A native Nashvillian, Latrisha Jemison attended Middle Tennessee State University on a full scholarship, majoring in Mass Communications with the goal of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey, who spent many years living in Nashville and working on local TV there before achieving national prominence. But job offers after graduation led to another career for Jemison, as a financial service representative in banking, then assistant manager and branch manager, before finding her career calling as the Regional Community Development and Partnerships Manager.
Latrisha, I think Oprah Winfrey’s success probably influenced a lot of young women who grew up watching her on local TV in Nashville, then on national TV.
“It did. I always wanted to be a reporter and ultimately a news anchor. As far back as I remember, I always liked public speaking and writing and, when I was in high school, I entered several oratorical contests that Oprah Winfrey participated in as well. Her show was syndicated when I was attending Middle Tennessee State, and one of my college internships was at the Nashville TV station where she started her career. I thought, if she could do it, so could I. I took it seriously, anchoring the local news produced by MTSU students in Murfreesboro.”
So, you embarked on a television career first?
“Well, that was the initial goal. However, I was part of the INROADS program that was preparing minorities to work in corporate America. My first internship was at 17, and my initial reaction, still, was that I wanted to write. But after college I had good opportunities that led me into banking – at two different institutions – before I moved into CRA/Community Development. I had learned as a branch associate that banks were there to help people. And I wanted to make sure that the college students, restaurant employees and physicians were treated the same, and received the help they needed.
“Later, as a branch manager, I had to go on CRA calls and there were two people in Nashville doing that full time. One was Doug Jackson (Regions’ head of Regulatory Risk and Compliance). Well, things changed, including CRA regulations. In 1995, I was asked to become a CRA officer. When First American and AmSouth merged, forming what would soon become Regions Bank, I got a call from Doug, who asked me if I was interested in being the Community Development Coordinator for the Middle Tennessee market. That was 20 years ago. I’ve been in banking 29 years. I guess you could say it stuck.”
What is unique about your job? What is unique about how Regions tackles things?
“What I love most is how bank regulations, like the Community Reinvestment Act, go hand in hand with our mission to make life better for those we serve. It allows me to be a conduit to helping all people. Whether it’s loans, contributions, volunteering or providing expertise, I am able to meet so many people, and talk to them about how to make their lives and communities better. At the same time, I’m able to interact with various business groups within the bank and serve as a trusted advisor. Regions develops leaders and equips them with the resources to manage and innovate. By providing coaching and training, Regions stretches you, teaching you how much more you can do, and that helps you understand how to tackle various issues.
As an African American woman, you’ve cut a unique career path. From your perspective, why is diversity so important at Regions – and throughout the business world?
“Because not everyone has the same experiences or ideas. So, having input from different perspectives enables Regions to better serve customers. I think back to when I was going through INROADS, in high school, where the goal of the program was to prepare talented minority youth to be successful in business. I think back to the hours of workshops and exposure to senior-level leaders at a young age, which helped prepare me for the work that I do today. Honestly, it can be difficult and intimidating navigating corporate America. Yet Regions has backed up my confidence by giving me an opportunity to bring a voice to many ideas at the bank and that makes me feel valued and respected.
When companies can give associates respect for diversity of thought, an opportunity to use their skills and intellect, and become vital decision makers, then diversity will be in the fabric of the company and you won’t have to force it.
Latrisha Jemison, Regional Community Development and Partnerships Manager for Regions
“Things have changed over time in the corporate world. However, we can still see the need for diversity on corporate boards, in CEOs and top-level executives. There’s still much more work to do to level the playing field in many industries. When companies can give associates respect for diversity of thought, an opportunity to use their skills and intellect, and become vital decision makers, then diversity will be in the fabric of the company and you won’t have to force it.
In Nashville, the work on disaster relief in the wake of the recent tornadoes has been commendable. Now, with the nation adjusting to the COVID-19 outbreak, what role do relationships with community organizations mean in a time of crisis?
“Unfortunately, in Middle Tennessee disaster relief is not new to us. Over the years, the bank has established good partnerships with community groups and leaders to learn what is truly needed. We know our clients have different needs, and we have a Market Executive in Lee Blank – in fact, his entire Middle Tennessee team – with years of experience in the market. These are the people community leaders seek out for help in times of crisis.
“Here’s a good example: recently, branch associates told us that our customers needed help meeting insurance deductibles. Instead of offering loans that they may not be able to afford now, Regions partnered with the United Way to provide small grants to families that need gap funding for assistance with utility payments, or replacing items lost in the storm, or meeting insurance payments.
“We also met with a leading pastor to find out exactly what residents in his community need to help them move forward. That’s better than the bank trying to determine those needs.
“Mostly what we’ve learned is that things will get better. It may take a little time, but we’re here to help our community get there.”
Developing leaders and engaging associates is an everyday focus for Regions Bank. See additional Women in Leadership profiles linked below: