Monday, December 17, 2012

EBC, it feels so good to be home!

Elizabeth Baptist Church is where I worshiped as a child. The church on the hill at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in SW Atlanta. It is where I was baptized by Rev. Hightower. It is where I reached Webelos Boy Scout level under the leadership of Deacon Parker and Deacon Smith. It was the extended family of my awesome mom and dad. It is where I learned that serving others is an essential of life.

I remember one day as a teenager, a young man by the name of Craig L. Oliver, Sr. joined Rev. Hightower in the pulpit and spoke to our congregation. I was too young to appreciate anything that he said but I remember all of the adults commenting on how good he was.

As life began to get busy for me, I stopped going to church as often. Many years later at the age of 21, I got married and moved into an apartment complex on Cascade Road that was located less than 200 yards from the new location of Elizabeth Baptist Church that was now under the leadership of Pastor Craig L. Oliver, Sr.. Seemed like every time that we passed the church I would remind Kelli that I was baptized at Elizabeth.

I'm 36 years of age and still trying to figure out this thing that we call life. I have an amazing wife and two beautiful daughters and as of 6 months ago, my family and I are now active members at Elizabeth Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Craig L. Oliver. Our good friend Lisa Baker led us back here. I couldn't be happier to have a church home where we are spiritually fed as a family and empowered to serve others.

On yesterday, the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors joined us for a day of worship. The Ambassadors have been busy raising money in our Annual Dollar Drive and a check was presented to Lisa Baker (EBC member/L.E.A.D. Community Board) on behalf of Adina Parsons who is also an EBC member and was shot by her husband last year. She is recovering by the grace of God. This service project gave our Ambassadors the opportunity to learn about domestic violence and philanthropy. L.E.A.D.'s mission to provide at-risk inner city Atlanta youth males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.

The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors with Minister Tim Sims at Elizabeth Baptist Church on December 16, 2012
God just continues to bless me and it is my daily desire to bless others. I have found that one of the best ways to be a blessing is to share my Christian testimony. There are bumps in the road but God keeps me headed in His direction and I can bring others to church with me. It feels so good to be back home EBC!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Inner City Baseball In Atlanta Took A Big Step Today

Inner city youth baseball in Atlanta took a big step forward today!

Casey Cavell, owner of D-BAT Atlanta finalized a partnership with L.E.A.D. that will all eight of our partner middle schools to have access to his 22,000 square foot "state of the art" indoor baseball training facility through the spring.  This is a big deal because now hundreds of undeserved middle school males in the Atlanta Public School system will have access to elite training provided by Diamond Directors at an elite training facility.

Click here to learn more about Diamond Directors and D-BAT Atlanta.

In previous years, our middle school teams wouldn't train in the winter due to a lack of facilities while our competitors trained in preparation for spring and summer baseball.

Some readers may say "good for L.E.A.D."  Ironically, this is good for Atlanta because the success of L.E.A.D. means that more young men are graduating from high school and college.  L.E.A.D.'s mission is to provide inner city at-risk youth males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.

Did you know that...
  • Atlanta Public Schools serve 52,000 students while 80% of those students live at or below the poverty level?
  • Atlanta Public Schools graduates 34% of African-American males from high school?
  • Students from zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia State Prison population?
  • Zip code 30314 is the 5th most dangerous community in America?
This winter when the temperature drops, over 10,000 swings will be taken by young men from Martin Luther King Middle School, Walter L. Parks MS, John F. Kennedy MS, B.E.S.T. Academy, Sylvan Hills MS, Charles L. Harper-Samuel H. Archer MS, Jean Childs Young MS and Joseph E. Brown MS at D-BAT Atlanta.  L.E.A.D. brought baseball to Atlanta Public Schools in 2010. Prior to L.E.A.D., baseball never existed in the district. It is truly a blessing for us to be able to partner with Atlanta Public Schools where I received an amazing education K-5th grade.  APS also educated my mother and fathers side of the family.  I love APS!

Since 2007, L.E.A.D. has...
  • Graduated 100% of our Ambassadors from high school while 100% have enrolled into college.
  • Prepared over 90% of our Ambassadors to enroll into college with baseball scholarship opportunities.
In 2013, L.E.A.D. will honor its first graduating class of Ambassadors from college! Let's go Atlanta!

We are going to wake up one day in the near future and college scouts are going to recognize the inner city of Atlanta as a "hot bed" for baseball talent in America.  Click here to join our L.E.A.D. Young Professionals Tailgate Club.

Monday, December 3, 2012

L.E.A.D. Weekend 2012

There are some new celebrities in Atlanta, GA and they are your L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.  The 2012-13 Ambassadors class was introduced to the city on Friday, November 30th at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School during our annual press conference.

The Ambassadors were asked questions by over 100 fourth and fifth graders about how they became Ambassadors, what college they plan to attend and what leadership means to them.

The students were so excited to see our Ambassadors.  They felt like celebrities.  We were wearing our Coke red Nike warm ups and walking with pride.  As we were leaving the school, I heard one of the 5th grade boys say "when I grow up, I want to be an Ambassador!"  That is exactly why we held the press conference at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School in the first place.

On Saturday, December 1st, we held our 6th Annual L.E.A.D. Celebrity Clinic at Turner Field.  We had perfect weather and served over 60 elementary and middle school students throughout metro-Atlanta in a baseball clinic experience the L.E.A.D. Way!  Our Ambassadors were the celebrities and got some support from Dexter Fowler (Colorado Rockies), Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves), Telvin Nash (Houston Astros), Xavier Avery (Baltimore Orioles), Ty Kelley (LA Angels), Bobby Scales, (LA Angels)Georgia State University baseball team as well as the Lovett and Westminster Schools coaching staff.

On Sunday, December 2nd, we packed the 755 Club once again at Turner Field with our 3rd Annual Dinner With Champions Awards Celebration.  Chuck Dowdle was an amazing emcee.  Legendary football and life coach Vince Dooley was our keynote speaker.  Trust me when I say that he is as good as advertised.

Ambassador Tabias Wimby with Coach Vince Dooley
Our Community Partner Award recipients were Rendell Jackson (Atlanta Public Schools Athletics), Russell Wrenn (The Westminster Schools), Charlie Finch (The Lovett School), and the Miller Brothers (Greg and Robbie Miller).  Our Legacy Builder was the beautiful Charlotte Dixon of Mary Alice and Bennett Brown Foundation.  The L.E.A.D./Fowler Family Award recipients were G.W. and Lorrie Martin and Katrina Johnson.  The Dexter Fowler MVP Award recipient was Carlos Twine Jr.

The highlight of the night was when the Ambassadors received their custom fitted navy blazers from the Miller Brothers.

The night ended as a success and on the way home, Kelli were thinking of how we would raise the bar.  Not sure how we will do it but consider it done.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tradition begins with the established date

University of Georgia football has been played since 1892.  Today was my first first experience watching the DAWGS play live at Sanford Stadium.  My wife and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary in the cold with over 90,000 fans.

We started the morning with breakfast in Athens at Momma Boy's then headed to the stadium for the DAWG Walk Tradition.

As I sat in the stadium in awe, I began to think about the tradition of the university and how thousands of people have ties to the school for generations.  I also noticed the corporate support of the DAWGS that make them beyond a "local college football team".  The Bulldogs are a national brand.

My wife was born in Atlanta but raised in Athens so today was sort of a homecoming for her.  We established our family non-profit organization L.E.A.D., Inc. in 2007 to provide at-risk inner city Atlanta males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  It is our vision to engage Atlanta based companies to help us to continue to increase the high school graduation rate of African-American males from the current 34%.  To date, 100% of our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors have graduated from high school while they all enroll in college with over 90% of receiving college scholarship opportunities.

L.E.A.D. can't improve 100% but we can serve more students.  L.E.A.D. currently serves 350 students annually with year round programming.  UGA serves about the same number of student athletes with it's year round programming as well.

One day, we will have the financial support of Chick-fil-A, Georgia Power, Delta, Home Depot, and State Farm.  Until then, we will continue our tradition of excellence in the inner city of Atlanta with the partnership of Atlanta Public Schools.

When L.E.A.D. wins, Atlanta wins!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Heyward's mentor thankful for chance to LEAD

His name is C.J. Stewart, and he is appreciative of so many things during this time of thanksgiving. For one, he ranks among the primary individuals who helped "L.E.A.D." Atlanta Braves Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward to the Major Leagues.
Then there is everything else.
Let's start with "everything else," here to read more.

By Terence Moore

What a day!

What a perfect day. My daughters woke me up with laughter and my wife is still her beautiful self. The first thing on my mind as I realize that I'm alive to see another day is thank you Lord. God granted me life today to serve others.

I've been passionate about serving others since I can remember. I enjoyed opening the doors for people as a kid and got great pleasure out of hearing people tell me thank you.

My purpose on earth is to serve others. I'm passionate about it. It's what keeps me going when I'm reaching physical and mental fatigue. People counting on me feels way better than hitting home runs in my Chicago Cubs uniform.

Do you remember what happened on this day November 20th last year? L.E.A.D. officially announced our 18 Ambassadors to the City of Atlanta. This young men are students within the Atlanta Public School System and confessed change agents. Like me, they aren't perfect but they ain't afraid of excellence.

They face an uphill battle everyday in their communities due to high crime rates and low graduation rates among African-American males. But on November 20th 2012, Councilman Julian Bond declared November 20th through perpetuity as CJ Stewart and L.E.A.D. Day on behalf of the citizens of Atlanta. C'mon man! We have our own day recognizing our commitment to excellence in academics, athletics, service and exposure. Impact is so important to L.E.A.D. that we measure it.

L.E.A.D. provides the City of Atlanta with over 2,500 hours of service annually and we would like for you to join us. Click here to join our Tailgate Club.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I am a household guardian

Words can't express how proud I am to carry the Stewart last name.  Stewart means "household guardian".  As far as I know, my Stewart family name goes back to my great grandmother Annie Mae Stewart who made Jackson, GA (Butts County) her home.  I remember all of the family reunions as a kid going to the "country".  I was one of "city boy" Stewart's.

My grandmother Elizabeth Dunn moved to Atlanta and raised the family with my grandfather Horace Dunn in the Pittsburgh Community of Atlanta near Turner Field.  My dad, uncles and aunts attended Atlanta Public Schools K-12.  They attended Gideons Elementary School, W.L. Parks Middle School and my dad graduated from Price High School.  My aunts and uncles graduated from J.E. Brown High School when the family moved to Beecher Street. Go Jaguars!

I was raised at Grove Park Elementary School (Atlanta Public Schools) grades 1-5 and was some of the best years of my life.  This was the school that my mother attended along with her brothers and sisters.  My success as a student was because of the constant involvement of my parents.  Grove Park always knew that they could count on my parents.  That legacy continues at Grove Park under the leadership of it's current principal Caitlin Sims.

As an adult and a proud Grove Park Elementary School alum, I now serve as the founder and CEO of L.E.A.D., Inc.  Our mission is to provide at-risk inner city Atlanta youth males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  We currently serve over 250 youth in the Atlanta Public School System with year round baseball and youth development.  Click here to check out our IMPACT STATS!

On Friday, November 16th, my family was honored with dedication of the Stewart Family Center at Grove Park Elementary School.  This center is going to empower parents in the community.  With more parent involvement, students will continue to thrive.

I am so glad that my grandmother Elizabeth Dunn was able to see the dedication as she is beginning to have difficulties with her site.

My daughter Mackenna joined us with my niece Kortni who will be a third generation Stewart to attend Grove Park next year as a third grader.

Mackenna and Kortni Stewart with Grandma Dunn at Grove Park
Legacy is very important to me as well as having a good name.  A good name can bring about major change in communities.  Atlanta is my home and I am a guardian of this city!

Left to right: Mr. Dehussia-assistant principal; Marquez Jackson-cousin;  Nicole Stewart-sister; Kortni Stewart-niece; Mackenna Stewart-daughter; Kelli Stewart-wife; CJ Stewart; Caitlin Sims-Principal; Gail Stewart-mother; Willie Stewart-father; Elizabeth Dunn-grandmother (seated)

Monday, November 12, 2012

When there is sunlight and water, there is always growth

The 2013 class of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors were selected last week and this Saturday, they were all orientated by Ty Yokum who serves as the Training Manager for Chick-fil-A.  He is dynamic.  Our executive director Kelli Stewart completed the orientation and had everyone's attention.

Excellence is one of L.E.A.D.'s core values so it only makes sense that we get the support of Ty Yokum to prepare our Ambassadors for another year of service to the City of Atlanta.  He started the orientation by giving the Ambassadors an opportunity to share their stories with each other.  Successful teams are built based on trust.  There is no way that I can trust you unless I know you.

Ty Yokum orientating the 2013 class of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors 
Our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors precept is "I am proud to be a creation of God and I thankful for this opportunity to be a L.E.A.D. Ambassador.  I am my brothers keeper and together we will achieve greatness."

There are only 25 L.E.A.D. Ambassadors but they are empowered to serve hundreds within their schools and that was the point of the orientation.  As we build our Ambassadors, they will build others and inner city Atlanta will change.

Coach Kelli shared an awesome illustration showing our Ambassadors how they are are a plant.  Unfortunately, their culture can influence them and cause them to wither.  L.E.A.D. is fortunate to partner with our families to replant our Ambassadors so that they can receive more sunlight and water so that they can grow.  L.E.A.D. is a culture of excellence, humility, teamwork, stewardship, loyalty, and integrity.  We are fortunate have amazing families on our side.  It truly takes a village to raise a child.

Coach Kelli orientating the 2013 class of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors
Make no mistake about it, you are a part of their growth as well.  You are the sunlight and the water that we need to feed the dreams of our Ambassadors.  Click here to join us for L.E.A.D. Weekend at Turner Field and be a part of helping our Ambassadors grow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

We all have a story. What's yours?

I have a story to tell and you have a story to tell.  We all matter and have a story to share.  When is the last time that you have had the opportunity  to tell your story?

My life hasn't been perfect and there may be more negative moments than positive if I could press rewind.  Often times, I wouldn't share my story for fear that I would be judged.

Many people across the country know about the great work that we are doing in the city of Atlanta through L.E.A.D.  Many of you have watched us grow from 2007 when our goal was to only offer free baseball clinics throughout the inner city of Atlanta to now offering year round programming serving over 250 young men in the Atlanta Public School System (APS).  Before L.E.A.D., baseball never existed at the middle school level in APS.  We have now graduated 33 Ambassadors from high school and they have all enrolled in college.  In 2014, we will have our first college graduating class.  Click here to check out our impact stats.

In order for us to make this type of impact, it requires support.  Many people ask me how I am able to get so many people to help us achieve our mission for L.E.A.D. such as Georgia's Own Credit Union, Chick-fil-ABelk, Atlanta Braves, Kim King Foundation, and many others. The answer is me being willing to share my story to people who care to listen.  In that lies God's will being done.  Here is a snapshot of my story.

The youth living in the inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia State Prison population.  The zip code 30314 is the 5th most dangerous community in America.  These statistics tell a story but each one of the youth living in these zip codes have a story to tell and often times don't get to tell it to people that care to listen.  They all have dreams and I thank God that I am in a position to help them achieve them.

Yesterday, I got a chance to tell my story to 11 men and one woman at our Annual L.E.A.D. Coaches Workshop.  We weren't discussing how to swing a bat.  We were discussing ways of creating memorable experiences for every young man that wears the L.E.A.D. emblem.

Ty Yokum (Chick-fil-A) facilitating our annual L.E.A.D. Coaches Workshop
We had coaches in attendance from our eight APS partner middle schools (King, Parks, Sylvan Hills, B.E.S.T., Harper-Archer, Brown, Young and Kennedy) and the workshop was facilitated by Ty Yokum who serves as the Training Manager of Chick-fil-A.  The workshop started with a video of people sharing their stories inside of a Chick-fil-A restaurant.  I was so moved by the video.  There was a lady sitting in a booth alone drinking coffee.  Her husband died a month prior and they would have shared their 50th anniversary that day.  There was a young and energetic girl bouncing around the story whose mother died when she was giving birth to her and now her father blames her for her mothers death.  With all of that, it is still the responsibility of the Chick-fil-A employees to treat each customer with respect because we all have a story.  I often go to Chick-fil-A just to feel good.  To be cheered up because they are one of the best in the business of providing memorable experiences.

I heard the stories of all of my coaches as well as my wife in the room and it was powerful.  I have been around many of them for years and never knew their story.  It is almost impossible to achieve a mission without knowing the stories of those that are fighting for change with you.

More than ever, our coaches will make the time to hear the stories of the young men that we serve.  Only 34% of African-American males graduate from high school within Atlanta Public Schools but they have a story to tell and L.E.A.D. is going to listen.  In order to make change, we have to spend less time talking and more time listening to our youth.

A movement was started yesterday.  Stay tuned.  Click here to join the L.E.A.D. team.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oh how I love Grove Park Elementary because it first loved me

I walked the halls of Grove Park Elementary School as a student grades 1-5 between 1981 and 1986.  I had some of the most amazing teachers and the greatest principal on Earth.  I will never forget my principal Sylvia Jones.  I thought that she was the tallest woman in the world that gave the tightest hugs.  She always greeted me with a smile and spoke life into me.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Weems and my second grade teacher was Mrs. Jacobs.  I flew on an airplane for the first time in the 2nd grade as a field trip.  We flew round trip to Charlotte.  My third grade teacher was Mrs. Blue.  She taught me how to speak Spanish and we won the state wide Spanish Festival competition.  For some reason, I can't remember who my fourth grade teacher was.  I'm getting old.  Lol!  My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Finch.  She pushed me to another level academically.

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) was under the leadership of Dr. Alonzo Crim when I was a child.  Mr. Crim created a culture of academic excellence supported by the Atlanta business community that was referred to as a "Community of Believers."  As an APS student, I achieved at a high level academically because I never knew that failure was an option.

My mother and father were awesome! On a regular basis, my mother would tell me that I would one day be a respected leader.  I had the privilege of watching a dedicated father go to work everyday to ensure that the dreams that he and my mother had for me could be fulfilled.

My mother Gail Stewart and I at her alma mater Booker T. Washington High School. 
So in 2012, I am recognized as one of the top baseball swing coaches in America and Georgia Trend Magazines 2011 40 Brightest People Under the Age of 40.  I graduated with honors from Westlake High School and attended Georgia State University on a full academic/athletic scholarship.  My childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player was realized in 1996 when I was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.  Now I am the owner of Diamond Directors Player Development, a business that I share with my wife that provides the blue print of success for amateur and professional baseball players across America.  How did all of this happen for me?

2011 GA Trend Magazine 40 Under 40. From left: Bill McLellan, Janet McLellan, Caitlin Sims (Grove Park Principal), Kelli Stewart, Mackenna and Mackenzi Stewart, CJ. Stewart, Steve White and Linda Rothermel.
I was born to amazing Christian parents that partnered with the Atlanta Public School System. A stranger at the time named T.J. Wilson pulled me to the side as a freshman at Westlake High School one day and said "you are going to play this game at the highest level."  His words became action and before you know it, I was receiving professional baseball instruction, playing competitive baseball and being exposed to collegiate and professional scouts.  This is my story and an example of how Atlantans effectively serve each other to make this a great city.

My way of telling everyone that has helped me thank you is through my non-profit organization L.E.A.D., Inc.  Our mission is to provide at-risk inner city males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.

Did you know that...
1. APS currently graduates 34% of it's African-American males from high school?
2. APS currently serves 53,000 students and 80% of those students live at or below the poverty level?
3. APS students living in the 30310, 30315 and 30318 zip codes grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia State Prison population?

There are several social and economic reasons why these numbers exist.  It is not for a lack of competency and love from the APS teachers.  APS still is a great place to learn and develop like it was for me.

The current principal at Grove Park Elementary School is Caitlin Sims and she is Mrs. Sylvia Jones all over again.  Mrs. Sims is more than a principal, she is a community leader.  I need your help to empower her parents with the creation of the Stewart Family Resource Center at Grove Park Elementary School.  Atlanta is an international city that has solved problems throughout the world.  Let's make sure that we continue to take care of home.  Serving others is the Atlanta Way!

Hanging out with Caitlin Sims and her awesome husband at the Braves game 2012
Below is a wish list from the Grove Park Elementary School Parents.  Contact Leslie Meshad at by Monday, November 12th to make donations.  Please join the Stewart Family and the Grove Park families on Friday, November 16th as we bring the Stewart Family Resource Center to life at Grove Park Elementary School (20 Evelyn Way, NW, Atlanta, GA 30318).  Thank you in advance for your support!

Grove Park Family Resource Center Wish List
1. Rated G movies and/or learning videos
2. Hands on toys for toddlers
3. Toy box
4. Coloring books and crayons
5. Children's table and chairs (primary colors if possible)
6. 6 x 8 vibrant rug for children's corner (primary colors if possible)
7. 8 x 10 rug for parent area
8. Love seat or small sofa and coffee table
9. Sideboard for coffee and snack service
10. Lamps
11. Coffee maker and supplies
12. Crock Pot
13. Serving utensils
14. Plants
15. Parenting magazines
16. Employment resources (books on making resumes, how to interview, etc.)
17. Crystal Springs water
18. Framed art with images of family
19. Women's/Men's business and casual clothing and shoes

Grove Park Elementary School
20 Evelyn Way, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 802-7750 Direct

In 38 days, the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors will be officially announced

There is a little more than two weeks remaining in our fall Legacy League.  Come check us out at Booker T. Washington High School.  Our final game is Saturday, November 17th.  Marcus Hodge continues to perform at a high level.  He recently returned from a recruiting visit at Grambling State University.  Wesley Clements has been accepted and received an academic scholarship from Young Harris College.  After the Legacy League, the 2013 L.E.A.D. Ambassadors class will be announced.  It won't be just a regular announcement.  If you know L.E.A.D., you know that we do it big.

We are currently serving 70 (25 Middle School and 45 High School) Atlanta Public School students in the Legacy League.  The forty-five high school LEADers are competing for one of the 20 Ambassadors roster positions.  This is truly an honor and a privilege.  Ambassadors are considered based on our four pillars of excellence: academics, athletics, service/civic engagement and exposure.  Their involvement in these four pillars are measured with Civic Stats(tm).  Being a L.E.A.D. Ambassador is an earned opportunity.

Legacy League practice at Booker T. Washington High School

On Friday, November 30th, the Ambassadors will take part in a press conference at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School with over 500 students in attendance.  On Saturday, December 1st, we will host our 6th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic at Turner Field.  The Ambassadors will serve as clinicians along with Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward while serving over 100 students across metro Atlanta.  On Sunday, December 2nd, the Ambassadors will be officially announced to the city of Atlanta at Turner Field's 755 Club at our 3rd Annual Dinner With Champions Awards Celebration.  There will be over 300 guest in attendance with Chuck Dowdle serving as our emcee and Vince Dooley as our keynote speaker.  Click here to get your tickets for L.E.A.D. Weekend.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at the Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baseball turned into hide and seek

In my book, leadership starts with serving others. When I was young, I never thought that I could have an impact on anyone else unless I had a lot of money.  Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "everyone can be great because everyone can serve." Hearing that quote as a teenager changed my life.  We want young men to be great but in order for that to happen, L.E.A.D. provides consistent opportunities to serve.

On yesterday (October 9th), several of our LEADers were able to join me for a day of service and education at Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers.  We had so much fun.  Here was our itinerary.

8:45AM Arrival at Sheltering Arms.  The fall is definitely here in Atlanta.  It was freezing outside.

9:00AM We were greeted by Steven White, Center Director-Early Learning & Resource Center at Dunbar Sheltering Arms. Steven is an Atlanta native and a baseball fan.  I am thoroughly impressed with his leadership.

9:30AM We began reading with the Pre-K students.  These are some bright students that have amazing communication skills.  The teachers are just as amazing and are invested in the success of their students.  This is personal for them.

Will Harris (Maynard Jackson High School) and Tyquavious Noland (Maynard Jackson High School) reading to students.
We had an opportunity to teach the basics of baseball.  The students were very interested and engaged.

Carlos Twine (New Schools at Carver) teaching the fundamentals of baseball.
11:00AM It's time for our new baseball fans to apply what they learned on the baseball field.  L.E.A.D. provides curriculum based instruction to our middle and high school student-athletes and they are prepared to teach others.  They are truly Ambassadors.

We started out with a good stretch.

Then the games began.  They focused on playing the actual game for a full 45 minutes then they wanted me to play hide and seek.  That was fun but it wore me out!

Marquese Sinkfield (Henry W. Grady High School) giving a helping hand.
12:00PM Lunch time.  We ate it quickly because my LEADers chose to walk the 2 miles to Turner Field instead of riding the bus with the Sheltering Arms kids.  This was also great for me to spend some individual time with our LEADers.  You can learn a lot about someone in a 2 mile walk.

In route to Turner Field crossing the overpass.
Along the way, we took a photo with the Olympic Rings in the back ground.  Atlanta is such an amazing city and has so much to offer if you are invested.  Service and civic engagement provides a sense of investment and belonging to our LEADers.

We are Atlanta!
1:00PM Let the tour begin.  There is so much to know about Turner Field and the Atlanta Braves.  The kids were engaged and had so much fun.  For some of the them, the escalator ride was the best.

It was so cool for them to catch an inside view of this massive structure that they drive by almost everyday.

They hung out in the broadcast book and heard stories about Skip Carey.

They hung out in the visitors dugout.  I can't believe that we lost to the Cardinals.  We will get them next year.

2:00PM The tour is over but the Atlanta Braves and L.E.A.D. have new fans.

The Pre-K students from Sheltering Arms Dunbar Center will matriculate into Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School then Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and then graduate from Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School.  L.E.A.D. has programming at all of these schools through our partnership with Atlanta Public School. The current high school graduation rate for African-American males in APS is 34%.  There are so many social and economic reasons why the numbers are so low.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Since 2007, L.E.A.D. has graduated 100% of it's Ambassadors while 100% have enrolled in college.  90% of our Ambassadors have enrolled in college with baseball scholarship opportunities.

L.E.A.D. is more than bats and balls and success is not coincidental.  Come check out L.E.A.D. in action.  Click here for upcoming games and events.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"The Kids That Are Always On The Baseball Field At Booker T. Washington High School"

This has been a great Legacy League Fall season thus far.  We are in our fifth week at Booker T. Washington High School serving over 70 Atlanta Public Schools (APS) middle and high school students.

Today we began our instructional games for two of our middle school teams as well as two of our high school teams.  Our Prospect Team played at East Cobb in a tournament.

In addition to our games, we received a day of exposure provided by a supporter of L.E.A.D. that purchased 90 tickets for our LEADers and their parents to attend the Georgia State University vs. University of New Hampshire football game at the Georgia Dome.

We walked 1.5 miles to the Dome from Booker T. Washington High School.  Of course there were several of our young and athletic LEADers complaining about walking.  I remember walking everywhere when I was a kid. What's wrong with these kids.  Lol!

Our special guest for today was eight football players from Joseph E. Brown Middle School.  Brown Middle School is one of new partner schools in the L.E.A.D. Middle School Baseball Development League.  We begin to track all of  middle school student-athletes in our partner schools in October and these young men will be joining us on the baseball field in the spring of 2013.

As we walked along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, I was reminded that this is the same street that Dr. King walked on as a child and adult.  We also passed by historic Morris Brown College and Clark-Atlanta University.  There is so much history in the inner city of Atlanta.  We were attending a football game but it was bigger than that. Several of our LEADers will be graduating from Georgia State University in the future.  They will be attending GSU football games as alums.  They will be donating money to university.

It was so important for us to walk today so that people in the community could recognize who were are.    We want to be seen as more than the "kids that are always on the baseball at Washington High School." We need fans within the community to support our LEADers.  We are committed to L.E.A.D. Today in order to Change Tomorrow.  There were several business owners and patrons that stop to ask us about our organization.  That was a great feeling.

We were escorted in the Dome with Tyler Reichwein who serves as the General Manager of Ticket Sales for IMG Worldwide.  We followed Tyler to mid field to take a group photo.  What an awesome feeling to be on the field of our Atlanta Falcons.  By this time, our LEADers had their eyes wide open.  For several of them, this was their first time inside the Dome.

After feeling like celebrities on the field, Tyler allowed us to spend some time in the Verizon Club.  This gave Kelli and I the opportunity to share our experiences as middle and high school students as well as college students when we attended Georgia State University.

Hanging out at the Verizon Club
My staff and I are equipped to provide a meaningful baseball development experience every time our LEADers step on the baseball field.  In order to convert their raw baseball talent to skills that will be attractive to college baseball scouts, they must have confidence.  When I was a kid, that confidence came by way of exposure.  I saw so much of Atlanta as a youth and I always felt connected.  I always felt like an asset to the city.  I want my LEADers to know that your success benefits Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia.

We are Georgia's Own!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inner City Atlanta Baseball In The Fall?

God has blessed L.E.A.D. once again with great participation in our Fall Legacy League.  We have 70  young men (LEADers) that have made the commitment to develop as servant leaders, students and baseball players.

Graduation Coach Louis Rhodes speaking to our LEADers
I love the fall because of cooler temperatures and SEC/ACC football.  The fall is dominated by football but if you drive by the Booker T. Washington High School Moore-Clendenon Baseball Field during the week, you will hear bats cracking.  Click here to check out our remaining Legacy League schedule.

Houston Astros prospect Chris Epps came to visit and mentor our LEADers at yesterday's practice.  I began training Chris at the age of 15 at my Diamond Directors training facility.  He recently graduated as a student/athlete from Clemson University.  He is an amazing talent on the field.  We hope to see him in the coming years when the Astros come to Turner Field to face the Braves.

We will host our second community service project of the fall this Saturday at Booker T. Washington High School.  The following Saturday, October 6th, we will walk to the Georgia Dome from B.T. Washington to watch the Georgia State University football game.  I can't wait to hear all of the complaining from all of these able body young men as they walk two miles. Lol. We are so much more than bats and balls.

We are always in need of volunteers and fans so make plans to join us for a practice, game or service project.  Click here to view our schedule.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Catching Dreams at Atlanta Public Schools

Fall is officially here tomorrow and a drastic change of weather will follow. This is that time of year when I catch colds.

Rendell Jackson, Atlanta Public Schools Office of Athletics and I visited Bazoline E. Usher/Collier Height Elementary School this morning and got a tour of the building from Principal Gregory Parks and Assistant Principal Jerry Parker III. I was able to catch some dreams today.

Mr. Parks is full of energy and believes in creating a first class learning experience for the students, parents and teachers. This isn't a school, this is a place where students dream and the staff makes them come true. The full reality hasn't been revealed yet but I'm drinking the "Kool-Aid". Thousands of students will graduate in the future from APS high schools coming from Usher/Collier Heights Elementary School. 

Next week, the students will beautify the school by planting flowers at the entrance of the school. I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty with them. They also have a dynamic leadership academy that allows life to be spoken to the young men in the mornings before school. I will be a part of that inspiration beginning next month. I'm looking forward to being empowered.

Principal Parks truly cares about his staff. He has an on site fitness center for them. That is awesome.

The thing that really blew me away is his vision to utilize large space in the rear of the school for a golf driving range. Now that is creative. The students will be able to develop an athletic skill that can open so many doors for education and exposure. 

I am a "Dream Catcher" so being at Usher/Collier Heights Elementary was empowering to me. Atlanta Public Schools will once again rise as a district of academic and athletic excellence. It requires the creativity and a "make it happen" attitude from its leaders.

One of many words of inspiration throughout B.E. Usher Elementary School.

May God bless you Principal Parks and Mr. Parker. You are doing a great thing for our city. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It All Comes Down To Eastlake

Golf is an amazing and nostalgic sport that I have grown to respect.  I consider myself a good athlete but this sport can not be mastered.  It requires so much time and mental focus.  Seems like it would be easy to hit a ball that isn't moving.  This is the game that I play when I need a taste of humble pie.

Like Major League Baseball and the NFL, the PGA has a season.  The Super Bowl of the PGA is the FedEx Cup that is played annually in Eastlake Atlanta, GA.  This week, the best golfers in the entire world is in my hometown of Atlanta.  This is the last golf tournament of the season and it all comes down to Eastlake.

Our L.E.A.D. supporter Belk made it possible for us to invite 18 young men from The B.E.S.T. Academy to Eastlake for this golf experience.

One of the young gentlemen from B.E.S.T. came up to me with a firm handshake and looked me in my eyes and said "Thank you for providing this experience.  I have never done anything like this in my life."  It became real to me that we were doing a good thing.

At the 18th Hole at Eastlake Golf Club
It made me think about how Atlanta can welcome the best golfers to our city and yet the best of our city can't see our guest like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.  The B.E.S.T. Academy without a doubt is producing future leaders for the United States.  These young men are assets to the city of Atlanta.  They didn't get an opportunity to meet any golfers today but we were so close.  Nonetheless, they appreciated the experience and left feeling a sense of investment to the city of Atlanta.

That is Tiger Woods in the background. Sweet!
L.E.A.D.'s mission to provide at risk Atlanta males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  Today was civic engagement at a high level.  We had lunch at the 18th hole. Wow! How often do you get an opportunity to do that.  We also had access to the same Eastlake Golf Clubhouse as Tiger Woods.

Lunch at the 18th Hole at Eastlake Golf Club
Special thanks to Belk; Hope-Beckham Public Relations; Greg Boland, GE; Hajj Womack, B.E.S.T. Academy Middle School Principal; Lorrie Martin, B.E.S.T. Academy Parent Liaison; Barry Blackmon, B.E.S.T. Academy Teacher and Rendell Jackson, APS Office of Athletics.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You have to close the history gap in order to make impact

I was born in 1976 in Atlanta, GA.  I'm a proud "Grady baby".  I was around the age of 8 when I began to understand the tradition and legacy of Atlanta.  If the streets could talk, it would share stories of some amazing men in this city like Alonzo Herndon, Herman Russell, and Hamilton Holmes to name a few.

We are doing great work in the city of Atlanta through L.E.A.D. I often laugh because I know that there is no way that L.E.A.D. would have existed when I was a child.  Simply because there was no need.

I grew up playing at the Cascade Youth Organization (C.Y.O.) and we had hundreds of youth in year round programming.  There were thousands of African-American boys playing baseball throughout the city.  My C.Y.O. coaches were great mentors and put me on a life and baseball development path that I will never forget.

I was a member of a Boy Scouts Troop out of my church at Elizabeth Baptist Church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.  I became a Webelo Scout before my baseball passion and commitment caused conflict with my scouting schedule.  My scout masters were great mentors and put me on a life and service path I will never forget.

I was a student at Grove Park Elementary School within Atlanta Public Schools (APS) from 1st through 5th grade.  I excelled academically and was exposed to some of the best that Atlanta had to offer.  I flew on a plane for the first time as a second grader while in Mrs. Jacob's class.  I visited the Herndon Home as a third grader in Mrs. Blue class.  My teachers were great mentors and put me on a life, academic and civic engagement path that I will never forget.

In order to make impact in the inner city of Atlanta, you must close the history gap.  We all want to serve and make Atlanta a better place.  Atlanta has thousands of non-profit organizations that would have never existed 20-plus year ago.  To that end, you have to understand the history of the inner city  of Atlanta before you help the youth inside of it.  Often times, we place our flag of support in the ground without speaking to the pastors, teachers and community leaders that have been grinding here for years.  It all comes down to respect.

It takes a village to raise a child but if we don't close the history gap, we can be viewed as an enemy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sheltering Arms Covering Atlanta

I have been a fan and supporter of Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers for three years.  The staff is amazing and the youth are truly being developed academically and socially.  I am convinced that our future Mayor of Atlanta, Governor of Georgia and President of the United States is being taught in a Sheltering Arms Center.

Sheltering Arms is Georgia's oldest nonprofit early childhood education program, and one of its most respected. Our mission is to serve working families with high quality, affordable child care and education and comprehensive support services, as well as to provide professional development for early childhood educators and community outreach. Founded by Atlanta volunteers in 1888, Sheltering Arms now annually serves more than 3,600 children, ages six weeks to five years old, and their families, in 16 centers in 6 metro Atlanta counties. Sheltering Arms is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization.

I was able to read to a Pre-K age three class today and I had so much fun.  It was early morning and my coffee hadn't kicked in yet but when a classroom full of three year old boys and girls scream, everybody wakes up.

I shared my favorite book "We Are The Ship" and had the opportunity to talk them about my childhood in Atlanta.  One young lady wants to be a dentist when she grows up and another young man wants to be a baseball player like me.  I explained to them how I train baseball players so that they may use their academic and baseball skills to get a scholarship for college.  It was brought to my attention that college costs $8 so I may need to find another job.

I read three books and they were so attentive and comprehended the stories so well.  They were polite and asked great questions.  The good news for Atlanta is that Sheltering Arms serves students that will matriculate to Atlanta Public Schools. The students that I met today are going to be a part of a new wave of students that respect the opportunity to receive an APS education like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Frazier.

The teachers were amazing except the one that is a New Orleans Saints fan.  We will let her slide since she is doing a great job with the students.

Sheltering Arms has a clear mission and be assured that it is being fulfilled.  I gave 45 minutes of my time today to inspire future leaders of tomorrow.  My time for a better Atlanta.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You have to close the geography gap in order to make impact

What does the word empact mean? It's actually not a word.  The topic of this blog is impact with an "i".  Impact could be mistakenly spelled using an "e" but if it doesn't begin with an "i", it's wrong.

In order to make impact in the inner city of Atlanta, you must close the culture, language, geography and history gap.

Atlanta is in fact an international city but there is a lot of work to be done in order to make sure that our youth can lead the way into the future.  There are hundreds of youth development organizations in Atlanta whose mission is to impact inner city youth.

Did you know that...
  • The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) currently serves 51,000 students of which 80% of them live at or below the poverty level
  • The high school graduation rate of African-American males in APS is 34% (2010 Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males)
  • Youth from zip codes 30310, 30315, and 30318 grew up to represent 80% of the Georgia prison population (source FCS Urban Ministries). L.E.A.D. serves young men in all three zip codes
In order to make impact, you must close the geography gap that exists in Atlanta.  Several families in the inner city of Atlanta are experiencing extreme hardship for various reasons.  Without being able to relate to this hardship, often times "help" is offered in a less than dignified way.

Be sure to spell impact with an "i".

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Ebenezer Baptist Church

Monday, September 10, 2012

You have to close the language gap in order to make impact

The ability to make an impact on the life of someone is a privilege.  Those that are being impacted are in need.  Especially young men that are in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).  Young men within APS are at risk due to high crime rate and poverty which are two main reasons that 34% of African-American males graduate from high school within APS.  APS is full of amazing educators that have to deal with outside risk factors that make their jobs a challenge.  The good news is that academic excellence is returning to APS under amazing leadership.

Every problem creates an opportunity.  Thus inner city Atlanta is a prime place for non-profit organizations to serve. In order to make impact anywhere, a cultural, language, geography and history gap must be closed.

Obviously, English is the main language in America but inner city Atlanta has a language of it's own. My experience with the language code is due to being raised in the inner city of Atlanta and my consistent engagement with youth.

If you don't understand what's being said, you won't be able to communicate and make impact.  I agree that ebonics isn't an acceptable form of communication in corporate America but it works well in the inner city of Atlanta.  To that point, if you come to Atlanta to make impact, you are responsible for understanding the language. No different than if you went to Paris for vacation.

We meet our LEADers in L.E.A.D. where they are and over a period of time and meaningful conversation impact the way that they speak so that they may properly communicate in several environments. It has to be understood that if you don't live in the inner city of Atlanta, you are the outsider and the way that you speak is often considered wrong.

There is indeed a lot of work to do in the inner city of Atlanta to get our youth to a high level of achievement.  Let's be respectful and patient and close the language gap before we go all in to make impact.

Friday, September 7, 2012

You have to close the cultural gap in order to make impact

This blog is inspired by a recent blog that I read from John Hope Bryant entitled "Why Thug Culture Is Actually Our Inner-City Problem".  Mr. Bryant was our keynote speaker at last years L.E.A.D. Dinner With Champions Awards Celebration at the Delta 755 Club at Turner Field.  He tells it like it really is and influences change.

Impact is the ability to influence or alter. There isn't a day that goes by when organizations and individuals make attempts to influence positive change in Atlanta Public Schools (APS).  There are several problems that are faced in the inner city of Atlanta and as a result there is a tremendous desire to help.

I was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta during a time when the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) were among the top academically in the state.  There were several social issues that existed but not to the point of having so many non-profit organizations being involved with the schools to promote excellence. With so many organizations available to serve youth in the inner city of Atlanta, why is the high school graduation rate of African-American males within APS still 34%?

In order to make impact anywhere, a cultural, language, geography and history gap must be closed.

The first gap that must be closed in order to make impact is a cultural gap.  As Mr. Bryant mentioned in his recent blog, there is a "thug culture" that exists in the inner city of Atlanta.  There is a desire for some youth to live a life of crime instead of making sacrifices in the classroom.  The thug life can bring fast money but it can also shorten your life on Earth. These young men want to excel but lack the tools and consistent mentor-ship to become productive citizens.

L.E.A.D. doesn't judge the young men that we serve.  We simply meet them where they are. I understand the inner city Atlanta culture because I grew up in it. We give them what they need and not what we think that they want. L.E.A.D. offers year round programming so that we can create a new culture for our LEADers through four pillars of excellence that include academics, athletics, service/civic engagement, and exposure.

The solution to changing this negative culture is to first understand how we got here.  We got here by not remaining connected with our youth.  As a child, I was constantly asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  My answer was always to become a professional baseball player for the Chicago Cubs.  Know one ever told me that I couldn't do it.  With support from my family and the Atlanta community, my dream came true.

The "Thug Culture" can change by asking young students what their dreams are.  We as an Atlanta community can use our resources to help those dreams come true.  Youth organizations will create catchy slogans to raise funds and awareness but it is now time to do the work that your mission speaks of.  It is time to stop talking about the problem and be a part of the solution.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More Atlanta Braves wins, higher high school graduation rates

The success of the Atlanta Braves in the 90's caused everyone to go crazy over baseball.  Do you remember when people were driving around with Tomahawks on their cars.  Youth baseball parks were filled with kids.  It seemed like everyone was wearing Braves hats and t-shirts in Atlanta.  I remember the pride that I felt as an Atlantan when Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine were shutting the opposing teams down.

I believe that if the Braves can go another championship run, baseball participation in the inner city of Atlanta will increase by the thousands.

The Atlanta Braves continue to be a strong supporter of L.E.A.D.'s mission to provide inner city Atlanta at-risk males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  L.E.A.D. has proven that when using baseball as the vehicle, high school graduation rates will increase.  Check out L.E.A.D. Impact Stats.

With only a few weeks in the Major League Baseball season, continue to cheer for the Braves.  Their success will improve education in the inner city of Atlanta.  Go Braves!

L.E.A.D. Today...Change Tomorrow!

Turner Field on a beautiful night in Atlanta

Monday, August 20, 2012

This is why we L.E.A.D.

Atlanta is no doubt an amazing city.  We are the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coca-Cola, Delta, Chick-fil-A and on and on.  The world often times looks to us for innovation and solutions to problems.

Like other major cities, we have our large share of problems.  Among that list of problems is high rates of poverty and crime caused by low rates of high school graduation.

Every problem creates an opportunity.  This the need for L.E.A.D.  Our mission is to provide inner city Atlanta middle and high school African-American males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  Click here to check out our impact stats.

Check out this article to understand why we L.E.A.D.

L.E.A.D. stepped up and hit a home run for Atlanta

The Braves Youth Clinic and Summit has come and gone.  We had an amazing time.  The Atlanta Braves entrusted L.E.A.D. to provide a unique clinic experience to youth in the metro Atlanta area during the MLB Civil Rights Game Weekend.  Click here to check out some of the action.

We invited 350 middle school students and we got 350 students!  L.E.A.D. stepped up to the plate and hit a home run for Atlanta!  Special thanks to Delta, KIA, MasterCard, and Atlanta Public Schools.

They received great baseball instruction from our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors as well as Atlanta Braves alum such as Greg McMichael, Rick Camp, Charlie Liebrandt and Otis Nixon as well as the Morehouse College Baseball Team.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Max Hyde with the Thomas boys
Morehouse Baseball in the House!

The students were also inspired by our panelist during the Braves Youth Baseball Summit.  There are so many careers in baseball and today was a great way at a great venue to expose it.  Special thanks to Zach Klein (WSB-TV), Leron Rogers, Minister Tim Sims, Othello Renfroe Jr., Jasha Balcom and Ronnie Richardson (Atlanta Braves).

Minister Tim Sims and Othello Renfroe Jr.

Even though it was the first baseball experience for many of these Atlanta Public School students, they can still remain connected to baseball through L.E.A.D.

L.E.A.D.'s Fall Legacy League starts August 25, 2012

L.E.A.D. is an Atlanta based non-profit organization that provides inner city middle and high school age males with access to higher education and civic engagement through baseball.  We are more than bats and balls.  Our impact is measured by young men graduating from high school and enrolling into college.  Click here to check our impact stats.

Baseball isn't dead in the inner city.  It is alive and well because of supporters like you.  Click here to find ways to support our mission.