Alumni Spotlight-Dr. Ernie Hughes
Grenada native Dr. Ernie Hughes
(Class of 1984) has spent his career
advancing through the ranks of collegiate
administration, often requiring him to
pack up and move his family. Whenever
he arrives in a new town, he searches for
three things: a Baptist church, the local
Rotary Club, and a runners group.
"Wherever I go," says Hughes, "I
can become ingratiated into the community
within six months based on my
associations through church, Rotary, and
Hughes currently heads his own
consulting firm, E. Hughes and Associates,
helping churches and non-profits
fundraise and develop their organization.
Knowing how to navigate through
society and form alliances, he says, have
been key to his success.
His ultimate goal is to become a college
president, and early on he learned
what was required to achieve that. He
earned the appropriate degrees — a
degree in business and finance, as well a
master's degree in marketing from Mississippi
State University, and a PhD in
human resources from LSU — as well as
attended leadership seminars and joined
various boards. He has learned how
to network, and how to use his strong
leadership skills to earn trust and responsibility.
One of his most cherished inspirational
quotes he adapted from Stephen
Covey. "Begin with the end in mind."
And that's how it started for him in
Hughes recalls his high school job at
Piggly Wiggly, where he first
heard the maxim, "The customer
is always right."
"My boss, Mr. Bowers,
always made us dress professionally
and taught us that our
customers will talk about this
business," Hughes says. "They
could hurt us or give us more
positive publicity than all the
ads we could hope to buy. I still
use that philosophy today."
At Grenada High School,
Hughes fell under the influence
of several teachers who challenged
his thinking, including
counselor Charles Smedley and
Bobby Knight, who organized
the Upper Bounds Club.
But the organization that
really changed his life, he says,
was led by Martha Cofer. "In
class one day, Mrs. Cofer assigned me
the task of passing out supplies. She noticed
how I kept track of everything, who
had what, and after class she asked me,
'Have you ever thought about DECA?'
And that started a conversation."
Grenada High's DECA (Distributive
Education Clubs of America) chapter
is still thriving and continues to teach
students valuable business and leadership
skills. Hughes joined the club and
moved up in the ranks, serving as district
vice president and winning the chapter's
Outstanding DECA Student award.
"Of all the plaques and the awards I've
accumulated over my professional life, I
still cherish the DECA club's Person of
the Year award," Hughes says. "I keep
the award right here on my desk."
The values he learned in DECA
student government, and from his mentors
pushed Hughes to excel in future
pursuits. After his senior year, he joined
the Army National Guard where he
graduated first in his training group. He
went on to earn his degrees at MSU and
took his first job in education at Southern
University in Baton Rouge, where
he worked his way up from community
development specialist to an executive in
From Louisiana, his next job took him
all the way up the Mississippi River to
Minnesota's Winona State University,
"where you could walk across the river
in winter." Most recently he moved to
Atlanta to work with Morehouse School
of Medicine before starting his own firm
Drive and determination, he says,
make all the difference. Throughout his career, he's had many opportunities
to travel and visit schools in various
African countries. "The difference I see
in the students here and there is striking,"
he says. "The students there, even if
they attend class in the humblest shack,
with only two pieces of paper to write
on, they have a strong desire to succeed.
I come back and tell students here, you
live in the most advanced country in the
world. If you develop the drive and form
networks with people, you'll be amazed
how you can navigate through this system."
Dr. Hughes has been married to his
wife Deadra for 26 years. They have
three kids, Troy (24), Doyon (22), and
Kaylen (17). He returns to Grenada
to visit family — brothers Homer and
Oliver Hughes, as well as sisters Clara
Lumas, Janie Williams, and Betty Salley
— and has shared his inspiration with the
community on more than one occasion.
He came back to GHS as graduation
speaker in 2001 and was instrumental
in bringing Andrew Young — former
Atlanta mayor, Georgia congressman,
and Civil Rights leader — to speak to
students at Grenada High School in
These days, if Dr. Hughes in town, you
may see him running up Highway 8. An
avid runner, he participates in marathons
all over and finds it keeps him mentally
and physically in top condition.
Running has also proven to be an apt
metaphor for his life, and he's adapted
the principles of running a successful
marathon to life."I'll probably never win
the marathon, but I'll beat the person in
front of me and just keep doing that,"
he says. "Ultimately, of course, the race
clock runs out. Wherever you finish, you
know that you ran your best race."