Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The International City

The world had it's eyes fixed on Atlanta, GA when we hosted the Olympic Games in 1996. I was playing my second year of baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization and didn't get a chance to be a part of history.

We are the proud home of Coke, Delta, Chick-Fil-A, UPS and many other corporate powerhouses. We are considered an international city by many people throughout the world.

I went to Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta on Monday and saw thousands of people there enjoying the beautiful weather. Families holding hands.  Guys teaching their dogs new tricks. My family played 4-square for at least an hour inviting strangers to participate in the fun.

It wasn't until we got over to the Olympics rings and found out where the action really was. There were kids of all ethic backgrounds playing in the water as it shot up in the air and cooled off the crowd during a hot Atlanta day.

My eyes were fixed on two African-America boys that appeared to be in the first or second grade. Not passing judgement but it made me realize that the Atlanta Public School System only graduates 34% of it's African-America males from high school. Without consistent mentors in their life like I had, the evils of this international city can soak them up like the sun does the water from their bodies on that hot day and they will be lost forever.

The only reason that I was able to get a good sleep last night is because by the grace of God, we have L.E.A.D.  School will start back in August and I believe that I will see these young men again giving them an opportunity to play catch like Coach Joshua Butler did for me.

I wake up everyday being open to others pouring themselves into me to make me great. I also look for opportunities to help others in their life journey. It is that attitude that makes Atlanta so attractive to the world.  It is called the "Atlanta Way".

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I see the future

The future looks great for inner city baseball in Atlanta through the efforts of L.E.A.D.  I see 100 APS student-athletes furthering their education in colleges across America by 2020 using baseball as the vehicle.

To date, L.E.A.D. has graduated 100% of our Ambassadors from high school and placed 87% of them in college with a baseball scholarship. We achieve success using the L.E.A.D. P.R.O.C.E.S.S.

We PREPARE our Ambassadors for practices and games with sound information. Our coaches REINFORCE the fundamentals taught with OPPORTUNITIES to learn which often times involve failure.  Reinforcement is most effective when we COMMUNICATE with a patient voice.  EXPOSURE to high level baseball competition presents struggles yet it allows our Ambassadors to adjust and gain SUCCESS.

Our Ambassadors are willing and able to learn. Our coaches are capable and competent. The development process has worked thus far.  Atlanta, do you see what I see?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Closing the gaps and achieving success

For generations, inner cities throughout America have been the home for a large population of African Americans. It has also represented financial struggle, crime, and poor education.  However, there are a lot of great people and ideas that were born in the inner city.  The inner city of Atlanta birthed one of the greatest Americans of all time, Dr. Martin Luther King.  We all have the potential to be great because we all can serve others.  I am a success story born from the inner city of Atlanta because of support and mentorship from people that cared about me regardless of their race, my financial status or my family's educational background.

L.E.A.D. has been successful in our effort to develop college bound civically engaged student-athletes from the inner city of Atlanta because we respect three gaps that have to be closed before we can make an impact.

The first gap that has to be closed before we can make an impact in the inner city is the culture gap. Within the inner city, there is a culture that exists that forces students to ask three questions internally or externally. Who are you? Why are you here? When are you leaving?  Often times with good intentions, many people and organizations come into the inner city to help but their lack of consistency does more harm than good. Nobody wants to be hurt so it is easier for students to harden their hearts to protect themselves until you answer all three questions with a positive response.

The second gap that has to be closed before we can make an impact in the inner city is the history gap. For generations, inner city communities have been and still are underserved. Lack of resources and drugs have contributed to an increase in the crime rate. Increased high school dropouts and teenage pregnancy has caused our youth to give up before they can start. This is nothing new to inner city communities though.  This has been going on for many many years. To understand the road ahead, you have to ask those that are coming back. Strong leaders that fought for change decades ago are older and/or deceased. It is important now more than ever that L.E.A.D. continues to develop a new generation of leaders and show them how to prepare the next generation of leadership that will follow them.  We have to take a different action in order to get a different result.

The third gap that has to be closed before we can make an impact in the inner city is the language gap.  When I say to my daughter "Don't give up!", she interprets it as "Dad is here with you today, tomorrow...to help me". L.E.A.D. is in the inner city everyday saying "Don't give up!" to our student-athletes. The question is do the parentless students that we serve interpret our encouragement the same way that my own daughter does? The answer is yes because consistent action follows our words. In order to effectively speak the language of the inner city, you must be understood.  Otherwise, it is just moving lips.

In order to make positive change in the inner city, sustainable impact must be made.  Join the L.E.A.D. Community as we continue to close the gaps of higher education achievement in the inner city of Atlanta.  L.E.A.D. Today...Change Tomorrow.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A firm hand shake

There used to be a time when a firm hand shake really mattered. You weren't even considered a man if your hand shake wasn't firm back in the day according to my Uncle Bob Wilburn.  What happened to the firm hand shake? Why did it get lost?

Uncle Bob reminded me today that your hand shake says a lot about you without you even opening your mouth. "You are supposed to shake a man's hand and look him right in the eyes so that he can know who you are!," said my Uncle Bob with a confident voice that I admire.

So I guess that men and boys that don't shake hands firmly and look you in the eyes lack confidence?  I would agree with that. Gaining confidence has a lot to do with winning in various areas of life. A down economy has caused a lot of men to lose their confidence but don't underestimate the power of hope.  Hope and my faith in God carries me even when times are rough.  That is why I love baseball so much because you can strike every time today and get two hits tomorrow and still be considered great.

One of the distinct traits of my L.E.A.D. Ambassadors is that they all will shake your hand firm, look you in the eyes and speak to you with confidence. I don't have to tell them to do it because my actions speak louder than my words.  When I discuss the issue of confidence with my Ambassadors, I remind them that regardless of your circumstances, you have the support of the L.E.A.D. community.  The L.E.A.D. community gets stronger every day because serving others is the Atlanta Way!

Summer is almost here and the Ambassadors and Jr. Ambassadors are developing into some of the best baseball players in the country.  Baseball like life is full of ups and downs. I invite you to come to our next game and firmly shake the hand of one of my Ambassadors. Look him in the eye, tell him your name and let him know that you are here to support him. My name is CJ Stewart and I am the proud founder of L.E.A.D.  I look forward to shaking your hand soon.

Go to www.Lead2Legacy.org to check out Ambassadors and Jr. Ambassadors game and event schedule.  Winning at the Game of Life!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why baseball?

Myself and others would argue that baseball is the most difficult sport ever known to man. Hitting a round baseball traveling 90+ MPH with a round bat isn't something that you can do without dedicated practice. The other aspects of the game such as defense and baserunning require tedious training as well. Baseball is the only sport where the human being scores without the ball. The individual is celebrated without trying to draw attention to himself.

I chose baseball at the age of 8 years old as my favorite sport because I felt that it would best prepare me for life. In life, we are guaranteed to face adversity. Baseball is the only sport that considers you a success based on how many times that you FAIL. It forces you to learn from your mistakes and make the adjustments in an effort to succeed. Alex Rodriguez is one of the games best players and one of the wealthiest sports figures. He recently signed a contract earning him over $260 million guaranteed dollars through the life of the contract. The funny part is that he only gets a hit 30% of the time. In the world of football, Alex would be considered a failure and unemployed. Try making a NBA team as a 30% shooter.  Good luck!

I've heard people say that baseball develops character. I strongly disagree, baseball exposes character. Preparation, failure and adjusting are three words that go hand and hand with baseball.  They also go hand and hand with living a meaningful life.

At the age of 8, I dreamed of being successful as a man of God, husband, father, entrepreneur, community leader and a trusted friend. I can proudly say that my dream is now a reality thanks to America's favorite game, BASEBALL!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Legacy was passed to the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors

Did I see what I thought that I saw on Sunday, May 15th during the pregame Civil Rights Game ceremony?  Did I hear what I thought I heard the Braves PA announcer say?  If you were at Turner Field with over 30,000 fans or tuned in with the millions of television viewers on the memorable day, you saw and heard it.  Ambassador Andrew Young and Reverend Joseph Lowery stood at the pitcher’s mound with my L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Mendez Elder and Wesley Clement.  With a loud and clear voice, the PA announcer said, “Ambassadors Mendez Elder and Wesley Clement, will you accept the legacy passed down to you from Ambassador Young and Reverend Lowery?”  After his voice stopped, I saw Ambassador Young and Rev. Lowery give Mendez and Wesley a baseball.   Mendez threw his baseball to Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Wesley threw his ball to Jason Heyward.  Jason and Ryan hugged both Mendez and Wesley and presented them the baseball.

That was a magical moment for our Ambassadors, the L.E.A.D. organization, the city of Atlanta but most of all, it meant a lot to baseball in the African American community throughout the United States.  L.E.A.D. is so much more than baseball.  The “D” in the acronym L.E.A.D. is how we direct our Ambassadors using the legacy of legends such as Ambassador Young and Rev. Lowery.  These men walked the walk with Atlanta’s own Dr. Martin Luther King.  They are still alive to share the stories and keep the dream alive through Mendez and Wesley.

We do accept the legacy passed down from these iconic men.  Baseball has been a part of the African American community since the game was created many decades ago.  The 2011 Civil Rights Game at Turner Field gave baseball a platform to showcase how baseball is still America’s game for all Americans because of the influence of the Civil Rights Movement that was birthed here in Atlanta.

L.E.A.D. will continue to lead the way with the support of the Atlanta community.  We can do this because by the grace of God, we are the solution to using baseball to help inner city males graduate from high school and access college.  The only problem with solutions is that you can no longer talk about the problem.
Special thanks to Ambassador Young and Reverend Lowery for keeping the dream alive and being Ambassadors of hope.  L.E.A.D. will continue to uphold your legacy with service to the game and world.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mendez Elder L.E.A.D.'s the way to the Perfect Game National Showcase

A message from C.J. Stewart, Founder of L.E.A.D.

Being a L.E.A.D. Ambassador is about being exposed to the best that Atlanta and other U.S. cities have to offer and sharing it with the inner-city Atlanta community. We have four pillars of excellence: Academics, Athletics, Service/Civic Engagement and Exposure.

We select our Ambassadors from a three-month fall baseball development league, called the Legacy League. In order to be considered for the Legacy League, families must complete a college admissions style application process that includes an online application, letters of recommendation, family interview and an on field baseball tryout that is used to measure aptitude.

Our Ambassadors are held accountable for their scholarship opportunity in L.E.A.D. monthly. Their contributions on and off the field are tallied and measured; thishelps us determine who is invested in the organization and honoring the scholarship experience provided by our donors.

Mendez Elder is a junior at Grady High School in Atlanta and will be the first player to spend all four years in high school as a member of L.E.A.D. He is the face of our organization and represents what baseball could be in the Atlanta Public School System.

The Atlanta Public School System currently graduates only 34% of its African American male students. Seventy-five percent of the families that APS serves live at or below the poverty level. Through the support of the L.E.A.D. organization, Mendez is on track to graduate with a GPA of over 3.0 and earna baseball scholarship to a top-tier college.

This summer, Mendez will be only the second baseball player from the Atlanta Public School System to ever attend the Perfect Game National Showcase, which showcases the top 150 high school baseball players in America. There is an old saying that "you get what you deserve". I can't think of anyone more deserving than Mendez and his family!

In His Own Words: What does the Perfect Game National Showcase mean to Mendez?

Q: How many scouts do you expect to be there, and without this exposure,can you attend your dream school GA Tech?

Mendez: Scouts from the ACC, the SEC and most of the Major League teams will be at the Perfect Game National Showcase this summer. Without this exposure, being a student-athlete at Georgia Tech would be way out of reach for me.

Q: Has anyone else in your family gone to college?

Mendez: No. No one in my immediate family has gone to college.

Q: If you get a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 school, how willit impact your community?

Mendez: It would impact my community a lot because I would be one of the few to go to college through baseball. We have a middle school baseball program in L.E.A.D. now, and they all want to be Ambassadors like me. When I earn my scholarship to a Division I school, I will inspire them to do the same. And to go somewhere like Georgia Tech where they can come see me play? That would be a life changing experience for me and my community.

Q: What makes you sure that you will succeed at the showcase? Do you think you have a real shot to earn a Division 1 scholarship?

Mendez: All my life I have been practicing and working for a shot like this. Being in L.E.A.D. has helped me access the training I need to have a real shot at competing at this level. Through L.E.A.D. we have sponsors who help me get the training I need. Through Coach C.J.’s company, Diamond Directors, he’s been developing my swing for over 3 years now. And just recently I started working with a speed and agility trainer named Coach Matt at this place called Rapid Performance. Having access to this kind of training is unheard of where I come from, but because I have it, I’m confident I have a true shot to get a Division 1 scholarship.

Q: How do you plan to share your experience at PG National with otherplayers in your community and L.E.A.D.?

Mendez: Of course. Ever since 9th grade and being selected for L.E.A.D., I was taught to give back. I will blog about it and also spread the word in my community.Sometimes it's all about holding conversations with people in person so they can see your face, and see that you are serious. I will encourage the scouts I meet to come scout Atlanta Public School baseball. There are baseball players all over Atlanta Public Schools (APS) but we just don't get a chance at playing baseball on a higher level like players from other schools because we don’t have access to the resources that L.E.A.D. provides. As L.E.A.D. grows, I hope we’ll have enough money for scholarships for every kid in APS who wants to play baseball- but of course, like me, they have to earn it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

And the winner is...

Today, L.E.A.D. crowned Jean Childs Young Middle School as the 2011 L.E.A.D. Middle School Baseball Development League Champion.  Young posted an undefeated season and played with energy and intensity every game.  Congratulations to the entire Young Middle School!

The reality is that the city of Atlanta won today.  There was a high level of excitement at Perkerson Park today.  The stands were packed with family and friends.  Everybody was asking “What’s next!?”  Our next event is the All-Star game which will feature 30 Leaders representing B.E.S.T. Academy, Sylvan Hills, Young, King, Kennedy and Parks Middle School.  The game will be played at Perkerson Park on Saturday, May 14th at 10:00AM.

After the All-Star game, Coach Kerwin Giles will select 15 Leaders to represent L.E.A.D. as the Jr. Ambassadors for a competitive summer of baseball.  The process to select these young men has been tough and I look forward to establishing relationships with some of Atlanta’s best assets.

If we are right about this, baseball in the inner city will be changed for the good for decades.  Student-athletes from APS will flood college campuses across America receiving college degrees and setting records on the baseball field.  Come be a part of the L.E.A.D. team by cheering in the stands at our next L.E.A.D. baseball game or getting dirty with us during our next service project.  Check out our event schedule at www.Lead2Legacy.org.

And the winner is…Atlanta!