Cecilia Cheeks-Taylor, born in Indiana, relocated to Atlanta at a young age. She lived in College Park and graduated from M.D. Collins High School, now Banneker High School.
Growing up in a musical and construction family, she developed a love of the arts and building. She studied voice and classical dance. In her youth, she was also a “science head,” who worked after school as a pharmacy technician in a drug store, which inspired her to start college as a biology major.
In high school, she took a public speaking class. It was then that her teacher, Mrs. Turner, suggested she consider a career in broadcast. Speaking came easily. She brushed it off. But, after taking some electives at Valdosta State University (VSU), where she earned a BFA in Speech Communications/Public Relations (PR), and with heavy influence from the PR department head, Professor Blakeman, Cheeks-Taylor discovered she wanted to be a PR practitioner – one who works in the background advising CEOs and presidents.
That decision manifested into Cheeks-Taylor working as a media relations specialist during the 1992 U.S. Presidential election on behalf of former President Bill Clinton and as either a corporate communicator or PR practitioner for Moody Air Force Base, Primerica Financial Services, Kaiser Permanente, IMAGES USA, Aquent Marketing Staffing, BellSouth Corporation and Verizon Wireless.
Cheeks-Taylor earned a Master of Business Administration from Clark-Atlanta University while nurturing a family and working full-time at Verizon. “That’s where I sharpened my chops. So far, my work at Verizon has stretched and fortified my business acumen the most,” she said.
She became the first-ever director of Communications, Business Marketing and Public Engagement with Atlanta Housing in 2016. And, with the support of the board of commissioners, she spearheaded the agency’s re-branding campaign alongside the 80th Anniversary Celebration and led the team that developed the Property Protection Plan, Upfront Rent Determination tool and other incentives that increased partnership with property owners, resulting in a 35 percent increase in housing units available to low-income residents since 2017.
“I think it’s important for people to know that affordable housing is not what’s often perceived: housing for poor people who are looking for a hand-out. They are hard-working people who contribute to the economy and deserve quality homes in safe and amenity-rich communities.”
Cheeks-Taylor assumed her current role as chief of staff on May 9, 2018. She’s tasked with overseeing the administrative activities and special strategic initiatives for the president and CEO. She is also responsible for creating the Atlanta Housing Equity Forum, which unites leaders from the finance, social activism, governmental and real estate development communities to engage in developing equitable housing solutions.
What’s next for her professionally? She said, “Being a spiritual woman, I know I’m not in control; but there’s so much I can help the agency accomplish through this role, and I’d like to see that through. I’m excited about what’s on the horizon for affordable housing in Atlanta.”
Cheeks-Taylor is an avid runner and cyclist. “It keeps me balanced and healthy,” she said. She’s participated in the Chicago Marathon twice, MS Bike, and she supports Black Girls Run.
Issues impacting women and children tug her heartstrings. She passionately advocates against domestic violence, served on the board of Dress for Success, is a member of Cascade United Methodist Church and the Atlanta Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and is an executive board and charter member of the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.
Most importantly, Cheeks-Taylor is a mother of three. She considers this her biggest accomplishment and challenge. “Every day, they teach me something about life and myself,” she said.