Thursday, April 2, 2020

COVID-19 — How to turn the name into an action that heals

According to the CDC, there currently is no vaccine to prevent us from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Instead, we are left with several ways to stop the spread. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus altogether. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person—between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). It also can be spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

COVID-19 has caused chaos for each and every one of us—uprooting our personal and professional lives, and forcing us to take deep precautions and exercise good judgement at every turn. Each day, I must remind myself that I have a calling to fulfill amid this chaos.

So how do I do it? It is in the name, COVID-19. I am:

C – Convicted | God’s way of keeping us on track
O – Optimistic | Hopeful and confident about the future
V – Valiant | Brave and courageous
I – Impassioned | Having or showing strong feeling about something
D – Definitive | Settling something finally with authority

According to the Bible, the No. 19 is used as a symbol of faith. It means that people who have faith in divine forces will have better lives, full of love and peace. People must have faith in Jesus and in his cross. It is written in the Bible that the people who listen to Moses are the people who have faith.

My spiritual gifts are discernment and hospitality, my earthly talent is coaching. Before the word coach was used in sports, it was strictly used as a means of transportation. There was a horse that controlled by a coachman and the coach—the compartment where passengers rested until they reached their destination. Coaching allows me to use my spiritual gift of discernment and hospitality to serve others well.

I am going to use COVID-19 as a framework to sustain me during this current time of chaos and prepare me for the next phase of trouble.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

Photo by Steve West


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Top 10 things that keep me healthy — Part I

“Making it to the top is not the same as making it at the top.” — Tim S. Glover

God has been good to me. He has protected and provided for me my whole life even though I do not deserve it. His mercy and grace is sufficient. Unapologetically, I am a follower of Christ and it was conviction that connected me to Him.

I am 43 years old. Since 2007, I have served as the Chief Empowerment Officer for L.E.A.D. The assignment was one that I received from God in 2007—a convicting experience that changed my life.

Stan Conway is the father of Davis Conway. In 2007, Davis, a middle schooler, was one of my Diamond Directors’ clients. One day, after one of our weekly Hitting Lab sessions, Stan asked me what else I wanted to do with my life. It had been a long time since someone asked me that question.

I did not have an answer.

Stan threw me three pitches that I swung and missed on.

1. He told me that as good as I claimed to be as a professional hitting coach, my rates were too low.

2. He told me that as good as I claimed to be as a professional hitting coach, getting access to me was too easy.

3. He told me he was aware that there was a decline of African-Americans in baseball in America and that I needed to do something about it.

With Stan’s financial support, L.E.A.D., Inc. was established. L.E.A.D. stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct, a 501c3 organization whose mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their City of Atlanta. Through year-round, sports-leadership programming (baseball), we empower 350 Black boys from 6th-12th grades in Atlanta Public Schools to overcome crime, poverty and racism so they can win at the game of life.

“Hurting people hurt people.”

I am in a great place in my life. I am strong spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and relationally. Having good health allows me to serve others well and allows others to serve me well.

There are 10 things I have to do to maintain my health so that I can lead in Atlanta on purpose:

1. Worship/Praise/Prayer/Fasting
2. Rest
3. Conviction
4. Reading
5. Writing
6. Being
7. Fitness training/Diet
8. Coaching
9. Giving
10. Leisure

Here is a look at the first five. In my next blog, I will touch on the remaining five items.

No. 1 — Worship/Praise/Prayer/Fasting
I worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ because of who He is. My praise to Him is because of what He does. Worship is important to me to help me understand that I am on an assignment here on earth and that I have a calling to fulfill. God is not our personal genie and there are many prayers that go unanswered. I continue to pray to Him because of who He is and what He does. Fasting is a huge sacrifice for me because I love food and, at times, I worship it more than God. Fasting teaches me to depend on God and replace flesh food with His Word, which is spiritual food and prayer. Fasting takes the focus off us and our flesh and onto God. A posture before the Lord. Fasting in Hebrew means to “cover your mouth.”

No. 2 — Resting
To rest is to cease from working. God created the heavens and the earth, and then He rested (Genesis 2:2). It is hard for me to rest, but I do it so that I do not crash. I know it is time to rest when I get irritable and struggle to have joy. I also tend to gain a lot of weight when I need rest because I do not get adequate sleep, skipping meals, lots of fast food and late night binge eating. One of the blessings that I receive when I am well rested is clear communication from the Lord. 1 Kings 19 teaches us how the Lord speaks to us in a whisper. I want to hear Him. I need to hear Him in order to fulfill His will.

No. 3 — Conviction
According to the late Regi Campbell, “Conviction is God’s way of keeping us on track. Always respond, never ignore. It’s for our good and His glory.” Conviction motivates and empowers us, while guilt paralyzes. I am a fan of conviction because I believe that greatness cannot be imposed. It has to come from within. But it does live within all of us. Conviction hurts. Conviction allowed me to see Kelli Hampton for the first time and want her for my wife. We have been married for 22 years. Conviction is how L.E.A.D. was started. I go deeper in my book, “Living To L.E.A.D.: A Story of Passion, Purpose and Grit.”

I believe that conviction leads to change and change is needed in the US today because people are most comfortable with people who are like them. From a racial perspective, there are winners and losers, and African-Americans are losing a lot.

For me, conviction leads to connection with others. Connection leads to consensus and collaboration and ends with change. Being convicted by Christ has changed my character, which has changed my conduct. I coach starting with conviction, which leads to change.

No. 4 — Reading
As a child, I did not like to read because I associated it negatively with being a nerd. I also had trouble understanding a lot of what I was reading because I lacked knowledge about it. Knowledge is facts—information and skills that are acquired through experience. The words were information, but did not make sense because I lacked the knowledge. Now I love reading because I believe books are a source of information and inspiration that can lead to knowledge. And knowledge can heal and build a nation. I also believe that education is learning. It is what needs to be learned to do what needs to be done. My personal mission in life is to be significant by serving millions and bringing them into a relationship with Christ, starting with my wife, Kelli, and our daughters, Mackenzi and Mackenna.

No. 5 — Writing
Putting my thoughts on paper forces me to tighten my perspective and develop understanding about what I do, why I do it and how I do it. Writing has caused me to stop doing things that I am not doing well, which becomes a drain of my energy, time and/or money.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

African-American Assets that need Access

There is a large supply of African-American baseball players and the gap between them and the destination of competing at the collegiate and the Major League Baseball level is opportunity. Contrary to the rhetoric that African-American youth don’t want to play baseball, they do but lack the opportunity.

Kyle Bamberger is currently a scout for the Cleveland Indians and he recently graduated from UMass with his MBA and a MS in Sport Management. One of his assignments was a study on players from low-income areas. He contacted me to ask for my insights about the topic. I agreed to help him requiring that he ask me Should Ask Questions (SAQs) that are thought-provoking rather than Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

I’m an African-American man that grew up in poverty in the inner-city of Atlanta dreaming of playing professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs.

I had my first workout with the Cubs at age 14 because I had a sponsor, T.J. Wilson, that believed in me. I was drafted by the Cubs out of high school at age 18. Instead of signing a professional contract, I committed to attend Georgia State University (GSU). I played at GSU for one-year and transferred to DeKalb Junior College to be a student-athlete (baseball) the following year. I was drafted again by the Cubs at age 20 at the end of my sophomore season at Dekalb College. This time, I signed with the Cubs.

Below is my response to Kyle’s SAQs. My hope is that my responses convict and get us above rhetoric to solution so that baseball can truly be America’s Favorite Pastime allowing everyone to get in the game.

Where can we improve interest and access to the game for kids in low-income areas?
The theory that African-American kids don’t want to play baseball is a myth. They want to play; they just do not have the same opportunities. Youth baseball is one of the least expensive investments a family can make today. It can get expensive when a child sets his or her sights on playing at a higher level.

So I think we have to start there—with providing the proper opportunities. Kids living in lower income areas, of all races and ethnicity, do not have the same access to the sport as kids in middle class and upper class families. A young athlete living below poverty level has to really love the game to play. When I was a kid, I used to hit rocks with a bat for hours in the backyard or play catch with myself by throwing a ball into the air over and over.

In Atlanta’s inner city, we have been taking steps over the years to lay down a blueprint for how this is done. The development process from my non-profit organization, L.E.A.D. (Launch Expose, Advise, Direct), establishes a process in which young African-American boys cannot only learn the game, but have opportunities to do so. The process involves:
• Learning how to participate
• Learning how to practice
• Learning how to play
• Learning how to perform

Getting “quality instruction” does not always have to come with a price. Sometimes it is about being blessed enough to have the right opportunity, the right program and the right coach leading the way.

What are some of the barriers that players from low-income areas face?
They are societal (structural) racism, implicit bias, color-blindness and blackballing. Unfortunately, some people believe that the low-income culture is defined by drugs, violence and neglect, to name a few. In some cases, these assumptions are correct. But these communities also offer a culture of love, patience, discipline and guidance. There is a level of commitment and determination these young men exhibit that makes them truly unique. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed of where they come from.

How can the baseball industry help knock down these barriers?
Developing the skills and habits needed to succeed in baseball—or any other sport—means you have to make an investment, especially if your goal is to play the sport at a higher level. And those investments can be pricey. Along with playing in reputable, organized programs, young players looking to play baseball collegiately or professionally have to hone their skillsets through private instruction and showcases. These avenues take investments that equate to thousands of dollars over the years.

For kids in lower income families, these roadblocks are hard to get over. Being denied opportunities because of your economic class is an injustice. That is why so many student- athletes lean toward sports like football and basketball, where the odds for scholarship opportunities are higher. Because baseball scholarships are not as appealing as these other sports, the game misses out on the diversity needed to round out its participation numbers. Too many programs stereotype inner city kids as ones who lack the discipline needed to attend and succeed at a university setting.

I was able to compete as a student-athlete in baseball at Georgia State University in 1994 because I received money from the Pell Grant and HOPE Scholarship. For example, the Hope Scholarship is a merit-based program available to students who have met the University System of Georgia and GSFC's residency requirements and are enrolled in an undergraduate degree seeking program. It is available in other states under a different name.

The opportunity enabled a student-athlete like me, who possessed a high aptitude and the ability to be a critical thinker, to pursue the sport I loved. I graduated from high school with a B average and was able to qualify for federal government assistance based on my parent’s income. I played Division I college baseball without paying any money out of pocket.

C.J. Stewart, Terrance Wright, Ron Knight (Atlanta Braves, Assistant Director, Player Development-Operations)

Does the showcase circuit hinder opportunities for low-income players?
Yes. The youth baseball industry is more commercialized than ever before. The time and financial investment it takes to play in these types of tournaments is heavy. Kids living in low- income areas are being priced out of the opportunities. Too few highly talented low-income student-athletes are able to get the financial assistance needed to participate at this level.

How do you recommend providing better opportunities for these players?
Communication is everything. There needs to be better dialogue among college coaches about the high level of societal (structural) racism, implicit bias, color-blindness and blackballing that is being inflicted on these young men. York University professor Carl E. James once said that “a society is structured in a way that excludes substantial numbers of people from minority backgrounds from taking part in social institutions” To change the system, we need to change our way of thinking.

What changes need to be made?
During the 2017-18 NCAA Division I baseball season, there were 10,465 baseball players. Only 3.7% of them were African-American. To change the system, you need to provide more opportunities for kids from low-income backgrounds, especially that that are African-American. This is where the top amateur baseball players are competing. But because there are not enough opportunities, i.e., available scholarship distribution, the numbers for African-American student- athletes are low. However, poverty can afford opportunities.

One way to change the system is to encourage and empower more African-American coaches to lead collegiate programs. Another way is to foster more academic scholarship opportunities at the public school level, where students should be preparing to enhance their academic standings. If a talented low-income student-athlete has a promising college future, but attends a “bad” public school, his odds are lower. He cannot afford to attend a private school and he shouldn’t be forced to attend one.

Finally, I believe that White college baseball coaches need to give low-income African-American high school baseball players the benefit of the doubt—the way they do for White players.

What considerations are necessary to enable success at the professional level?
Statistics and metrics are used to determine which players are promoted through the Minor League system and into the Major Leagues. The low numbers of African-American players at the Major League level is a clear sign that the numbers are stacked against African-American players. This can create an environment where players African-American focus more on politicking than performing.

Where does the lack of understanding come from?
Ignorance, arrogance and intolerance. Everybody in the baseball industry knows there are not enough African-American baseball players in the sport. But there seems to be an ignorance when it comes to solving the problem. Being unwilling to address the problem is the problem—and that must change.

Change can be made through acceptance, commitment and action. Leaders in the baseball community must change their mindset and stop operating under the assumption that African- American boys do not play baseball because they do not have father figures in their households to teach them the game. They do not avoid the game because it is slow or boring. They do not always favor football or basketball. These are all ignorant assumptions.

More young African American young men will play the game when they are afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. It is up to each of us to make that happen. With organizations like L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), we can begin to carry the torch forward.

L.E.A.D. is a sport for social good organization that uses baseball to help at-risk, African- American males in Atlanta Public Schools overcome three curveballs that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism. L.E.A.D. was founded 12 years ago by Atlanta native and former Chicago Cubs minor league outfielder, C.J. Stewart, and his wife Kelli.

To date, L.E.A.D. has served over 3500 youth in Atlanta Public Schools from 6th-12th grades. Through our partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, we proudly report the following stats for youth who complete our programming: 100% high school graduation rate, 93% college enrollment rate, 90% scholarship rate, 19% college graduation rate and about 14% enter the military or workforce.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The year 2020 - 20 questions that I have for 20 people

20/20 vision is said to be normal vision. At age 43, I find myself squinting a lot more these days. It’s been a while since I’ve had a sight test but I bet I’m moving towards needing glasses to see.

With regards to discerning my future for the year 2020, there are 20 people that I would like to meet. Upon meeting them, I already have the question prepared that I want to ask them.

1. Gucci Mane - What's your response to "successful" adults that tell youth that want to become a rapper that they should strive to do something else?

2. Big Meech - What's the best advice that you received from someone when you were a child that had you listened, would have prevented you from starting the Black Mafia Family?

3. T.I. - What are the principles of “street life” that are transferrable for launching a new business?

4. Barack Obama - Using 30 words or less, why can't we close the racial wealth gap in America?

5. Donald Trump - What was your initial reaction to the "Make America Great" mantra when it was shared with you to be used for your Presidential Campaign?

6. Tyler Perry - How do you define grit?

7. Brené Brown - If courage were an animal, what would it be?

8. Condolezza Rice - Using 30 words or less in a sentience, what’s the difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party?

9. Serena Williams - As a child, what were you considering as a backup plan if you didn’t become a professional tennis player?

10. Ayanna Pressley - You are quoted as saying, “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” What inspired you to make this profound statement?

11. Nick Saban - If you were offered and accepted the head coaching position for the Atlanta Falcons, what would be the first thing that you would do to help us win a Super Bowl?

12. Tom Brady - In Super Bowl 2017, y’all were down 28-3 at halftime. What were you saying to yourself in the locker room during that time?

13. Ed Bastain
Atlanta being regarded as "The City Too Busy to Hate" helped us prove to be "more progressive" than other southern cities during the 1960's. The slogan was great for business. How do you feel about Atlanta having the greatest income disparity in America?

14. Rosalind Brewer - What’s step #1 to making a company culture racially inclusive?

15. Tucker Carlson - What’s the fundamental difference between Fox News and CNN? How are they both the same?

16. Ibram X. Kendi - “How to Be an Antiracist” is a powerful book that you wrote. What’s the most disappointing feedback that you’ve received from an African-American reader about the book?

17. Simon Sinek - What’s the craziest title for one of your books that you’ve considered but didn’t pull the trigger on?

18. Ta-Nehisi Coats - What are the top three things that a U.S. President must do to prove that he/she believes that Black Lives Matter?

19. Rob Manfred - What is the major consequence of having such a low number of African-Americans that are competing in baseball at the Major League level?

20. Michael Eric Dyson - What book are you reading right now?


Friday, December 6, 2019

What I want — How 2020 will continue to define who I am

I am imperfect. We all are. I am a product of my past. But my future is hopeful. As I look at my life up until this point, I see that conviction has connected me to a life of purpose. You can see me, but you cannot see my soul. I’m living on purpose and I know where I want to go.

I believe it is important for each of us to write down the things we want to accomplish, the people we want to meet, the changes we want to make for ourselves and the world around us. Here’s a look at what I hope to accomplish in 2020:

1. I want to draw closer to God, trust myself and live a life that honors my wife and daughters.

2. I want the new Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent to respect the culture of sports as co-curricular rather than extra-curricular.

3. I want the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education to propose mandatory African American history classes within all middle and high schools in all Atlanta public schools.

4. I want Atlanta citizens by the hundreds of thousands to be aware that we are not yet a “City too Busy to Hate.”

5. I want Atlanta citizens by the hundreds of thousands to be aware that our state has a problem being in the top third of non-profits in the US, yet for the second year in a row, “Atlanta is the capital of U.S. inequality,” according to a Bloomberg analysis of large American cities with a population of at least a quarter-million.

6. I want to vet 20 volunteers for L.E.A.D. who can serve our Ambassadors by being a present, being present and being a partner.

7. I want the Braves to win the World Series and the Falcons to win the Super Bowl.

8. I want to read at least 20 books.

9. I want to start writing my second book.

10. I want the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors book, “Voices of the Counted Out” to sale more than 50,000 copies.

11. I want at least 100 fans at each of our spring L.E.A.D. Middle School Character Development League games. The MSCDL schedule will be posted by Feb. 1, 2020.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors along with Chief Patrick Labat
12. I want 200 people to march with us for our Spring L.E.A.D. Inner City Youth Baseball March. The MSCDL schedule will be posted by Feb. 1, 2020.

13. I want to do another Spartan Race with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.

14. I want to run in the Peachtree Road Race with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.

15. I want to launch a capital campaign to raise funds for the L.E.A.D. Center For Youth.

16. I want Chief Patrick Labat to be the next Fulton County Sheriff.

17. I want to be wise and courageous while inspiring others to do the same.

18. I want to remain healthy spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially and relationally.

19. I want to remain unwaveringly committed to using my wealth of social capital to help tens of thousands of marginalized families in Atlanta.

20. I want to remain unwaveringly committed to being regarded as man of God who is aspirational rather than using bravado to become successful at the expense of others.


Monday, November 4, 2019

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It, but What’s Taking You So Long to Fix It if You Know It's Broke?

If a system works and is affective then great! If a system is not producing the intended results and you know it, then what are you waiting for to change it to one that will result in what you need; especially when its ineffectiveness has a long term negative impact on the lives of young people.

My wife, Kelli, and I founded an Atlanta based non-profit organization L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) 12 years ago. L.E.A.D. is a sport for social good organization that uses baseball to help at-risk, Black males in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) overcome three curveballs that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism. Through our methodology, our young men become empowered to find success by embracing their education.

To date, L.E.A.D. has served over 3500 youth in APS grades 6 - 12. Through our partnership with APS, we proudly report the following stats for youth who complete our program: 100% high school graduation rate, 93% college enrollment rate, 90% scholarship rate, 19% college graduation rate and about 14% enter the military or workforce.

The systems we set up at L.E.A.D. to implement our programming need to work so that our young men can achieve the education success they must have to compete in life. We continually assess our programs and the systems we use. When we don’t get the results we need, we find a different way.

Despite our success, why does it feel that we are rolling a ball up hill when it comes to Atlanta’s graduation rate among Black males? Following are a few staggering statistics that I’d like you to share with you:

Based on a 2012 Schott Foundation report - Graduation rates for Black males in Atlanta 2009-10 42% and in Georgia it was 49%.

Based on a 2015 Schott Foundation report - Graduation rates for Black males in Atlanta 2011-12 was 38% and in Georgia it was 55%.

How is this possible? We know it isn’t a lack of resources and it isn’t lack of goodwill. 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. Could it be that those being served by the non-profit sector would benefit if there were an annual scorecard holding non-profits accountable for who and how they serve? Maybe, but that’s a discussion for another time.

We also know that the State of Georgia has a strategy for serving the educational needs of at-risk youth and systems in place to achieve their goals. So, why does Atlanta have so many problems with poverty and failed educational outcomes for young Black males? I think it’s because some of their systems are ineffective and it’s time to weed them out and replace them with what works.

According to a report issued by the Education Law Center one answer may lie in Georgia’s school funding formula: “Georgia is one of only eight states that provides no additional funding to students in poverty through the state’s school funding formula. Extra funding is, however, made available to districts if students test below grade level on Georgia’s English Language Arts or mathematics tests.”

In an AJC blog post dated August 21, 2019 by Maureen Downey entitled “Researchers say funding is not well targeted to districts with the greatest need” Ms. Downey refers to an Education Law Center report and introduces two researchers from the center, Mary McKillip and Danielle Farrie, to further explain in a guest blog, and advocate on behalf of Georgia’s at-risk student population. Following are outtakes from the blog post, more particularly the Education Law Center Funding Opportunity Fact Sheet that makes the case and provides for a system or funding formula.

According to the ELC Funding Opportunity Fact Sheet:

1. During 2017-18 - 52% of Atlanta Public Schools students live in poverty and 74% of APS students are Black. Based on this and the statistics listed above, one could assume the at-risk population in Atlanta Public Schools includes a high percentage of Black males.

2. Data to show why the current funding formula doesn’t work

3. How would Atlanta Public Schools benefit if the Quality Basic Education Formula Changed to a an ELC proposed Formula 

McKillip and Farrie give credit to Georgia legislature for taking “several positive steps to address over a decade of austerity cuts to K-12 education funding.” But are emphatic that “more can – and must – be done as Georgia ranks in the bottom quartile of states on public school funding. And there is an urgent need to drive more funds to address the impact of student poverty, especially in those districts serving high concentrations of students in need.”

“It’s time for lawmakers to tackle the challenge of providing additional funding to deliver essential resources to Georgia’s most at-risk students. These students deserve no less. “ Indeed.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Can sports help Black youth the way that it can White youth?

For all intents and purposes, I’m a Grady Baby. I was born in poverty in the inner-city of Atlanta. My mother, Gail, was 16 when she gave birth to me. She is the epitome of resilience and focus. My father, Willie, has always been in my life, and still models the qualities of commitment and discipline for me.

When I was a kid, young African Americans like me grew up hearing rhetoric like, “You could never be an athlete and intelligent at the same time.” Looking back, they were dumb jokes. What was real was the notion that while education could never be taken away from us, sports could.

As I grew older, I saw the pipeline of employment riding through the white community—one that helped young people prepare for the future. It was different for me. I was blessed to be on the right team, at the right time. I was coached by Emmett Johnson, Sr., who at the time was chairman of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Board of Education. I was also coached by Joshua Butler, a respected art teacher at Benjamin Mays High School. My family was not among the middle class, but my coaches were.

Playing baseball helped me build good habits, confidence and discipline. It shaped me into a community leader, teaching me how to strive for a goal, handle mistakes and cherish growth opportunities. Playing for Coach Johnson and Coach Butler gave me access. Through that access, I felt a sense of belonging to my birth city, Atlanta. I felt a sense of investment.

I dreamed of escaping poverty by entering the middle class.

My late mentor, Charles Easley, told me that ‘back in the day’, you did not become a man until you were allowed to play baseball. It was the principle he grew up under. Families would leave church and immediately head to the park to watch men play baseball. Sports like football and basketball were not even options. The University of Georgia recently uncovered the oldest known film footage of African-American baseball players. The footage is mesmerizing.

“I felt unhappy and trapped. If I left baseball, where could I go, what could I do to earn enough money to help my mother and to marry Rachel? The solution to my problem was only days away in the hands of a tough, shrewd, courageous man called Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers.” — Jackie Robinson

Atlanta is recognized as a world-class city. That would have never happened if it did not prove that it was a “city too busy to hate.” The transformation was set into motion when the Braves relocated here from Milwaukee. In fact, because of Jim Crow segregation laws, the Atlanta Braves were the first Major League team in the south.

Today, when I look out across our city, I see progress. Some of the progress can be traced back to sports. As the co-founder of L.E.A.D., I am able to use sports as a vehicle to help Black males in Atlanta’s inner city overcome crime, poverty and racism.

Photo of C.J. Stewart by Steve West
As a child, I experienced L.E.A.D. through the collaboration of my church, neighborhood public schools and local parks and recreation programming. We did not need non-profit organizations. Along with the guiding support of my family, I was able to get drafted twice by the Chicago Cubs. Without a college degree today, I am a husband, father, Deacon, author, business owner, and social activist who aims to attack policy that hurt the well-being of African Americans using sports as the vehicle.
L.E.A.D. is an amazing organization that offers amazing programs to young kids who otherwise might be counted out in Atlanta’s growing fortunes. Our organization would cease to exist if stringent policy ceased to exist.

As I continue to help build the minds and stature for some of Atlanta’s inner city Black youth, I cannot help sit back and reflect on how the road has led me to this place, at this time. As a husband and father, I am blessed to have had a hand in raising our children to always reach for the highest star.

My oldest daughter, Mackenzi, graduated from The Westminster School in 2019 with honors, while being a three-time state champion in tennis. Mackenna, my youngest daughter, is a 7th grader at The Lovett School. She is working to become a professional tennis player by age 15.

Both The Westminster School and The Lovett School are nationally respected institutions for sports and academics. Those are two of the reasons my daughters are a part of these K-12 institutions. The networking opportunities is the other. Mackenzi is a freshman student-athlete (tennis) at Howard University who is majoring in Afro-American History. She wants to be an education reformist who can educate and inform the masses about key concepts, events, people, etc., that were conveniently and intentionally left out of our history books. Mackenna wants to be a social activist.

At these schools, participating in sports and/or the arts is expected of everyone, regardless of their skill level. Being just a student today just is not going to happen.

The common thread of opportunity, as you can see, is that sports gives everyone a path toward intellectual, social and emotional growth. These are the very principles our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors embrace. The opportunity to step on to a playing field can be transformational. In sports, we find the balance between mind, body and spirit. It is just that this transformational experience must be something everyone—in all walks of life— should have the chance to develop.
The more level the field, the greater we can soar.