the next five years, she aspires to be a more in-demand professional speaker. To achieve her aim, she’ll follow the same words of wisdom that she offers others: “Be bold and unapologetic.” 

“It is so tempting to shrink, but resist that,” she says. “Aim bigger than you can attain alone, and form a circle of friends or mentors who can help you get there.” 

McCarty’s passion is rooted in her desire to do something significant — the feeling that she only has one life to live, so she’d better make it good. She stresses that this doesn’t make her special. 

“I’m just aware that we all have the choice of whether to thrive or not— whether t

THE Community Leader

Tish Williams

Confidence comes naturally to Hancock Chamber’s executive director

Tish Williams spent the first 20 years of her life trying to leave Mississippi, and the next 20 trying to return. 

Raised in Bay St. Louis, Williams dreamed of influence and adventure well beyond the state borders. She got her wish during the first phases of her career, when she managed programs in major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Miami and others. 

“In the end, the grass is not always greener,” says the executive director of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce, “but oftentimes, it takes getting out to see the world, gaining all the experience you can, and then coming back home to put it all to work right here in your own backyard.” 

Williams once aspired to be a broadcast journalist, but she landed on the other side of the camera. In her present position, she is the voice and face of the largest organization for businesses in Hancock County. She also has more than 20 years’ experience in tourism development and marketing at the state and local level. Before coming to the Chamber, she spent a decade leading the fund development efforts for a national nonprofit, Foundation Fighting Blindness. 

“I don’t achieve success by myself. My job is to assemble the best resources and set out to make it happen.”

One of her mentors, George Schloegel, gave Williams her first job as a director for the Miss USA Pageant, then she went on to become a director of the Mississippi Pavilion for the 1984 Word’s Fair under the leadership of her husband, George Williams. Whether she was recruiting New Yorkers to work a pageant for free, promoting Mississippi’s assets on a global stage or building Meridian, Mississippi’s first tourism organization, Williams always has gone for the “wow” factor — and she doesn’t doubt whether she can do something. 

“I just envision what needs to be done, and I go about making it happen,” she says. “I don’t achieve success by myself. My job is to assemble the best resources and set out to make it happen.” 

In every role she’s held, Williams has been well served by her journalism degree from the University of Mississippi. She’s also found one truth to be absolute: “If you can communicate effectively, you can change the world.” 

Williams’s world — and priorities — changed when she became a mom to her twin daughters, and she felt the call to go home. When she accepted the position at the Chamber, she says, “I thought I was going home to manage the easiest job of my career. I can do this job blind-folded and hand-tied, I thought.” 

Then Katrina hit. 

“Every skill I had acquired throughout my career would be put to the test over the next 18 years, with one disaster after another ravaging our Coast,” she says. “Challenging, yes, yet what an honor to rebuild your own hometown.” 

Coming from a long line of philanthropists and visionaries, Williams considers it her privilege, and her duty, to continue the legacy of her parents and grandparents. To that end, she is one of the founders of the Hancock Community Development Foundation, which supports 23 nonprofit causes. She’s also executive director of Partners for Stennis and Michoud, a two-state advocacy organization focused on regional job growth. 

For her professional and civic accomplishments, Williams has received the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contribution to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official, the Hancock Chamber’s inaugural Jody Compretta Person of Passion Award and several other honors. She credits her mother with giving her the most important tool she possesses, the one that has made her success possible: self-confidence. 

“If you believe it, you can achieve it,” Williams says. “I simply excel at multi-tasking, removing obstacles and using my contacts and resources to get the job done.” 

Now 62, Williams has started fielding questions about when she will retire. Her reply is that as long as she can walk up and down the stairs of the Hancock Whitney Bank building, where the Chamber has its offices, she will continue using her skills and determination to make a difference. 

“I have been blessed with the career I have built right here in Hancock County as chamber director; I have three boards, a staff and a community that support me in everything I do,” she says. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” 

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