Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why commercialization doesn't help Black communities

Editor's Note: This is the final installment in our two-part series on why commercialization doesn't work for organizations like L.E.A.D.

In the first part of this series, we talked about how important it is to resist the temptation to water down the reality of growing up in Black communities so that our programs will be more palatable to those who may support us. I believe that when we do this, our organization reduces its value to make a profit.

We don’t need consumers. We need role models who can help younger boys learn and be inspired. Consumers come into the Black inner cities to make things easier. Don’t
Khalil Gilstrap is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassdor
get me wrong. I’m not turning my nose up at helping. Helping is great, as long as we agree on what helping actually means and what success actually looks like.

Helping is not enabling. Helping is empowering. According to Arthur Brooks’ book, Conservative Heart, poor people need three things, in this order:

Values
A little bit of help
A lot of hope

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is founded on the values I lacked, because I know that is why I failed to graduate from college and be successful in the Major Leagues. I associated values with Church, not ballfields and classrooms. I did not apply what I learned in the pews to what I was doing in the batter’s box, and that is where I failed.

It’s not enough for children to only learn values in Church. We have an obligation to teach children values wherever they are – school, after school programs, and sports practice. If we don’t focus on values, we will fail to empower them to succeed.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just come in and offer some help. It makes things better for those in need; it makes the ones helping feel good, but it’s not sustainable. I wish non-profits would learn that there is a more to relationships with inner city Atlanta families than providing a lot of help that forces folks to be dependent on others. We need to empower, not enable. That is what gives people hope.

Hope comes from showing up even when the other person has let you down. Hope comes from knowing that someone else believes in you. Hope comes when you realize that you have as much to teach someone as you have to learn from them. Hope is why L.E.A.D. is committed to being true to itself.

L.E.A.D. is audacious, bold, and cautious. I know that seems in conflict, but it’s not.

Our mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. Our vision is to lead their City of Atlanta to lead the world. That’s audacious. Just ask some of our board members, who asked if that was realistic. Our very bold answer was YES!

Our standards are clear, our expectations are high, and our accountability is swift. L.E.A.D. is developing Atlanta's future leaders today. We will succeed. We are not scared to say that. We are working
D'Angelo Julio is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassador
toward the day when the need for L.E.A.D. will cease to exist.

To deliver on this bold agenda, we have to be cautious about what we do and with whom we do it. One of our six core values is stewardship, and that means we will protect our program from those who are looking to help in a way that makes them feel better, but does not empower our boys to make a better life.

Only in being true to ourselves can we help make young Black males true to themselves. There is no higher calling for me, and I am proud to L.E.A.D. the way.


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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why L.E.A.D. is a Nonprofit

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on why commercialization doesn't work for organizations like L.E.A.D.

Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is successful in empowering Black males to live a life of significance. I believe it is because our program is:

Philosophical
Methodical
Ethical
Accountable
Deliverable

These are the same qualities I base my for-profit work on, but when we apply them to L.E.A.D. it is different. We aren’t trying to make a profit off of this work. We don’t worry about how potential consumers will respond when we make decisions about how best to serve there boys. I don’t think it would be good for the organization, and I know it would not be good for the youth we serve.

It would be great if all non-profits could be run like Fortune 100 companies. But a lack of funds often drives non-profits that serve Black males to tailor their programs so they have “commercial success.” Why? Because there are a lot of crime ridden American inner cities with low performing schools, which leads to a sense that we need to rapidly scale good non-profits that are serving Black males.

L.E.A.D. is a disruptor. It intentionally and strategically levels the playing field for Black males through America's Favorite Pastime – baseball. The boys in our program have to work hard to stay in our program, and so do we. That’s because the reality of

our boys’ lives is hard. Supporting them requires that people face up to tough issues – issues that may make people uncomfortable. If you hang around L.E.A.D., you will see that we have lots of conversations about racism. We have to, because racism is a cloud that hangs over the heads of Black males today.

For generations, racism has perpetuated poverty in Atlanta. Without racism, academic outcomes, housing, and health in Atlanta would be better. According to the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, if you are born into poverty in Atlanta, you have a 4% chance of making it out. Four percent.

Today, there are Black boys sitting in classrooms all across Atlanta who have the ability to do incredible things – cure cancer, build bridges, teach others. What they don’t have is the hope that they can be among that 4% who make it out of poverty to live up to their potential. We want to change that.

The idea that we can is not as farfetched as you might think. Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta and was educated in Atlanta public schools during segregation.

People often suggest to me that L.E.A.D. should stop talking about racism and poverty. Their reasoning is that it will make people who may support us feel more comfortable. Focus on the baseball, they tell me. But here's the deal – how do you realistically increase the number of Black males competing in sports – and in life - without talking about racism?

Today, fewer than
C.J. with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Turner Field
8% of players in Major League Baseball are Black. That seems surprising until you realize that 70% of the players drafted have played on the collegiate level and only 3% of NCAA Division I baseball players are Black. Changing this is going to take more than just talking baseball.

Building fields in inner cities and providing new baseball equipment is like building brand new schools and providing Apple laptops. You end up hoping that the students will figure out how to be educated.

We are doing more than hoping, which is why we won’t avoid the uncomfortable topics. If we want these Black males to succeed, we need to be more worried about their realities than we are about making other people comfortable. That may mean that it takes us a little longer to scale our program, but that’s ok, because I’ve learned patience.

Patience means more than waiting. Patience is waiting without anger. I'm a Black man who’s using baseball to provide hope and praying that by being true to our core values, we can L.E.A.D. the way without selling ourselves out.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

I hear you talking but what are you saying?

Convolution is a word that I added to my vocabulary a year ago after reading a blog. It means to intentionally complicate something that is simple. Ironically, several days later I was at a Leadership Atlanta CEO Roundtable with AT&T's Ralph de la Vega and asked him this question.

How do you combat convolution?
He responded that you combat it by being clear, concise and consistent. I thought to myself, that's the solution that I'm looking for and then I realized that being clear, concise and consistent ain't easy to do.

Clarity + Conciseness + Consistency = Simplicity

Communication isn't just talking. It's about understanding. Poor communication can make you vulnerable and being

vulnerable around the wrong people can make you prey.

What does good communication feel like?
Good communication feels like breathing air. You can see it,
Jon Johnson is a senior at Westlake High School
but you suffer when it's not there.

Why do you need good communication in your life?
You need good communication in order to experience peace. Let your "yes" be your yes, and your "no" your no.

How do you maintain good communication?
You keep good communication going by asking SAQ's (Should Ask Questions) and not FAQ's (Frequently Asked Question). SAQ's forces people to go deep. Convolutors win when simplicity is not demanded. For example:

FAQ: How do you feel about the situation at the office?
SAQ: What are 1-3 things that trigger a negative response for you at the office when you hear it and see it?

How do we avoid convolution? By being unwaveringly committed to being clear, concise and consistent with our communication.


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Play ball – The truth about why more Blacks don't play baseball

As the co-founder of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), I spend every day trying to help at-risk young Black kids reach their fullest potential.


Our Atlanta based non-profit 501c3 partners with Atlanta Public Schools to help give these young men the tools and confidence to transform their city of Atlanta.

In doing so, we use our unique Pathway2Empowerment co-curricular programming to debunk six myths that speak against blacks playing baseball:

Myth No. 1
"Black kids don't play baseball because of football."

We serve over 250 Black males per year with six of our partner middle schools in the poorest parts of the inner city of Atlanta having up to 40 baseball players on each team.

Myth No. 2
"Black kids don't play baseball because they don't have father's in their lives."

Having a father at home is a "nice to have." A combination of five great role models and mentors (male and/or female is a "must have.)"

Myth No. 3

"Black kids don't play baseball because both football and basketball are faster pace."

Baseball requires discipline, patience, critical thinking and self-leadership. Black people can demonstrate all four of those at the same time.

Myth No. 4
"Black kids don't play baseball because they can't get a full baseball college scholarship."

Being poor with at least a 3.0 in Georgia means you can get full financial aid and the Georgia funded HOPE scholarship. That leaves about 3,000 to 5,000 for college fees per year that you can cover with loans if the baseball coach doesn't want to give it to you with athletic money.



Omar Minya, L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy, CJ Stewart, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Hall Of Famer David Winfield

Myth No. 5
"Black kids don't play baseball because it's more expensive than football."

Consider the cost of essential items for baseball, including a good aluminum bat and glove for baseball. That's $250 each. A team only needs three bats of varying sizes tops.

Consider the cost for essential items for football, including a helmet and shoulder pads. That's $250 each.

Consider that kids in Georgia can have their own league and develop their skills without having to travel across the country to play tournaments. It worked for Jackie Robinson.

Consider that less than 55 percent of SEC football players are Black.

Myths No. 6
"Black kids don't play baseball because their aren't enough baseball fields in the inner city of Atlanta."

Inner city Atlanta has a surplus of baseball fields.

L.E.A.D.'s leadership is committed to being solution strategist. The decline of Blacks competing in baseball at the collegiate and professional levels in America is a problem and an opportunity for L.E.A.D. to be be solution.


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Why you can compete at the highest level – and how it's done

It's February and that means that means three things.

1. Black History Month is celebrated in America.
2. Major League Baseball starts Spring Training.
3. The articles that question and state the decline of blacks in baseball begin.

The skill you need as a Black baseball player to compete at the collegiate and Major League Baseball level is self-confidence.

Why? Because it leads to success with speed:

1. Self-confidence
2. Self-discipline
3. Self-differentiation
4. Simple
5. Success
6. Speed

Self-confidence allows us to develop self-discipline that differentiates us from those that aren't Serious. Things get really simple when you have self-confidence, self-discipline and self-differentiation.

When things get simple, you can experience success and with speed. Significance is achieved by serving others with your success.




How do you develop it?

1. Do things that are really difficult to develop grit
The bridge between struggle and success is sustenance by grit. Grit is a mental muscle that's built when you fail at doing things that are really difficult. Walking for babies is difficult. But they fall and get back up.

Why? Because they want to walk. What keeps them getting back up? Grit.

2. Know only what you need to know
There is only so much a person can know. Nobody will ever know everything. Knowing what you must know allows you to do what you need to do. Don't waste your time trying to be a jack of all trades and master of none. If baseball is what you need to be doing, don't spend hundreds of hours learning to plant trees. Other people have been put on earth to do that, and they love it.

Great baseball players are great people and possess eight great things:

1. Conviction
2. Passion
3. Grit
4. Character
5. Habits
6. Knowledge
7. Skills
8. Resources

3. Asking a lot of great questions of great people to get great answers

Among many characteristics, great people are those who can speak with clarity, conciseness and consistency. It has nothing to do with how much money you have or your level of influence. Great people know themselves well and can tell their story well. They are shaped by their experiences and they know how to say, "I don't know."

Good people experience success, while great people share their success and are elevated to a difference title – significance. One of my favorite African Proverbs is, "To understand the road ahead, ask those coming back. Success leaves clues."

Great people are significant and come back so ask them great questions.

Jackie Robinson was a great man. Here's a good question and great question to ask him if you could:

Good question: How did it feel to play in your first Major League Baseball game as a Black man?

Great question: Where did you draw your mental and emotional strength to play in your first Major League Baseball game despite the hatred against you as a Black man?

6 myths you shouldn't believe
I'm the co-founder of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), an Atlanta based non-profit 501c3 that partners with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.

We use our unique Pathway2Empowerment co-curricular programming to debunk six myths that speak against blacks playing baseball:

Myth No. 1
"Black kids don't play baseball because of football."

We serve over 250 Black males per year with six of our partner middle schools in the poorest parts of the inner city of Atlanta having up to 40 baseball players on each team.

Myth No. 2
"Black kids don't play baseball because they don't have father's in their lives."

Having a father at home is a "nice to have." A combination of five great role models and mentors (male and/or female is a "must have.)"

Myth No. 3

"Black kids don't play baseball because both football and basketball are faster pace."

Baseball requires discipline, patience, critical thinking and self-leadership. Black people can demonstrate all four of those at the same time.

Myth No. 4
"Black kids don't play baseball because they can't get a full baseball college scholarship."

Being poor with at least a 3.0 in Georgia means you can get full financial aid and the Georgia funded HOPE scholarship. That leaves about 3,000 to 5,000 for college fees per year that you can cover with loans if the baseball coach doesn't want to give it to you with athletic money.

Myth No. 5
"Black kids don't play baseball because it's more expensive than football."

Consider the cost of essential items for baseball, including a good aluminum bat and glove for baseball. That's $250 each. A team only needs three bats of varying sizes tops.

Consider the cost for essential items for football, including a helmet and shoulder pads. That's $250 each.

Consider that kids in Georgia can have their own league and develop their skills without having to travel across the country to play tournaments. It worked for Jackie Robinson.

Consider that less than 55 percent of SEC football players are Black.


D'Angelo Julio (S. Atlanta HS c/o 2017, signed with Savannah St. Univ.); CJ Stewart; Devon Shaw (B.E. Mays HS c/o 2017, signed with Tuskegee Univ.)

Myths No. 6
"Black kids don't play baseball because their aren't enough baseball fields in the inner city of Atlanta."

Inner city Atlanta has a surplus of baseball fields.


L.E.A.D.'s leadership is committed to being solution strategist. The decline of Blacks competing in baseball at the collegiate and professional levels in America is a problem and an opportunity for L.E.A.D. to be be solution.


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stupidity To Significance

Call someone stupid, and be ready for a fight. We all do stupid stuff daily. Stupid is defined as having or showing a lack of intelligence. Intelligence is acquiring and applying knowledge.

In my experience, stupid people:

  • don't know what to do and are unable to do it even if they knew, or
  • know what to do, yet won't do it. 
Intelligent people, on the other hand, know what to do and are able to do something with what they know. In addition, intelligent people can use what they already know and understand to develop solutions for unique situations.

When the Chicago Cubs released me two years into my professional baseball career, I hit one of the lowest points of my life. Playing Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs was my childhood dream; it was my only dream as far as a career was concerned. Many of my youth coaches helped me get my foot in the door. I was drafted by the Cubs – twice – and ended up signing a two-year contract, but my short-lived career was due to a lack of values and poor character.


Honestly, I made a lot stupid choices while playing for the Cubs: late nights in the clubs, playing video games to no end, a bad diet and the list goes on. When I returned home to my new wife, Kelli, I still had bad habits. I didn't want to work. I’d just watch Kelli go to work and school, and then stay home and play video games. I was acting stupid. My ability to think clearly was clouded by being depressed, combative and selfish. Here's what I've learned along my journey thus far. 



The Stupid Stage is the humbling process. This stage lasts as long as it takes for humility to be embraced. 

The Struggle Stage should be where you gather and manage all the resources you need to reach the top which is Significance. The Stupid Stage taught me that I need help from others, while the Struggle Stage is where I needed discernment and wisdom. These two must haves will help you ascertain the resources you need to engage and those you need to get rid of. I am a follower of Christ, so to receive and maintain discernment and wisdom, I have to keep my connection with The Lord.

The Success Stage should be viewed as the individual accolades you've experienced as a result of staying the course. Looking back over the Stupid and Struggle stages, identifying the "grit bits" that have sustained you, is vital to reaching significance. My grit bits helped me stay on course and decide who stays and who goes in my life. In life, our grit bits are the people and things that have kept us from quitting, or taking short cuts and enabled us to see hidden opportunities in defeat.

The Significance Stage should focus on leaving a positive pathway for generations to come. It’s about leaving a blueprint, an underground railroad if you will.

I changed because Kelli told me it was time. If I wanted to remain married to her, there were standards that I had to meet that weren't optional. At first, I struggled with this ultimatum, because I had to think of her more than me. I had to prioritize my marriage over losing my childhood dream, and that was hard. I'm glad I made that decision because now we're building a family legacy our children can be proud of and will prayerfully build upon with their families. While at the same time, God is also using us to partner with hundreds of families to help their children safely navigate their road to significance.

My struggle has became my story, and through my struggle I have developed grit - a relentless pursuit of my purpose. 

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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Challenge With Clarity

I define clarity as clearness of understanding. When you understand something, you can do something. Clarity has an enemy called convolution. Convolution is the intentional or unintentional confusion of something.

Ever met someone that enjoys confusing things that are simple?

Several years ago, I attended an event in Atlanta called “Leadercast,” where I heard acclaimed communications thought leader John Maxwell speak. The consummate clarity communicator, Maxwell taught us that everything starts simplistic and must be complicated until it becomes simple.

When it’s simple, you can do something with it.

By definition, simplistic means you treat complex issues as if they are simple. Take racism in America, which is a complex issue that often includes statements such as, "People living in poverty should work harder." This trite and overused statement is complex.

I've always been extroverted, so I have lots of friends. I also have several individuals that are in my life that I refer to as acquaintances. The majority of my acquaintances avoid controversial conversations at all cost, while the others like to engage in them.

Complicating something is only negative when there is a lack of authentic curiosity, care and concern. My friends and I tackle conversations about racism with those should ask (SAQ) questions, rather than the frequently asked (FAQ) questions.

C.J. Stewart with Leadership Atlanta alums JaKathryn Ross and Louis Gump

One of my mentors Pat Alacqua says that SAQs make you delve deeper and faster into a conversation, while FAQs tend to be shallow, simplistic statements such as, "People living in poverty should work harder.”

If my friends and I were complicating that statement with SAQs, we’d ask the follow questions of each other:

1. How do you define poverty?

2. Have you ever lived in poverty?

3. What experience do you have that shapes your opinions of people living in poverty?

4. How has history caused the people living in poverty to get there? Were they born into it?

5. Where do they get help? Do they have to give up their dignity in order to receive help?

6. Why are you not living in poverty? How would you avoid living in poverty?

These questions show authentic curiosity, care and concern for people living in poverty. The questions lead to something simple. When a thing gets simple, we can do something with or about it.

I recently read a book by Arthur Brooks called, “The Conservative Heart.” Brooks writes that people living in poverty need three things:

1. Values

2. A little bit of help

3. A lot of hope

I agree, especially that it starts with the values. My family and business values are six-fold. In sequence, they include: excellence, humility, integrity, loyalty, stewardship and teamwork.

Without values, you cannot ask for, receive or appreciate the help you need. The government provides a lot of help for people living in poverty. Without values, it’s like drinking out of water hose that eventually drowns you.

Hope is a powerful thing. Lose it, and you can literally die. Hope is desire on steroids. It is a strong desire of expectation. I hope that God continues to bless me to bless others. I trust Him and he can trust me.

He who owns the definition owns the movements:

Excellence – Meeting expectations
Humility – Not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less

Integrity – Doing the right thing even when you can do the wrong thing

Loyalty – Unwavering commitment to someone or something

Stewardship – Protection of people and beliefs

Teamwork – Individually doing your job within a team goal

Have I made myself clear with respect to simplistic statements being complicated in order to be simple?

If not, read the above information again in a quiet place several more times.

If so, let's continue, because there’s a challenge with clarity.

Clarity challenges your character. It challenges you to stop complaining and implores you to create change.

Character is who you are at all times. Do you complain about things most of the time, even when the “what to do' is made clear?

People who complain even when things are made clear can be perceived as “time wasters,” instead of value creators.

C.J. Stewart with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Turner Field Nov. 2016

I remember watching “The Jetsons” and “Star Trek” with my dad in the 80s. What was science fiction has become our reality today. So yes, times have changed, because people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took a simplistic statement like, "I have a dream" and had it challenged until it became a simple and actionable like the “Bus Boycott of Montgomery.”
Steve Jobs said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." That's a simplistic statement that had to be challenged and defended in order to get something as simple, useful and transformational as the iPhone.

Ask yourself these questions now. See if they challenge you to think and change:

1. What are four to 10 things that need to change right now in my life to make me feel happiness? (Now narrow it down to the Top 3.)

2. Who are one to three people I distance myself from because they challenge me in a positive way?

3. If the desired change that I pray about occurred today, who are one to three people who also benefit?

4. What are one to three things that prevent me from changing? Does my life work best in chaos or clarity?
5. Who are one to three people who prevent me from changing?

6. What are one to three things I worry about?

7. What are one to three things I dream about?


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