Jasmine Burton sat down for a virtual fireside chat with Chuck Easley, who recently joined the Institute for Leadership and Social Impact.
“When people know you're from Atlanta, you see hope in their eyes, because they can point to what's going on [and what has happened in this city] as an example of the potential of what can happen [related to equity and inclusion]. And I think Georgia Tech, as a part of Atlanta, is positioned quite well for continued social impact - from a partnership, an allyship, and full engagement standpoint.”
As a Georgia native and Georgia Tech Alumnus, Chuck Easley spoke these words with unwavering conviction as he discussed his vision for his new role with the Georgia Tech Institute of Leadership and Social Impact (ILSI). We are living through a historic moment, where both the COVID-19 and racism pandemics have showcased the depths of society’s inequities and are forcefully calling the world into a period of reckoning. There is no better time for Chuck to join the ILSI team to advise on strategy for co-curricular programming to address racism and inequity, as it relates to business, society, organizational, and public policies and procedures.
Viewed as a thought leader in supply chain optimization and design strategy, business transformation, operations improvement, and executive coaching, Chuck is the CEO of EPIC Performance Group LLC. He has a diverse set of both qualitative and quantitative skill sets that he attributes to the education, and community support that he received in his formative years, including his time at Georgia Tech.
During his collegiate years, Chuck graduated with honors as a student-athlete, 3x Academic All-ACC, and Rhodes Scholar Finalist. Chuck deeply values the strength of teamwork and community in order to not only survive hardships in his personal, professional, and societal spheres but to ultimately thrive.
The motto “Pay with a Smile” and “if not you than Who…?” has acted as a call to action in Chuck’s life where he has always sought to mentor and support the next generation of passionate and intentional changemakers. In this vein, Chuck founded youth programs, serving over 1,500 youth, that are focused on academics and athletics. He is also a certified Youth Coach and serves as a motivational speaker.
As a native (Georgian whose family moved to Atlanta when a year old), Chuck describes his viewpoint of the city that envelopes the Georgia Tech campus and culture as an example of what is possible. He elaborated by saying that Atlanta is (and has always been) “an experimental laboratory of social change and a Mecca for launching thought leadership”. From the base of Ebenezer, West Hunter, and Wheat Street Baptist Churches and Allen Temple AME Church to hosting the 1996 Olympics to housing the MLK Jr Center for Non-Violent Social Change, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, this city is rich with a diverse history. With Georgia Tech nestled in the heart of this historic city, the global social change that has and continues to move through Atlanta similarly lives on this campus. “When you're able to learn from and touch history and talk to someone that laid their life on the line for you to be able to vote, that's a whole different driver to [engage in social impact work]. Voting becomes a debt that you pay with a smile, and your head held high, back straight, every time”. Chuck reflects on the opportunities he had to learn from civil rights icons like C.T. Vivian and John Lewis.
He provocates further by saying that there’s a richness in this city and at Georgia Tech, perhaps we could leverage or more fully appreciate the depth of our city’s history particularly during this tumultuous time of uncertainty. In 1966, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen dubbed Atlanta as “the City too Busy to Hate”. This was a collective call to action for Atlanta and its people “to move past its [painful] racial past and into a brilliant [healing and positive] new future”. Chuck reminds us that this solidarity, advocacy, and collective action both at the grassroots and institutional levels are in our roots as members of the Georgia Tech and greater Atlanta communities. Delving further into his time at Georgia Tech, his career to date, and his plans for the future as a part of ILSI, check out more from my interview with him below.
As a former Georgia Tech student-athlete, talk to us a bit about the role that sports play in business particularly as it relates to anti-racism?
If you look at history, sports have always been at the forefront - either because of creating segregation or because of eliminating it. People forget that back in the late 1800s, major league baseball made some decisions that were exclusionary to immigrants and people of color. And to showcase some of the pioneers in the fight against racism in sports, people talk about Jesse Owens - especially in relation to the 2016 biopic film called Race and 42 about the famous Jackie Robinson.
I think personally, during my time as a Georgia Tech student-athlete, there was always an inherent understanding of balancing academic and athletic performance and community service - there's no reason why you can't achieve at both. I strongly believe that if you can compete in athletics at the collegiate level, then you can graduate from college - which is a narrative that is particularly poignant in communities of color. And this is why I ultimately chose to come to Georgia Tech, because I could pursue both academics and athletics. As a student-athlete, you learn how to give your best. You learn how to be creative and innovative. You learn how to not back down and how to keep pushing, even though it may not have been successful the first time. These are all lessons in resilience that are applicable in the business world and in social impact work.
What are you the most excited about in your new role with ILSI?
First, I am looking forward to learning more about ILSI’s existing programs, and planned initiatives with a specific focus on leadership and impact around the topics of social justice, anti-racism, inclusion, and equity. Second, I am looking forward to building from this and creating partnerships between ILSI and like-minded organizations and leaders within Atlanta to further advance this social impact work. I look forward to sharing my personal and professional insights to help us move forward. One of the very exciting things I've already started doing is just sitting in on Student Government Association (SGA), student-athlete, faculty, and student-parent meetings to listen to different perspectives on what is affecting black Georgia Tech students in this current climate. I've admired the work that the ILSI team has done, and I am honored to be asked to help however I can. I've done my pushups, sit-ups, agilities, ran my laps, and the research. So, I'm ready for the challenge to continue growing this racial equity work within our community.
Reflecting on this historic time that we’re living through, what would be your call to action for those who are seeking to sustainably address racism in their institutions and organizations?
When I have people say to me, “Wow, what's going on in Atlanta? You are always in the news and you have got this going on or you have got that going on” particularly has it relates to social movements and racial equity; I ask them three reflective questions. I say, “So are you asking these things because they have never happened or are not happening where you are from?” They usually say that they are not sure or that they do not think so. In response, I usually encourage them to become informed about inequities that exist in their cities and communities since they are a pervasive thread through society. My second question is, “are you saying that your city has had similar experiences or challenges and that they've been resolved and are no longer happening anymore?” That is usually met with answers such as “well, no, not really”. Thirdly, I ask “are you fascinated about the occurrence of what’s happening in Atlanta or are you fascinated about how it's being addressed?” With CNN being based here, the happenings of our city are often highly reported, which makes it easy for people to point out flaws or ridicule while also keeping life at an arm’s length and not really paying attention to the realities that are occurring in their own cities, organizations, communities. And related to this, I think that in many respects, Georgia Tech and ILSI, in particular, can be like a mustard seed. We can help this seed to bloom as an incubator not only for academic prowess but also for social impact, collective action, sustainable results, and transformative partnerships. Those working with Georgia Tech students are making diamonds - brilliant, unique, and resilient people - and you can’t make diamonds without pressure. So let us rise to that challenge now as our city and campus have in the past.
We welcome Chuck to the ILSI family and look forward to his leadership in the areas of our racial and social justice work!
The Institute for Leadership and Social Impact is an interdisciplinary institute that promotes servant leadership and organizational practices that contribute to a more just, caring, and equitable world. Learn more about our work!