Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mentoring – Why do we do it? How do we do it? Are we effective?

Leadership naturally implies mentoring or growing those up who seek us out as mentors and follow. Evaluating if mentoring is right for us or if we are right to mentor, requires an intentional approach and commitment. If we have committed to being a mentor or evaluating this relationship, we should be able to answer three questions succinctly.

Why do we mentor?

I mentor because I am called to transform the lives of black youth in Atlanta. Mentoring allows me to influence young men, train them to excel beyond even their own expectations and expand their vision to lead Atlanta. Race plays a critical role in this conversation.

Why do you mentor? Some feel a responsibility to give back, others may want to inspire change or make a difference. In order for us to be effective mentors, we must understand why we want to mentor because mentees will eventually figure it out, even if we haven’t. Mentees may not connect quickly with us so we also need to understand why and why it may take so long to invoke lasting change.

L.E.A.D.'s Human Ambassador Project

How do we effectively mentor?

Authenticity & Transparency - People won’t believe your success until they believe your struggle. Mentees consciously and subconsciously fear that mentors will not be authentic, aka FAKE. Without authenticity, mentoring relationships become one-sided with mentors dictating directions and “shoulds” which equals guilt. Mentoring relationships are a two-way street. My mentees must be committed to helping me with my shortcomings otherwise we can’t have the relationship. If I don’t share my shortcomings, I cheat them from this opportunity.

Boldness – Are you inspiring? Confident is good. Arrogance is bad. The fine line separating the two is humility, one I often cross. Mentees often lack direction in life or knowledge of the path to reach the destination, hence the reason they follow us. We’ve been given permission to lead so if we expect boldness from them, we must demonstrate it as well.

Consistency – How do we remain influential while not present? As a follower of Christ, I believe that planting seeds of greatness must be watered by the Holy Spirit in my absence. I can influence mentees interceeding through the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. My mentoring relationship include an aspect of accountability in my absence that works to keep my mentees honest.

One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell and in his book Outliers, he teachers that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to develop a skill. I believe it to be true.

Helping mentees become the best version of themselves requires deliberate practice within a set of guidelines. Guidelines include honest conversations about available time and my priorities and where they fit into those priorities. While mentees will not get all of my time, they can, by text message, email, sharing of books, blogs and daily prayer, be mentored, follow and learn.

Guardrails established early enable a reliable framework for consistent transformation. These frameworks naturally forecast an end date for the formal part of the relationship. When the purpose of the relationship is clear, frameworks are easier to discuss. Mentoring relationship should never end informally so being clear increases credibility.

Sustainability - Will I (the mentee) be inspired beyond our formal relationship? Sustainability requires strength. I thrive when I’m spiritually, emotionally, mentally, relationally and physically strong and I want to teach my mentees how to fill and keep these five buckets full forever. Since mentoring relationships have a beginning and ending, how will I be inspired and inspire those beyond the framework of the formal mentor relationsihp? By modeling and sharing what personally works for me.

I strengthen myself by growing each aspect required in sustainability: Spiritually – through prayer and my relationship with Jesus Christ; Emotionally by my wife and daughters who inspire and empower me by revealing my positive and negative blindspots; Mentally - by reading which I didn’t like as a child. I felt it was taboo for Black boys to be educated. It was considered to be “acting White” by many of my peers. Now I read almost two books per month because education is learning what needs to be learned to do what needs to be done; Relationally - by spending time with likeminded friends. I’m an extrovert and enjoy meeting new people benefitting most from people that want to become a better version of themselves. I feed off of these folks even if they are homeless, addicted to drugs or the CEO of a Fortune 100 company; Physically - by working out for at least 30 minutes four days per week, even if I don’t want to, feeling good feels good and allows us to do good.

How are you sustaining yourself? What is your plan for sustainability? It this worth sharing with your mentees? You can’t share what you don’t know…

Are we being an effective mentor?

In the end, are we fulfilling our mission as mentors? How are we measuring our effectiveness? We can only do that if we define our role. Mentors need to think twice about starting relationships with mentees if they don’t know how to mentor. Education precedes empowerment and leads effectiveness. Think carefully about committing to a mentoring relationship. What role will you play? What is your commitment? How will you define success for yourself, your mentee and are those the same? I measure my effectiveness by my mentees being able to communicate their life purpose in 30 words or less. Not by memory, by instinct.

If you can answer 50% of these questions, you are ready to get started. Be mentored, finish answering the other 50% and get involved. You’re needed.

Pictured with my mentee Javier Mayora of El Salvador

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Meet Me Where I Live or My Collaboration Methodology, The Nuts and Bolts

It is no secret that I am a transparent personality. I wear my heart on my sleeve. That is by design. You see, I have a God-sized assignment. It is to develop a new generation of civically engaged educated Black men in America starting with inner city Black youth attending Atlanta Public Schools. The only way I know to accomplish this in the time I have here on earth is through Collaboration.

I understand that no man is an island and that working with others is paramount to a successful outcome. I am challenged by others often enough about my ability to Collaborate that I want to address it here. I hope that by doing so others will more fully understand the task at hand, and what I have in my heart. If they do, my desire is that they will open theirs to me in the spirit of Collaboration.

Over the last ten years in my capacity as CEO of L.E.A.D., Inc., I have been honored to work with at-risk inner-city young Black males to empower them to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. L.E.A.D. partners with Atlanta Public Schools, grades 6 through 12, using baseball as the vehicle for transformation. During that time, I have done a lot of soul-searching, heart-searching and self-questioning to grow into the leader I am today. I have “a ways” to go, but I am blessed to have the unwavering support of family, friends and colleagues to help me become the best leader I can be.

2017-18 L.E.A.D. Ambassadors

Also, during that period of personal and professional growth, I developed a methodology for Collaboration that has served L.E.A.D. and its Ambassadors well. To have a successful Collaborative outcome, potential collaborators must define their Conviction and Connection and look for Consensus. Communication is also key. I use this methodology when looking for those with whom to Collaborate. Following is an explanation:

Conviction has four components, and each person involved needs to determine: (i) what they can do; (ii) what they can’t do; (iii) what they will do; and (iv) what they won’t do.

For me:

· I can lead by example based on my life experience.
· I can’t be all things to all people.
· I will serve out of my passion, purpose and grit.
· I won’t spend significant energy and time on things that I’m not passionate about.

I believe this process must happen first because it reveals what’s in the heart. Connection can’t happen without it.

Connection happens when we - potential collaborators - know each other’s hearts. Connection happens when we understand each other strengths and weaknesses. Simply put, through the Conviction process we find out how our earthly talents, spiritual gifts, skills and desires complement each other. We find out what one person can do that another can’t, and what one person will do that another won’t.

Consensus is personal to me and should be taken into consideration by any potential collaborator in their own life. Let me set the expectation here. My wife, Kelli, is my gatekeeper. She is my helper, and voice, from God. Kelli must buy-in to any Collaboration. If she doesn’t even after we, as potential collaborators, have explored Conviction and Connection, there won’t be a Collaboration.

Communication needs to be Clear, Concise and Consistent by and among Collaborators from the start and must continue in that vein until the Collaborative effort is over.
For Collaboration to work for me it must involve a task of God-sized proportion. It must be an assignment from Him. It must be God-sized for it to be worth my prayers, energy and time.

We all know that Atlanta will never become a world class city until hundreds of thousands of Black males are living a sustainable life of significance. I know that the task to get us there is the development of “a new generation of civically engaged educated Black men in America starting with inner city Black youth attending Atlanta Public Schools.” That’s God-sized.

To that end, L.E.A.D. has successfully empowered a group of young Black men from Atlanta to graduate from APS high schools, go on to college, and work in their chosen fields, but we have much more to do before we can dub Atlanta world class.

I challenge you to think about how your “can dos” and “will dos” could work with my “can’ts” and “won’ts” and how together we can positively impact our world with a successful outcome of this God-sized task. Contact me and let’s start the process.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fake ... but for whose sake?

F.A.K.E. is an acronym that stands for Forcing Actions while waiting for a Kairos Encounter.

My Kairos moment woke me up one night in 2015 when I started my cohort with Leadership Atlanta. I heard great things about Leadership Atlanta from great people. I was looking forward to expanding my network with more people that were fake like me and maybe, if I was lucky, with a few authentic folks.

It wouldn’t be surprising to encounter fakes. After all, “Fake it until you make it,” is a real mantra in Atlanta (which is my birth city) and particularly so for Black people.

Blacks who are upper middle class are perceived as acting White and disconnected from Blacks who are poor until, it's time for black tie galas that raise money for the less fortunate.

My family comfortably sat in the middle class bubble and was considered as boujee before my Leadership Atlanta experience was complete.

I was fake in Atlanta because it's easy to do. Furthermore, many leaders are not only unchecked on it but also are rewarded for it. I didn’t think about it, because there was no need to until my Kairos moment.

Kairos is a favorable moment for decision or action. 

I went into Leadership Atlanta struggling with three things in need of a Kairos moment without even realizing it:

1. I was never fully engaged with gays and lesbians;
2. I was never fully accepting of women being in a position of authority over me;
3. I thought more highly of myself as a non-profit leader than I was able to execute. 

No one ever challenged me on my shortcomings on these issues, so I never challenged myself to reconsider my stand. That changed with my participation in Leadership Atlanta.

Leadership Atlanta's mission is to build a better community for everyone in the Atlanta region through education about the key issues facing the region. It seeks to inspire members and others to take on and exercise real leadership directed at serving the common good. In my case, it did more than that.

Leadership Atlanta deepened my convictions, helped me develop sound character, and caused authentic change in me.

My wife Kelli often says "everywhere you go, there you are." Thanks to Leadership Atlanta, I was able to see myself everywhere I went, and I didn’t like what I saw. I was faking it. I needed someone to point that out to me. I needed to realize that instead of waiting for a Kairos moment to clarify things for me, I needed to live my life awake by focusing on the 3 Cs. 

- Feeling conviction
- Developing sound character
- Creating authentic change

In Atlanta, we need our nonprofit organizations, particularly those serving young people to focus on these 3 Cs as well.

Thousands of young people in Atlanta are struggling at the hands of mentors and coaches who need mentors and coaches themselves.

C.J. Stewart, CEO/Co-Founder of L.E.A.D., Inc.
Georgia has one non-profit charitable organization for every 361 people. It is ranked in the top 1/3 of most charitable states overall. Georgia’s charitable organizations are generous with both their money and volunteers.

Why, then, does Atlanta have so many problems with poverty and failed educational outcomes?

Why haven’t these problems been resolved?

It isn’t a lack of resources. It isn’t a lack of goodwill. It is time, however, to ask ourselves hard questions so we can create authentic change.

Rise Up Atlanta.

We need to address the problems in our city.  We have to do it without ignoring that our most vulnerable youth need leaders who have the courage of their convictions, possess sound character, and are willing to face their own shortcomings so they can generate authentic change. Who are those leaders? Where are they? Are you one of them? What three questions should our youth be asking their mentors to determine if they can effectively lead them or if they are just faking it?


Monday, December 4, 2017

Servant Leadership - Georgia's Own, A Credit Union That Cares

Do you assess a company’s mission and value statements before doing business with them, and then reassess on an ongoing basis? We do. We have to. My wife, Kelli and I, co-founded L.E.A.D., Inc. in 2007, and this year we celebrate 10 years of empowering Atlanta’s at risk inner city youth to become leaders. How have we managed to keep going, and have great success?

We found the best way is through servant leadership. I wrote a blog post on L.E.A.D.’s Servant Leadership Role in Atlanta in March 2016. We also found that surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, and partnering with other organizations and businesses whose values align with ours, is key.

Georgia’s Own Credit Union has been a L.E.A.D. partner almost from the very beginning, and over the years has consistently shown us who they are. Through their dedication and commitment to L.E.A.D. they’ve worked to raise money at their Annual Golf Challenge to benefit L.E.A.D. In 2010, L.E.A.D. received $28,000 from the golf challenge. Yesterday Georgia’s Own CEO, Dave Preter, handed L.E.A.D. a check for $100,000 - for the fourth year in a row - from its 9th Annual Golf Challenge. We call that "hitting it out of the Park" for there is no measure of our gratitude.

David Preter the CEO of Georgia's Own Credit Union is dedicated to the success of Georgia, especially our youth. He is passionate about fulfilling Georgia’s Own servant leadership role in Georgia, and that passion reverberates throughout the company. Our experience is that the entire Georgia's Own staff shows commitment to serving others. When two organizations collaborate from the same mindset they set a higher tone, which was all too apparent during the recent golf challenge.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors had the opportunity to caddy for the golfers at the tournament and interact with them on the golf course. We all know how valuable that is. Mountains get moved through conversations on the golf course. Following are the thoughts of two L.E.A.D. Ambassadors who participated this year:

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Catchings: I am a senior at North Atlanta High School, and also a L.E.A.D. Ambassador. My experience with the golf tournament this year was great. I had a chance to meet new people and play golf, I've never played golf before. Golf is a quite interesting sport, it's very different from baseball. The group I was caddying for actually explained the game to me and was showing me the different shot names. It's a game of patience and accuracy, and it's also kind of soothing. I am just thankful for the opportunity, because not many teenagers get the chance to experience this terrific event. It helped me open up more which could help me in the future. A message to the folks at Georgia’s Own who put on the tournament: I love that you guys fed us and had a ceremony for us, for the donation. Thanks again for everything and I wish the best to all of you guys.

Antonio Catchings receiving the ball at 2nd base
L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Bryce Johnson: Being able to participate in the Georgia’s Own Golf Tournament was a great experience. Being able to make connections with so many people was the best part about the tournament. When you make connections It opens up new opportunities. Some of us got internship opportunities (like my teammate Je’Mario Almond). Others got advice for their future jobs. Some may have gotten advice for their new business that they wanted to make.

Another amazing thing that happened was that me and my fellow Maynard Jackson scholars met our Spanish teacher’s boyfriend. What a small world!

I was an Ambassador last year when we had about 20 Ambassadors and this year we had about 35 at the tournament which was really good. We all caddied the golfers and learned a little something about golf. My dad plays golf and so did I when I was little so I already had a feel for what was going on. When we started out It was freezing cold and plus the wind was making It even worse. But as the day went on it got warmer. We all got a chance to hit a ball on the 12th hole and we also took pictures. Then after we were finished playing we went inside for the lunch and the food was delicious. Then they had the auction and then they granted us the check. We are so thankful for the 100,000 dollar check. It’s because of people like this LEAD can do what they do. We thank everyone who participated and helped this event be a success. The experience was one of a kind and we are looking forward to next year.

Bryce Johnson
If you are looking for a new banking partner, and care about corporate culture and its level of commitment to the community, I recommend looking seriously at Georgia’s Own Credit Union.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Enabling vs. Empowering

I was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta – a “Grady Baby”, which almost always means you were born Black and poor.

I found hope in five things:

• My School: Atlanta Public Schools (APS) which was led by leaders such as Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and Dr. Alonso Crim;

• My Role Models: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Atlanta’s first Black Mayor Maynard Jackson were APS alums like me;

• My Home: A city that was growing and successful. Atlanta is the home to CNN, the Atlanta Braves (the first pro sports team in the South), and the headquarters of Delta, thanks in part to the work of Mayor Maynard Jackson, who helped build Atlanta’s airport and make our city a gateway to the world;

• My Sport: Cascade Youth Organization, a part of Atlanta Parks and Recreation, gave me and hundreds of other kids a chance to play baseball. National leaders like Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy had relatives that played at the park as well, so it was common for me to see these giants at the park from time to time. My first baseball coach was Emmett Johnson who was Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Chairman;

• My Church: I was born into Christianity and Elizabeth Baptist Church which was full of good people, many of them highly educated and bourgeois. Being bourgeois can be good or bad and it depends on your willingness to serve others.

Hope is a gift, but turning hope into reality is a journey. My journey began in school.

C.J. Stewart
Atlanta Public Schools today has three tiers of students. Tier 1 students are highly motivated and will graduate from high school regardless of their socioeconomic status. Tier 3's lack motivation and will most likely drop out of high school and have a high probability of being incarcerated and/or living a life of poverty regardless of their socioeconomic status. It is the Tier 2 students – the ones between the highest and the lowest, the ones that could end up going either way - that are often the most challenging to teach, coach and/or mentor.

I was a Tier 2 student.

My parents didn't want me to feel poor, so I was always dressed like rich kids. They made the sacrifices financially to make sure that we went on family vacations, wore nice clothes and attended social events like the Nutcracker.

As an elementary and middle school student within Atlanta Public Schools, I was wrestling with the constant desire to have sex. It was all over television. I was also getting good at using profanity to seem cool. I was willing to hang out with the "bad kids" in order to fit in. Everyone wants to belong and belonging to my church groups and the Boy Scouts just wasn't cool enough to me.

At my young age, I noticed that there were three types of people that enabled me to lean towards Tier 3.

1. White women
2. Black women
3. Black men

It is a raw generalization, but you have to remember, this is how a kid like me – like lots of kids like me - saw the world. How did they enable me to be cool? I’ll tell you:

White women were the best for me because they would always cut me the most slack. I felt that White women were just inherently nicer than Black women based on my interactions with them in person and from what I saw of them on television.

Black women, in contrast, were always super strict and stern. The older women were a part of the Civil Rights Movement and felt the need to empower young Black males, but often they did more enabling than empowering. Although they were stern, they didn't have it in their heart to let me fail, so I could always get my way even though I would get a tongue-lashing.

Black men were humble to a fault. They were often apologetic about their gifts and talents. They would give you a lot of "back in the day" talks that could last for hours. I would get away with being bad because they didn't have a plan of action to hold me accountable.

By definition, there is a fine line between enabling and empowering, but a vast difference in the path that each can lead to – a journey that is as different as a Tier 3 student is from a Tier 1.

C.J. Stewart

I have been the Chief Empowerment Officer for L.E.A.D. for 10 years and we partner with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. LEAD Scouts The Counted Out. The over 300 student-athletes that we serve earn the opportunity to become empowered by LEAD with the ABC'S ...

• Attendance
• Behavior
• Curriculum (grades)
• Service

The sea of life is rough and challenging, and there are many sources of help that can “enable” our young men to tread water and survive. But we want to do so much more than just survive.

LEAD is a boat in the sea of life, a means of navigating that sea and empowering our young men to take their journey toward leadership. Through Standards, Expectations and Accountability (the S.E.A.), our student-athletes rise above the waves and move forward.

As a consequential leader in Atlanta, it is my prayer that Black Males being raised in poverty find a boat like ours, get on board, and take this most important journey of their lives. By holding Atlanta’s future leaders accountable, we are building a battalion of LEAD’s own version of Navy SEALS, empowering them to take charge and turn their own hopes into reality.


Friday, October 6, 2017


As they say, the third time’s the charm, and so it was for the Atlanta Police Department on August 19 at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium. APD officers played L.E.A.D. Ambassadors in the Third Annual Safe at Home Game and won this year after having lost to the Ambassadors the two previous years. The final score was APD 14, L.E.A.D. Ambassadors 4. No matter though, the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are in a rebuilding year and are looking forward to a rematch in 2018. 

The real story, however, is not that APD won the game, but how APD officers and L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are changing the game of life in Atlanta’s inner-city communities, in which they live and work, through the game of baseball.

The Safe at Home Game is all in good fun, but with a profound purpose. It is a self-officiated game played at the end of a series of events that are designed to build rapport between Atlanta’s inner-city kids and inner-city and cops. Our work with APIVEO in creating the Safe at Home program has created opportunities for the Ambassadors and the police officers to interact on a level playing field. As a result, each group has new experiences with the other, perspectives change, and create hope for a better future.

Officer Fletcher – APD Officer

Officer Fletcher has come to know Atlanta’s inner-city youth through his daily patrol of inner-city neighborhoods. As a first-time participant in the Safe At Home program, he has gained a much-needed new perspective on Atlanta’s inner-city youth. Here’s what he had to say after the game:

I am a police officer for the city of Atlanta Police Department. Words cannot express the joy I had in playing in this year’s police vs youth game. I am one of those officers who patrol through a few of the lower income, inner-city neighborhoods on a daily basis. On a daily basis kids and adults yell vulgar language just at the mere presence of a police vehicle, and I can honestly say a lot of times it bothers me.
On many occasions, I have exited my patrol vehicle and attempted to interact and play sports with the youth. Often the youth refuse to play or an adult comes and tells them to go in the house -" we don't talk to police". This baseball game meant so much to me because during and after the game these young
men told me “thank you” for playing. They also told me I'm the coolest and funniest cop they had ever met. It meant a lot to me because I have two small sons who were able to come and watch the game, and see why daddy can't walk the next day because he is getting old and pulls a muscle every time he plays sports. The kids told me thank you a lot, but I am the one who should be thanking them and the organizations, L.E.A.D., Inc. and APIVEO, for putting this event together. I cannot wait for the next opportunity.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Neco McClure says that “being able to play in the Safe At Home Game was a gift”, and L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Pierce says he saw that the APD officers were “just like us”. Neco and Antonio also walked away from the experience with a different perspective on the officers they practiced with and played against, and they want others to have the same opportunity.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Neco McClure

I thought there would have been umpires at the game, but turns out it was a self-officiated game. I liked that about the game because you gain respect for each other as you tell whether the person was out or not. I also liked that everyone got to play, and if you made mistakes it would be alright. This was my first year at the Safe At Home Game, and I loved how you got to be honest. Honesty is the key to the game. You don’t want to cheat in the game because you wouldn’t want anyone to lie about you getting thrown out or struck out.

The importance of the Safe At Home Game is to get inner-city kids and cops to come together and have a chance at playing a friendly game of baseball.
Photo by Jasmine Norwood
You’re not only playing a game of baseball, you are also getting to know each one of the police officers and learning about their childhood, and how childhood could make a difference in how you live further in life.

Being able to play in the Safe At Home Game was a gift for me. It exposed me to something better in life. It showed me a different way - how not to do the wrong thing, make bad decisions, and be behind bars when I could just be playing baseball, going to college, and have a chance to play in the major leagues.

I would definitely recommend bringing back the Safe At Home Game so that other people can see a different side to cops, and see how we all can come together as a team and build a better city and state.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Pierce

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

What I learned from the Atlanta Police Department and Ambassadors experience, is that the police officers we met are a special group of men. They are just like us. They have a job just like us. I have known people to belittle cops because someone they know has committed a crime. What I know is that if you commit a crime you have to do the justified time.

I learned that APD men are just like us. They have been through some of the same things we are going
Photo by Jeff McPhail
through as most are retired baseball players. The APD men were well rounded, very outspoken and uplifting. They taught me a lot about my ability to play this game we love - baseball. They mentored me along the process. Some of the officers - I've been knowing for years - are so cool to hang around. I had fun practicing and fielding with the them. It was such a great experience. I want to have the Safe At Home Game ever year.

L.E.A.D. CEO CJ Stewart

I have personally learned a lot over the last three years of L.E.A.D.’s involvement with Safe at Home. For instance, we don’t put forth enough effort getting to know our police officers. We spend more time on, and put more effort into, learning about celebrities and their lives, than we do getting to know those whose job it is to protect us.

Additionally, I have participated in Zone 3 police rides - Zone 3 is the area around where Turner Field used to be. I witnessed APD officers heading into gunfire after an alert by Dispatch. My instinct, as a civilian, when I heard the same alert was to get as fa
r away from gunfire as possible. That experience made me question what would happen without a police presence in our neighborhoods. I imagine chaos.

I would be remiss not to mention the conversations I’ve had with our police officers’ wives over time. What stood out the most from those talks is that these officers have families, same as me, only I don’t put my life in danger like that on a daily basis.

My personal participation in the Safe At Home program has been humbling. I also think that through my participation, I've helped to shine a light on two groups in our community who get a bad reputation because of what a few people do. Through Safe At Home, I've been a part of highlighting what's good about Black boys and cops.

The relationship between APIVEO, Atlanta Police Foundation and L.E.A.D. is stronger now because of our work together on Safe at Home. That's a win for our Ambassadors, our officers and for Atlanta overall.

Together our voices will be heard as we develop Atlanta’s next generation of leaders. You can help. Visit to learn more.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Grit by Association

My wife, Kelli and I have been working over the last ten (10) years to empower Atlanta’s inner-city young black men to become leaders and to lead lives of significance. We have seen young men in our program grow and have great success. However, the underlying problems continue to exist that stifle our ability to significantly alter the narrative of young black men living in the inner-city communities of Atlanta in general. No amount of money or human resources will resolve these problems, change the narrative, or create a positive environment for growth and success until uninitiated adult mentors and failing Black male youth partner in “grit by association”, or are working with relentless determination toward a common goal from the same page of the playbook.

People create problems, and they have the ability to resolve them.

We have problems in the inner city of Atlanta that have been created by people over many years. Jim Crow laws played a big part in economic and social disparity among Blacks and Whites. Although Jim Crow laws no longer legally exist, the inequitable intentions can be seen in redlining, gentrification, negative rhetoric and aggression. They continue to negatively affect poor and Black communities.

For instance, in Atlanta, if you are born into poverty you have a 4% chance of making it out according to the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, too many Black males in Atlanta drop out of high school, are unemployed, and go to jail as a result of the negative cycle of oppression heaped upon the Black community by Jim Crow, and later, laws.

Despite our abilities as problem solvers, these problems persist year after year.

Why haven’t these problems been resolved? It isn’t the lack of money or mentors coming out of non-profit charitable organizations. Georgia has one non-profit charitable organization for every 361 people. It is ranked in the top 1/3 of most charitable states overall. Georgia’s charitable organizations are generous with both their money and volunteers. Then what is the answer?

Resolution of the same old problems plaguing Atlanta - that stand in the way of our progress - will only be solved by educated empathetic people working together within the same context, and with the same grit, passion and purpose. More specifically, it will only work when mentors and mentees attain grit by association. For that to happen, each person first needs to find his or her context.

The responses to the following three questions establish that context and lead to understanding “why you exist”, “your purpose”:

1. Everyone is suffering with something. What are you suffering from?

2. There are endless amount of problems in the world. What world problem do you want to help solve?

3. Life is complex but doesn't have to be complicated. Why do you want to continue to live?

Participation in this exercise by the mentor and mentee is imperative to identify the commonality of purpose, or the association between them. Once established, acknowledged and understood, then each participant’s grit, or the relentless pursuit of the common purpose, becomes grit by association, and is more meaningful and stronger. Growth follows, and problem resolution becomes inevitable.

Solving Atlanta’s problems will not happen overnight, but they will be resolved overtime by taking conscious actions together toward the same goal. Lewis Carroll said “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” I think the same holds true that: “If you and your partner want to end up together in the same place at the same time, you need to walk down the same road, in tandem, to the same destination.”