Bryan Williams: Empowered to Generate Value for All

by Madison McCulloch and Isabella Snider

If you told Bryan Williams in high school that he would one day be the Founder and CEO of a non-profit, he wouldn’t have believed you. He probably wouldn’t have believed he would end up with a Bachelor of Science in Metallurgical Technology either, or become a quality assurance metallurgist at Gerdau. Williams grew up in the inner city and says that all he’s accomplished has been the result of him “going against the grain.” 

“It doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter if you're inner city or suburbs, if you're rural, wherever you are, just try to be a positive light to help because you never know who you're going to influence,” Williams says.

Williams’ uphill climb to success led him to start the L.E.A.R.N. Center in 2016, which stands for leadership, education, adaptation, redefine and nurture. At the time, he was helping with after-school athletic programs, given his own background as a rugby player. He heard the students talk a lot about athletics but noticed they never discussed science with each other – reserving that interest for one-on-ones away from most of their peers. Those conversations ignited a fire in Williams: why not provide students with academic outlets in the same way athletic ones are provided?

Williams started with donating to a school his former neighbor had recently founded in Haiti. His work then grew to assisting transitional shelters and seeking official 501c3 status in late 2019 for L.E.A.R.N. Its new status allowed Williams’ community to donate to L.E.A.R.N., creating a “growing army of small businesses” that stands behind the non-profit. The L.E.A.R.N. Center then opened the STEM Academy, providing students with virtual science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes.

Bryan's non-profit at a sporting event
Williams and the students in his non-profit toured the College Football Hall of Fame, which taught the students the role technology has and is currently playing within sports and medicine.
Children at a school in Haiti
Williams' non-profit helps support a school in Leogane, Haiti. The school is named Ecole Bon Samaritan de Leogane (The Good Samaritan of Leogane).

L.E.A.R.N. has expanded to eight cities across the United States, from Dallas to Atlanta, and boasts 18 students in the STEM Academy’s fall 2022 class.

It hasn’t been easy to make L.E.A.R.N. what it’s become today and grow it for the future. Williams leads a busy life with his family, his work at Gerdau, and athletics, but he credits lots of coffee and an incredible team behind the non-profit for its development. Despite his full schedule, Williams remains committed to helping his community.

A small part of Williams still feels like he’s dreaming – that there’s no way that he’s been able to achieve what he has. At first, Williams was hesitant to share his non-profit with his coworkers, fearing their expectations. But sharing his story with Gerdau has had the opposite effect. Our company and employees have embraced and donated to L.E.A.R.N., boosting Williams’ confidence in his mission.

The students of L.E.A.R.N. in a group
Students get the opportunity to go on learning trips like the Atlanta Science Festival, AI tours and geocaching events.

“People are seeing what you’re doing, and they want to get behind you and support you,” Williams says.

With a leader as passionate as Williams, it is difficult to not support in his vision. The care Williams has put into the L.E.A.R.N. Center shines through when he talks about the principles of the L.E.A.R.N. acronym.

"Those are the principles in which we stand on because you have to know how to lead, and to be a good leader you got to first know how to follow,” Williams says. “We focus on education and then allowing the students to adapt to their surroundings and then redefine what it means to come from wherever it is that you come from.”

Willliams’ work not only provides students with opportunities, but it has a ripple effect in the communities L.E.A.R.N. is a part of, reaching parents, grandparents, and all those the students interact with. Williams’ work captures the Gerdau spirit of generating value for all, inspiring those around him to give back and get involved.

“(To) envision a better society ... a smarter society, one that's more equal, one that’s more balanced, it takes the work that we're doing to do that – to be able to generate value for all,” Williams says.

Bryan Williams smiling in front of steel
Williams works as a metallurgist at the Cartersville mill.

Williams’ advice to others who seek to better their communities is just as inspiring as his story: don’t do it for yourself and embrace the journey.

“I have so much going on. (I) have my family, my wife, my kids, and then I'm playing rugby. I'm still working. How am I going to do all this?” Williams says. “But when you keep the mission at hand and you just focus on, ‘By any means necessary, I'm going to help where I can,’ it makes it easier because at this point, you're not really living for yourself. You're doing these things, but it's not for the self-gratification.”

Williams was once in his students’ seats, hearing that the world was his oyster but not fully believing it. The message stuck, inspiring Williams to shape a brighter future for all.