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!