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Speaker Biographies

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    2017 Full Speaker Biographies

    • Dima Ghawi, Leadership Speaker & Coach at Dima Ghawi, LLC
    • SarahJane Guidry, Executive Director at Forum for Equality
    • Gloria Cotton, Sr. Partner, Learning and Development at inQUEST Consulting
    • Kelley Johnson, Sr. Partner and Certified Leadership Coach at inQUEST Consulting
    • Mimi Singer Lee, Executive Director of the Office of Human Resources at Louisiana State University
    • Dereck Rovaris, Vice Provost of the Office for Diversity (OoD) at Louisiana State University


    Dima Ghawi, Leadership Speaker & Coach at Dima Ghawi, LLC

    Dima ignites the untapped potential in individuals across the globe, empowering them to shatter limitations and become courageous, purpose driven leaders. Her own journey is one of escaping confinement, crossing continents, and transforming her life’s purpose. Harnessing the power of her story, Dima is committed to inspiring individuals to attain personal and professional growth, while simultaneously helping organizations increase diversity within their leadership ranks.

    Through keynote speeches, workshops, executive coaching, and her online global community, Dima shares her unique leadership journey with one goal in mind: motivate and activate those around her to reimagine their potential and grow into leaders.

    Dima draws from two decades of corporate experience leading global teams and developing future leaders worldwide. She has worked across the United States, Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Africa for several Fortune 100 companies including IBM, Merrill Lynch, and Intuit. She has honed a keen expertise in developing leaders to meet the demands of the global workforce.

    In addition to her global empowerment work, Dima serves on numerous nonprofit boards. She has been recognized for her services with the 2014 President of the United States Bronze Volunteer Service Award, the 2014 Baton Rouge Business Report’s “Forty Under 40” Award, and the 2016 Louisiana State University “Esprit de Femme Award.” She has been featured in numerous publications for her professional and philanthropic work.

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    SarahJane Guidry, Executive Director at Forum for Equality

    SarahJane Guidry is the Executive Director of Forum for Equality, Louisiana’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights organization. For the past seven years, she has been dedicated to expanding and defending the rights of Louisiana’s LGBT community. She is passionate about creating a fair and just State that welcomes and protects everyone. She holds her undergraduate degree in Political Science from Tulane University and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of New Orleans. She may hail from the Bay Area of California, but she has been proud to call Louisiana home for almost fifteen years. 

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    Gloria Cotton, Sr. Partner, Learning and Development at inQUEST Consulting

    An expert HR and organizational development professional, Gloria has over 25 years of experience working with corporate, non-profit, union, non-union and government entities. She is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations create and sustain environments
    where all people can be and do their best.

    Gloria is highly respected and much sought after for her work as an instructional designer and master facilitator. She has covered a wide array of topics including leadership, diversity & inclusion, unconscious bias, privilege, multi-culturalism, harassment and discrimination, EEO
    and AA laws, team building, communications, career and life coaching and performance management, and giving performance feedback across lines of difference (e.g., style, generations, gender, sexual orientation, religion and spirituality, chronic illness and disabilities).
    She also serves clients as a mediator and collaborator for leveraging conflict for synergistic outcomes that honor all stakeholders.

    Gloria has experience working for professional organizations such as the American Society for Training and Development and the Human Resources Management Association Committee – Training & Development Subcommittee. She is active in her community, working with the Double E Program for high school students as well as Project Equal where she is a past board member.

    Gloria graduated from Loyola University Chicago where she received a B.S. in psychology. She holds both MBTI and Social Style certification, among other credentials.

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    Kelley Johnson, Sr. Partner and Certified Leadership Coach at inQUEST Consulting

    Kelley provides strategic diversity, inclusion, executive coaching and talent management solutions to clients across a number of industry sectors. Previously the Chief Diversity Officer for JCPenney, Johnson was instrumental in linking business innovation with Inclusion and Diversity. Her leadership helped the retailer achieve strong rankings on the list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity by DiversityInc and the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. She was also instrumental in helping the retailer achieve a 96% Net Promoter
    score for its college recruiting and retention programs.

    Prior to joining JCPenney, Kelley spent 11 years in the hospitality industry in a variety of leadership roles at Accor Hospitality, a global hotel company with operations in more than 90 countries. At Accor, Johnson was responsible for corporate communications, publicity, crisis management, corporate social responsibility, talent development, diversity management and university relations. She began her career working for boutique advertising agencies specializing in brand marketing and employment branding across a number of industries.

    Kelley is a HoganLead certified executive coach and a graduate of Texas Woman’s University. She has held strategic advisory roles with several organizations, including the Latino Leadership Initiative at SMU Cox School of Business, University of Houston’s Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute and the University of Florida’s Miller Retail Center. She is a member of the national board of directors for INROADS, a nonprofit organization transforming lives of underserved youth
    through corporate internships and leadership development.

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    Mimi Singer Lee, Executive Director of the Office of Human Resources at Louisiana State University

    Mimi Singer Lee is a Human Resource Management executive with over 17 years of comprehensive experience including recruitment, employment, selection, retention, employee  relations, policy administration, and training and development.   She is currently an Executive Director in the Office of Human Resource Management at Louisiana State University.  In this role, she holds responsibility for the development of strategies and the delivery of HRM services and programs relating to Staffing, Employment, and Academic Policy.  Dr. Lee collaborates often with senior administration to conduct HR strategic planning toward institutional goals. 

    She earned a PhD in Human Resource Education from Louisiana State University.  Her research dissertation focused on work-life balance of the tenure-track faculty member.  She holds the Professional in Human Resources certification from HRCI along with the SHRM Certified Professional designation.  Dr. Lee was a founding member of the University Council on Women, a Provost-appointed representative group of faculty, staff, and students, whose charge is to research women’s issues on campus and develop recommendations for the Provost.  In 2006, she was asked to chair the council.  She has served multiple years on the Greater Baton Rouge Society for Human Resource Management Board of Directors and in 2014, was elected the chapter President.  Dr. Lee is an active member of the Baton Rouge community as well, currently serving in a leadership position with the Junior League of Baton Rouge. 

    In 2014, Dr. Lee was honored as one of the best and brightest professionals in the Capital Region in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report’s “Forty Under 40.”  She received the Meritorious Service Award (2014), by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources as recognition for significant contributions to the profession, their institutions and CUPA-HR chapters.  She continues to be a featured subject matter expert in several media outlets and served as a panelist in The Greater Baton Rouge Business Reports “Best Places to Work” event. 

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    Dereck Rovaris, Vice Provost of the Office for Diversity (OoD) at Louisiana State University

    Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr. is the Vice Provost of the Office for Diversity (OoD) at Louisiana State University. In this post he serves as the chief diversity officer of the university and works closely with the other vice provosts, is a member of the Chancellor’s Executive Staff and serves as a principal advisor to the executive vice chancellor and provost and campus community on matters involving equity, diversity and inclusion. Dr. Rovaris serves as an institutional spokesperson on issues of diversity and inclusion on campus and has supervisory responsibilities for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Women’s Center and the African American Cultural Center. As the chief diversity officer he is responsible for developing and implementing strategic initiatives and policies aimed at cultivating a campus environment that embraces individual difference, sustains inclusion, and enhances institutional access and equity.

    Dr. Rovaris was previously the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic and Multicultural Affairs at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans. In 2008, the American Council on Education selected Rovaris as a presidential fellow. He served his ACE fellowship year at DePaul University in Chicago. Upon his return to Xavier, he served one year as Special Assistant to Academic Affairs.

    In 2007 Rovaris completed a Council for Opportunities in Education professional development tour in England and The Netherlands. The previous summer of 2006 he successfully completed the Management Development Program at Harvard University.

    Dr. Rovaris served as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School and Director of Graduate School Placement and was an Assistant Professor with the Graduate School at Xavier University in 1988. There he directed two nationally recognized student enrichment programs, Xavier’s McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement Program and its SuperScholar/EXCEL program.

    He has served as an educational consultant, conducted workshops, and been a featured speaker on the local, national, and international level. Rovaris has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and in foreign nations in Europe, Africa, and in the Caribbean. He also serves on a variety of educational and non-profit boards.

    Dr. Rovaris is an active member of St. Peter Claver Church and is very involved in civic and community work throughout New Orleans and Baton Rouge including the 100 Black Men of Greater Baton Rouge. In 1995 New Orleans Magazine selected him as one of "Fifty People to Watch, in 1998 he received the Order of St. Louis Medal - the highest service award from the Archdiocese of Greater New Orleans." In 2001 he was a recipient of the Data News Weekly Trailblazer Award, and in 2005 Rovaris' first book Mays and Morehouse was re-released. The book, which was featured in Ebony Magazine, tells the story of not only a phenomenal man and a great college, but also the story of African Americans' quest for higher education.

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    Celton Hayden, President & CEO of CC's Coffee House

    As a teenage grocery bagger, Celton Hayden, Jr. never imagined that he would one day become the President & CEO of the leading specialty coffee house in the southeast. Throughout, his 16 years working at CC's Coffee House, Hayden has served as a store manager, district manager and operations manager. In 2013, he was named the company's President and CEO. He contributes much of his professional success to the values his parents instilled in him from an early age. Hayden believes that the strong foundation provided by his parents, combined with constant love and encouragement from his wife Dana and their 3 children, made him into the servant leader and practical visionary that he is today.

    Hayden grew up in Dallas, Texas. In 1992, he began his studies at Texas A&M University before transferring to what he jokingly refers to as the "School of Hard Knocks." It was here, in the workforce, that he learned the true meaning of hard work. In his 29 years of experience in the retail and restaurant industries, he worked in every facet of business ranging from cashier to manager. This allowed him to gain fundamental knowledge of each industry and develop a diverse set of skills that contribute to his success in his current role.

    The company, born in 1995, already has more than 35 owned and licensed locations across Louisiana. CC's Coffee House is now ready to bring the very best coffee and experience to a waiting America. Hayden has big plans for the company's future and will continue to use his creativity and vision to lead CC's during this era of growth.

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    Michelle D. Craig, Managing Partner at Transcendent Legal, LLC

    Michelle D. Craig currently serves as Managing Partner of Transcendent Legal. With over 14 years of Am200 law firm experience, she was a partner with Adams and Reese LLP, New Orleans before starting her own firm. She holds dual degrees including a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) and a Bachelor of the Civil Law (B.C.L.) from the Louisiana State University (LSU) Law Center.  She also studied International and Comparative Law at the Université d'Aix Marseille III in Aix en Provence, France.

    In her practice, she facilitates effective negotiation, mediation and resolution of legal matters for small to large companies in the areas of litigation, labor and employment, economic development, and transactions. She incorporates project management and process

    improvement throughout her cases.  To assist small and medium-sized firms in their process improvement, she created Prosquire, a legal project management software. She is very active in the community and currently serves at the Chairperson of the Orleans Parish Civil Service Commission.

    Michelle began her legal career at Jones Walker where she worked in the Baton Rouge, LA and Houston, TX offices from 2002 until 2007.  In 2007, she became an Associate at Adams and Reese LLP, and in 2010, she became the first African-American Female Partner in the New Orleans office.  Her specialties include labor and employment, business and commercial transactions, litigation, and education. Prosquire, her legal project management software, was launched in 2014. Through Prosquire, Michelle developed and implemented strategies for a successful launch of the SaaS technology. She also currently handles data privacy, security, and software matters associated with the technology and interfaces with investors and incubators in efforts to provide funding for the technology.

    In 2014, Michelle founded Transcendent Legal, LLC. As Managing Partner, she uses technology and cloud-computing to service start-ups and potentially high-growth companies with a variety of issues such as: incorporation and formation, business planning, employment matters, intellectual property issues, drafting and advising on contracts and contract disputes, and day-to-day guidance. She also serves as outside general counsel for companies and charter schools handling her client’s litigation and transactional matters as well as their day-to-day legal needs.

    Throughout her career, Michelle has been a leader in her community and an avid speaker.  In 2007, she was appointed Legal Counsel for the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources. She maintained this position through 2009.  During the last two years of this appointment, Michelle concurrently served as a board member of the First Tee of Greater New Orleans. In 2010, she was appointed to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Transition Team on Blight and became a Member of the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association Board of Advisors. In 2008, while serving as Legal Counsel for the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources, Michelle became one of the founders of The Urban League Young Professionals and sat on the board as an Executive Member until 2011. During her first years as Partner at Adams and Reese, LLP, she served on the firm’s Advisory Committee and the firm’s Diversity Committee. In 2012, she Co-Founded DiversiTea, a Mentoring Organization. She also began service as a Board Member of the national organization, the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights. During that same year, she was also a founder of The Urban League New Orleans Guild. She was appointed Co-chair of the Adams and Reese Women in the Profession Sub-Committee in 2013, and in that same year, began her membership of the New Orleans Civil Service Commission. Two years later, she became Chairperson of the New Orleans Civil Service Commission and holds this seat to this date.

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    Patrick McKinney, Executive Director of Human Resources at New Orleans Saints & Pelicans

    Entering his forth season as Executive Director of Human Resources for the New Orleans Saints and tenth season for the New Orleans Pelicans, Pat McKinney facilitates all aspects of the organizations’ human resources practices for its more than 300 employees and players.  An Oklahoma native, Mr. McKinney came to New Orleans over 35 years ago to work in finance for the Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  During his 25 year career with various contractors on the SPR, Mr. McKinney served in a number of financial and human resources management roles, including payroll, accounts payable, travel, benefits, employee development, compensation, and employee relations.   Prior to joining the Pelicans (Hornets) shortly after their return home post-Katrina, Mr. McKinney worked for Standard Coffee as the Director of Human Resources.  

    A graduate of Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree in organizational behavior, Mr. McKinney has more than 20 years of human resources management experience and has been a member of the Society of Human Resources Management since 2000.

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    Blanca Robinson, Owner of  VIVA Consulting Group, LLC

    Blanca Robinson has an extensive background in corporate America encompassing approximately 20 years, followed by 15+ years in executive non-profit management. This has been the basis of a well-rounded career that both developed and strengthened her leadership skills, while sharpening her analytical, communication, and presentations skills. 

    Blanca Robinson is the outgoing President of the Women’s Business Enterprise Council South (WBEC South), one of 14 regional partner organizations of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Having taken the helm in 1998, Robinson was WBEC South’s first employee, charged with moving the organization from a volunteer-managed entity to a professionally-staffed one. At that time the organization was still emerging, with only 75 Women’s Business Enterprises (WBEs), a handful of Corporate Members, and a presence exclusively in Louisiana.During Robinson’s tenure, which has spanned seventeen years, WBEC South has grown to over 700 WBES and 40 Corporate Members. Focused on building relationships across a large territory and ensuring an outstanding women-owned business certification process, Robinson led the organization to its prominence today as one of WBENC’s successful Regional Partner Organizations. She has been responsible for the organization’s daily management and operations across its extensive territory of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Florida Panhandle.

    Robinson has always been passionate about women’s initiatives and her involvement with several women’s organizations helped solidify that passion.Inspired by female entrepreneurs she has met and in keeping with her passion for jewelry, she started Bella Designs, a small jewelry design business in 2008. She has earned certification as an Executive Coach and formed VIVA Consulting Group, a coaching and small business consulting firm, which will officially launch after her retirement this December.

    Robinson holds a business degree from Texas A&I University, now part of the Texas A&M system. She is married to Jackie Robinson and lives in Houma, LA. She has two children, Sara and Jason, both of whom live in San Diego, CA.

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    Kelder Summers, Director of Development at Café Reconcile

    Born on the 4th of July, Kelder is from right here in New Orleans. As the Director of Development, she’s incredibly excited about the Reconcile mission to engage,encourage, and employ the youth of our community. Because she used to be a radio host, she’s always dedicated to learning about the issues that affect this cultural mecca we call home. Outside of work, Kelder loves to cook and reads ferociously

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