Bold and Brave

Author: Cal Powell

ATLANTA – In the corner of DeRetta Rhodes’ office, just a long fly ball beyond the right field wall at Truist Park, is a tiny piece of wall art featuring her favorite saying.

“They told me I couldn’t,” it reads in large white letters against a black background. “That’s why I did.”

“I love that,” Rhodes said. “It reminds me of so many experiences I’ve had.”

Rhodes, a 1992 FACS grad who also received a doctorate in adult education from UGA, was named Executive Vice President, Chief People Capital Officer for the Atlanta Braves in January 2021 after joining the organization in 2019.

Her path to this latest high-profile position has challenged her, discouraged her and at times left her feeling depleted – but it never beat her.

During the seven years it took Rhodes to complete her doctorate, she suffered through the heartbreak of divorce and life as a single mom of two young boys.

Determined not to fail them, her parents and her grandparents, Rhodes pushed on.

“I had to persevere,” she said. “I didn’t have a choice.”

Perseverance and hard-won victories have been consistent themes in Rhodes’ life.

The daughter of educators, Rhodes was an honors student and accomplished debater with sights set on law school when her family moved from Kansas City to Douglasville, Ga., just prior to her senior year of high school.

Rhodes stood out as one of only a few African-Americans at the school, and it proved to be a turning point in her life.

“I remember going to the high school office with my dad (to enroll),” Rhodes said. “They were going to put me in remedial classes until they got my paperwork, so there was an automatic assumption that I was probably subpar. My dad said, ‘We’re not going to do that.’”

Rhodes later became the first African-American to speak at her high school’s graduation ceremony. The experience of standing out as both a minority and a female in the small community shifted Rhodes’ perspective.

“I think what it did for me was it made me feel like ‘OK, I’m always going to have to show up a certain way,’ ” she said. “I use the term ‘body bag’ because when people look at you, that’s the first thing they see: the body bag you sit in. When they get beyond what they see, maybe they’ll understand a little bit of who I am.”

Once at UGA, Rhodes’ quickly found her niche within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“It actually felt like home,” she said, “and that was what made the difference for me.”

Later, Rhodes would complete an MBA from Clark Atlanta University before acquiring her doctorate, rising along the way to executive roles with Turner Broadcasting Systems, First Data and YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

Her doctoral dissertation from 2010, “Courage under fire: How black women have learned to survive in corporate America” explored issues that resonate deeply with her and reflect much of own experience.

“What has always given me strength is my family,” she said. “And the other piece that’s always given me solace is education, because I knew that was the one thing no one could ever take away from me.”

Rhodes is happily married now, a sought-after speaker who serves on the board of several Atlanta organizations. Her two boys, Cole and Austin, are pursuing careers of their own, and she remains close to her parents in nearby North Carolina.

“I wanted them to see my drive to get things done,” Rhodes said of her sons. “But I also needed them to see what community and family look like.”

A baseball fan, Rhodes said the Braves organization has been “amazing” in welcoming her to her new role.

She and her staff manage a front office staff of nearly 600 employees that includes the Braves’ minor league teams and The Battery development surrounding Truist Park.

She watches as much baseball as she can, wandering the park and soaking it in, grateful for her career and for the folks who believed in her along the journey.

“I’ve been shadowing people, learning the business of baseball,” she said. “It’s a whole operation that is absolutely incredible. I’m having fun.”

DeRetta Cole Rhodes

Senior Vice-President

Head of Human Resources, Atlanta Braves

Ph.D., UGA College of Education, 2010

MBA, Clark Atlanta University, 1996

BSFCS, UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, 1992

Woman at baseball stadium