Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Covering my bases - Bankhead, Buckhead and Bartow

I was born and raised in Bankhead in the late 70’s. Bankhead was and still is a community for majority Black and poor people.

Around the age of seven, I remember leaving my Bankhead community to attend Northside High School located in Buckhead so that I could learn how to do gymnastics and engage in other academic enhancement activities.

I remember the houses in Buckhead being so large. The grass was so green and everything was so clean. The contrast with my community was stark.

At age eight, I began dreaming of playing professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs after watching hours of the Cubbies playing on WGN in the summer with my grandfather. After the games, I would practice in the backyard by hitting and throwingrocks at targets.

I was drafted at age 18 and 20 by Chicago Cubs and finally signed the second time. After my career ended, I began training youth baseball players in the East Cobb and Buckhead community.

I grew as a person and coach in those communities. I was able to help a lot of young men fulfill their life goals of becoming Major Leaguers, business owners and military officers, to name a few.

In 2007, Stan Conway, one of my for-profit clients fromBuckhead challenged me in a way that I will never forget. He asked me what I wanted to with the rest of my life in addition to coaching. No one had ever asked me a question like that – a question that forced me to expand my limited horizon beyond my current daily life and outward to “the rest of my life”. In baseball terms, he was asking me what I planned to do to “cover all my bases” – the present, the future and the larger world in which I exist.

Stan, a white man, told me that he was aware that there was a decline of African-Americans in baseball at the MLB level. I knew that to be a fact, but I also realized I wasn’t doing anything about it. I was planting seeds in a field in the suburbs and Buckhead – I was helping fill the coveted spots of Major League Baseball with more white men – and by doing so, I was working a field that wasn’t mine. My field – my farm, my “garden” - was Bankhead and I wasn’t planting anything there.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Amari Jones
In fact, I was unconsciously avoiding black male youth in Atlanta because I didn’t know how to intentionally help them. Why did I do this? I think part of the answer lies in the fact thatI didn’t quite know the details of how I made it out. I was raised by two parents that worked hard. I had a stable church andhome, loving family members and some good coaches. But getting access to educational opportunities as a collegiate student-athlete requires more than hope and a prayer. It requires advocacy.

L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) was established in 2007 and we’ve been tilling, planting, nurturing and harvesting ever since. L.E.A.D. offers advocacy and significance to inner city ATLANTA black males that are struggling with grades, attendance and/or behavior.

I am both privileged and challenged by the reality that we live in a bifurcated city – a city of two separate communities – and I have one foot in each of them. Consider something as simple as barbershops. Barbershops are institutions that are a microcosm of a still segregated ATLANTA. I have two barbers, one in Bankhead and one in Buckhead. A few years ago, I met former Georgia Governor, Joe Frank Harris at my Buckhead barbershop. I later met his son, Joe Frank Harris, Jr. The Harris family has resided in Bartow County for several decades.

Joe Jr. asked me if I would be willing to come to Bartow County to mentor students as I do in the inner city of Atlanta. I hosted Joe Jr. at one of our partner middle schools (Brown Middle School) so that he could see how and why L.E.A.D. exists. A few weeks later, he hosted me at Allatoona Elementary School in Bartow County. Like Bankhead, Bartow County suffers from extreme poverty which often leads to drug addiction and crime. The only major difference between the students that I serve in Bankhead and Bartow is their race.

C.J. Stewart at Allatoona Elementary School
I believe that race is a social construct that was created to justify slavery. The exploitation of this construct has since become a demonizing force that creates and perpetuates poverty, crime, health outcomes and housing to name a few. We are so often obsessed with the differences between our communities – the disparities between places like Bankhead, Buckhead and Bartow – that we rarely consider the similarities. The social construct of race is just another version of a wall – a psychological one in this case – with the sole purpose of separating us. But we are far more similar than we are different, and unless we consider those similarities when we ask ourselves, what do we want to do with our lives? – if we don’t confront the reality that we are all one community, we won’t be “covering our bases”.

I succeeded in escaping poverty and have reached a level of success that I leverage to serve others. Many years ago when Stan Conway asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life, he challenged me to be significant – to do something that I could look back on and say without any regrets that what I did was meaningful. I have answered that question now for myself, but I will continue to do so for others. My answer is to serve others, by doing what I know I can do best. And that is not just an answer, that is my significance in this shared but segregated community of ours.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Draft - getting the right players in the right positions

Real problems require real solutions with real people with real experiences. 
Are the right players in their positions?

Spring training is underway. In baseball, having the right players in the right position is a well calculated, tedious and significant investment designed to yield results. Every team hopes they have the right formula to win. A formula dependent on having signed the right players, in the right position.

Tackling poverty and failed educational outcomes for black youth in Atlanta requires the same intentionality, the right players in the right positions and a plan for success. Georgia has one non-profit charitable organization for every 361 people. It is ranked in the top 1/3 of states with the most charitable organizations. Georgia’s charitable organizations are generous with both their money and volunteers.

Why are we not seeing better outcomes from these dollars for young black males educationally and economically?

It is clearly not a lack of resources nor a lack of goodwill. However, it is time to ask ourselves if we are really making progress and creating authentic change. Authentic change requires authentic people with authentic experiences. Here are three reasons why I want to be chosen to help solve problems that have generationally plagued our city.

Tilling the ground
“It takes but one person, one moment, one conviction, to start a ripple of change.” Donna Brazile

Reaping a harvest begins with tilling the ground followed by planting and nurturing seeds. If we do not till the soil, seeds, no matter how good will not take sustainable root. Tilling is painstaking, laborious and often uncomfortable, however, it is necessary to weed out the undesired and can lead us to conviction. At times, weeds, posing as wheat, have overgrown the field, choking out good seeds. Planting seeds without a thorough tilling of the soil first, paves the way for waste. Effective changes always begin with a thorough tilling by a farmer with a track record of success.

Born for this

"You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages." Michelle Obama

Born and raised in Atlanta, I am one of the 4% to make it out of poverty. Educated in Atlanta Public Schools, I fell in love with baseball over 30 years ago, dreaming I would one day have the on-field talent and toughness of Jackie Robinson and the off-field charisma and consciousness of Martin Luther King Jr. Little did I know my life calling would be to shape the future of young men like myself.

There is no substitute for experience. Unless we understand another’s context, it’s hard to solve their problems. Transformational change of solving the educational and economic challenges of young black males today requires positioning the players with authentic experiences and successful track records.

I am the CEO at L.E.A.D., an 11 year old not-for-profit organization serving disadvantaged youth. Our Mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city. Our Vision is to develop Ambassadors who will lead their City of Atlanta to lead the world. Our Vehicle is baseball and through it, we empower our Ambassadors to overcome three major curve balls they face in life: crime, poverty and racism. We accomplish this with four clear steps: 

1. Launching student athletes towards educational opportunities after converting raw talent into the skills required for entry into college athletic programs. 

2. Exposing teens to service and local enrichment activities in order to instill a sense of responsibility, belonging and investment; key requirements for building a civically engaged individual. 
3. Advising players, coaches and parents on the process of effectively supporting dreams of playing baseball on the college level.
4. Directing young men towards their promise by using the historical journey of past African American legends as the road map.

100% of LEAD Ambassadors graduate from High School, 93% enroll in College and 90% receive college scholarships. We have a scalable framework, our Pathway2Empowerment, that can be expanded to serve more at risk youth. We are leading the way in empowering at risk youth with our proven track record of success.

Photo by SMAX Photography

Atlanta’s future

If Atlanta is willing to solve the poverty and educational problems plaguing Black youth, we will once again mark ourselves in history. Thousands of of Black males can live a sustainable life of significance. L.E.A.D. does it every year, student by student, player by player.

Partner with us. If you want to be a part of change in Atlanta and it involves the empowerment of Black youth males, bring us to the table. We have a proven track record, a calling and commitment.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Belong. Believe. Behave.

L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization operating in Atlanta. Our mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city. Through our year-round "Pathway2Empowerment Programming," we are inspiring and equipping Black males with the empowerment they need to live a life of significance.

The program helps:
  • Launch student athletes toward educational opportunities after converting their raw talent into the skills required for entry into college athletic programs
  • Expose teens to service and local enrichment activities in order to instill a sense of responsibility, belonging and investment; key requirements for building a civically engaged individual
  • Advise players, coaches and parents on the process of effectively supporting dreams of playing baseball on the college level
  • Direct young men toward their promise by using the historical journey of past African American legends as the road map
Tens of thousands of young Black males living in the inner city of Atlanta need the three B’s in order to live a life of significance. Here’s a breakdown of how it works:


“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” — Brene Brown

As a child, both of my parents modeled their work ethic in the comforts of my home. I was blessed to wake up to a father and mother in my house every day. But I grew up in poverty. It was hidden from me through designer clothes, a mandate to use articulate speech and annual visits to the Fox Theatre to see “The Nutcracker.”

I felt that I was better than my neighbors who lived in the same segregated Hollywood Brooks (Bankhead Atlanta) apartments as I did. I grew up feeling I was learning the right way, which had resemblance of the "White way".

Atlanta will never become a world-class city until hundreds of thousands of Black males are living a sustainable life of significance.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Harris Clement and Deangelo Nowell along with Coach Desmond Stegall

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” — Voltaire

L.E.A.D. partners with Atlanta Public Schools to inspire and equip Black males (Ambassadors) with the empowerment they need to live a life of significance. We Scout The Counted Out (TM).

Our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors believe they can live a life of significance because of our year-round “Pathway2Empowerment Programming.” Access to game-changing people and opportunities without support is like trying to drive a car that doesn’t have an engine.

Georgia has one non-profit charitable organization for every 361 people. It is ranked in the top one-third 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. But it is time we ask ourselves the hard questions so that we can create authentic change.

Rise Up Atlanta. Tens of thousands of youth Black males don’t believe that living life of significance is their destiny.


“Patience is not simply the ability to wait — it's how we behave while we're waiting.” — Joyce Meyer

Patience is the ability to wait without anger. Some of our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are mad as hell because they know that if you’re born into poverty in Atlanta, you have a four percent chance of making it out, according to research by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Judge Peggy H. Walker of the Douglas County Juvenile Court said, “When children don’t have language, their behavior becomes their language.” Here’s one intentional thing that you can do in 2019 to help me lead in Atlanta.

Become a recurring donor of $10, $20, $30 or more — no donation is too small.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How you can help lead (and change) the world

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m grateful that I am able to live and lead on purpose everyday as the CEO of L.E.A.D. Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). That is my why.

I was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta. As a child, I dreamed of playing professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs and one day becoming a leader like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I watched a lot of Cubs games on television with my Grandfather in the summer. He liked them, so I liked them, too. As an Atlanta Public Schools (APS) student at Grove Park Elementary School in the 1980s, my Grandfather and I talked about Dr. King a lot. Dr. King was also an APS alum, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu

The Facts

• Atlanta Public Schools educates more than 51,927 students grades K-12 with approximately 26,398 being males
• 33.5 percent of Black males either will not graduate on time or at all
• Georgia ranks in the Top 5 in incarceration in America, while America ranks No. 1 in the world
• If you are born into poverty in Atlanta, you have a 4.5 percent chance of making it out

By the tens of thousands, Black males are trapped in generational poverty because of slavery, which was followed by racism that had been supported by government policy before they were ever born.

If this was your story, how could you get free if no one helped you?

The Atlanta Public Schools mission statement is as follows: With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career.

I love APS. Under the consequential leadership of Dr. Meria Carstarphen, the culture of APS has changed.

Among many reasons, L.E.A.D. partners with APS because we are committed to the development of Atlanta’s future leaders who are being educated in APS. It has been done before.

Here are some other good men that are APS alums who have led Atlanta and helped lead the world:

Truett Cathy
Donn Clendenon
Johnny Isakson
Maynard H. Jackson
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.
Herman Russell

Our goals at L.E.A.D. are what drive us. By 2030, a U.S. Congressman will be a L.E.A.D. Ambassador. A L.E.A.D. Ambassador will lead a congregation of 15,000-plus church members. A L.E.A.D. Ambassador will be an Atlanta City Councilman, C-suite executive for an Atlanta based Fortune 100 Company, a chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education.

Photo by Rodney Cofield 

“Atlanta will never become a world-class City until hundreds of thousands of Black males are living a sustainable life of significance.” — C.J. Stewart

For 2019, I will teach our Ambassadors to gain an understanding of the word, bravado. I will also model it for them while mandating that they correct me immediately and consistently when I fail to lead appropriately.

Bravado is a noun that means pretentious; a swaggering display of courage.

Bravado may be perceived as a negative term, especially when attached to young Black males. Being pretentious is characterized by the assumption of dignity or importance, especially when exaggerated or undeserved.

• Are Black males in the inner city of Atlanta underserved?
• Can they escape a mindset of poverty with bravado?
• Do you have confidence that L.E.A.D. can teach and model bravado to our Ambassadors while it models it for thousands of others who live in their community?
• Would you be willing to make a special year-end donation of $50, $100, $500 or more? Or maybe you’d like to make a monthly recurring donation of $10, $20, $30 or more — no donation is too small.

L.E.A.D. vows to remove the gap between your donation and its impact.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This guy: Why Antonio Pierce’s rise to prominence should matter to you

I have been developing elite level hitters for more than 21 years. And I would have to admit that Antonio Pierce was one of the least talented athletes I have ever coached.

Before I explain, let me define a couple words I used in the above description.

Coach is something you do to get people from a place of being to a place of becoming. Talent is something that you do well.

Before the word coach was used in the context of sports, it was reserved strictly for transportation. There was a horse, a coachman (who controlled the horse) and a coach where the passengers rested. A coach took you to where you were supposed to be. Today, that doesn't happen as much because too often there is a fear of accountability.

Talent is the beginning. It is followed by habits and skills. Black boys mistakenly want to be called talented. Unfortunately, they don't realize that talent is really starting at the bottom. That’s the reason reading is such a fundamental tool.

Habits are things that you do well repeatedly without thought, while skills are the things that you do well repeatedly without thought while under stress.

We all know the saying: Skills pays the bills.

Antonio Pierce will graduate from the New Schools at Carver (Atlanta) in spring 2019. When he does, he will be the first in his immediate family to do so. L.E.A.D. has partnered with Antonio’s family since he was in the eighth grade. It has used its proven Pathway To Empowerment Methodology to move Antonio and hundreds of Atlanta Public Schools Black boys grades sixth through 12, per year.

Today, Antonio is signing a commitment letter to Savannah State University, where he will be a student-athlete in baseball beginning in fall 2019. Here are some of his thoughts on his progression:

Why did you join L.E.A.D. in the eighth grade?
I joined to better my circumstances at home, in my neighborhood and to better myself.

What are other opportunities that you could have have joined in the eighth grade?
None. There’s wasn’t anyone who was offering me what L.E.A.D. had to offer.

On a scale of 1-10, what was your baseball talent level when you joined L.E.A.D.?

How many times have you considered dropping out of L.E.A.D. since you joined?

Why did you stay?
Because I needed the opportunity and exposure. Because my family and community needs me. I stayed because L.E.A.D. was and still is my performance enhancer. It also delivered on all of its promises.

What world problem do you want to solve?
I want to solve poverty.

What have you learned from L.E.A.D. that will help you solve that world problem?
I have learned that everyone doesn’t want your help. You have to help the people who want your help. It’s my job and responsibility to help my community.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Here to there

Can you recall the last time you told yourself everything was going to be okay, and it wasn't? You probably went through the day faking it to make it. Today may just be one of those days.

It’s not okay because the world is full of problems. We need you to live on purpose and become a solution.

Getting from "here to there" is something that I think about daily.

At 42 years old, I aspire to retire as the CEO of L.E.A.D. at age 50. From there, I would like to work full-time with the NCAA to increase the number of Black males who are competing academically and athletically as baseball players.

As of today, less than 3 percent of NCAA Division I players are Black. That’s a problem. As a Black man who used baseball to escape poverty, I want to be a part of the solution.

“If you want to reach the nation, start from your corner.” — Big Boi

In order for me to get there, I have to start where I am. I’m passionate about the plight of inner-city Atlanta youth Black males who are living in a racialized America. My passion to empower Black youth males in Atlanta is the fuel for my purpose.

"Atlanta bred, Atlanta cred."
D.L. Moody penned these words in his bible next to the verse Isaiah 6:8. It says, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do and what I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.”

Here are my "Great Eight Questions" that I believe can get anybody from here to there:

1. How have you failed yourself?
2. What are you suffering from or seeking?
3. Why won’t you fail?
4. Who are you and what does God want you to do on Earth?
5. What do you need to repeatedly do without thought to accomplish your mission in life?
6. What do you need to know to accomplish your mission in life?
7. What do you need to repeatedly do without thought under stress to accomplish your mission in life?
8. Who do you need to help you accomplish your mission in life?

Do you have the answers?


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to get an “A” in Leadership

Being educated in the Atlanta Public Schools System (APS), I wanted to become a leader like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Atlanta’s first Black Mayor Maynard Jackson, botAPS graduates.

At the time, I believed the title “leader was a reflection of the position you held indicating others were following you. Fortunately, my definition of a leader has developed. How do you define leadership?

How to get an A” in Leadership:

Are you authentic?  Are you aware of your current shortcomings and biggest life lessons? How about those who follow you?  “Fake it til you make it” and “Grind til you shine” are two failing mantras that some leaders live by. There is an alternative – Authenticity. Authenticity is the foundation for effective leadership. What is your leadership mantra?  Are you Authentic?

AWARENESS & ATTITUDE (A2). How YOU Think and How YOU Act.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. - Albert Einstein

Are you AWARE of what ails our city and your ATTITUDE toward the problem? 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. So….

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

• Why haven’t these problems been resolved?

Don’t we have enough leaders? How do we hold leaders accountable to the very needed solutions? 

How you respond to a crisis reveals character. Bad news? A bad financial report? Difficulty in your company or with your child?  Do you have the wherewithal to make ADJUSTMENTS for positive outcomes in the face of bad news?  

Content knowledge without the character to act perpetuates crises and is a reflection of ineffective leadership. Conferences and books can educate leaders but crises itself equips us to formulate solutions

APTITUDE. How YOU Correct.
Aptitude is the ability to learn and apply knowledge. Leaders must put in action what they are learning at leadership conferences which require getting involved, staying committed and being vested in the outcome. Correction of our problems requires application, not just knowledge or position.

L.E.A.D. Ambassdor Ja'Vien Woods and U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

ATHLETICISM & ACTION. How YOU Make Things Happen.
Leadership is dynamic. People being led want to win regardless of context Athleticism and Action – required elements for success in sports as well as leadership.  Watching Michael Vick play when he was our quarterback for the Falcons was exciting. Why? He made things happen despite not being the most fundamental quarterback in the league.

As a leader in Atlanta, how are you doing? Can you rate yourself on these A’s? What is your formula for making things happen?