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.