“This conversation is going to be uncomfortable. We have to get uncomfortable to get comfortable.” 

B. Chad Starks delivers the caution right off the top without pretext. “I am genuine, authentic, and honest,” he states. “I need you to care about my identity, and my experiences, and how we got here. This isn’t a feel-good story. I am talking about 401 years of oppression. We have a lot of work to do.”

The Simpsonville-based critical criminologist references the year enslaved Africans landed in the colonies. The self-described “fixer” has spent most of his 48 years trying to rebuild the respect and liberties lost 401 years ago, while tearing down the structural racism erected since. “This work is about coming from different perspectives. This takes all voices, and identity is so important,” he explains. “Folks say, ‘I don’t see race, we should think the same.’ That is ridiculously disrespectful. Do you see all this beautiful blackness right here? You don’t want to see it because you don’t want to take what comes with it. You don’t want to take my pain.”

That pain first surfaced growing up the grandson of a sharecropper in metro Columbia. His mother worked as a domestic servant and custodian, his dad disappeared, and the family frequently moved one step ahead of cops carrying eviction notices. Yet he found love with his church, sports, and siblings. “My brothers used to say all the time, we didn’t know we were poor until somebody told us,” the youngest of five jokes. The avid student knew he wanted to help his community gain equal footing for opportunities and resources, but realized he would need an education to get the job done.

Four degrees later, including a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Wofford, a master’s in criminal justice from USC, and a doctorate in criminology from the University of Delaware, Starks uses a multi-prong approach of advocacy, education, and business. Unlike those who protest publicly for social justice, Starks works on the inside, from the top down. “That’s what my firm does,” the businessman and speaker explains. “We are going to challenge you. I’m going to say, ‘Bring your leaders here and let’s understand their way of thinking about equity and what social justice looks like to them.’”

The NAACP Award winner’s social justice consulting firm, BCS and Associates, works with companies, schools, and municipalities from the Carolinas to California. Requests for training, workshops, and assessments have increased 100 percent since the death of George Floyd. “If you want to just check a box on diversity, don’t call us,” he warns. “We are not going to make you feel good about systemic oppression. We’re here to create change, we’re here to transform minds, transform hearts—to make a society where everyone feels inclusive in that love.”

The committed academic also teaches at Clemson, while trying to spread his message of diversity, inclusion, and equity in Greenville. “I’m hopeful. The time to strike is now. We need to change structures. We need to change policies. I’m very fortunate to have these opportunities, so I’m working with my purpose. I feel like the skies have opened up.” May they rain down equality and inclusion.

Photography by Will Crooks. For more on Dr. Starks and his consulting firm, visit bcsandassociates.com.