Friday, September 27, 2013

L.E.A.D. Speaks for Itself

I've been retired from professional baseball (Houston Astros) for 4 months now and I've been approached with a lot of different opportunities. It's a blessing to have options when you're talking about life and your career. I took my time deciding which way to go and making sure I made the right decision for my future.

Neiko Johnson preparing for a game with Houston Astros Minor League affiliate
After meeting with C.J. Stewart over the course of the past few months I've come to realize that my decision to join him and the L.E.A.D. organization was the best decision by far. This experience benefits me in a number of ways. I am learning how to understand myself, how to help others become successful, how to become a great mentor, coach and it helps me create the vision of my future. 

Without this opportunity, I honestly feel I wouldn't be heading in the right direction as fast as I wanted to. L.E.A.D. helps me just as I am helping them. I realize we as mentors/coaches have an interdependent relationship with the LEADers (L.E.A.D. student/athletes) which is beneficial for both sides. The young men involved in L.E.A.D. benefit greatly and I am honored to be able to help them succeed.

L.E.A.D. stands for (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) which speaks directly to how the organization is structured. I love how the LEADers have to recite the mission statement, a bible memory verse, core values, and a precept daily. I feel that holds them accountable for the information that they are receiving and it helps them realize how great of an opportunity they have.

Being able to be involved in this is something I will remember forever. I will always be apart of this great organization and help out as long as I can. 

My goals can be accomplished from numerous places but this experience is different and extraordinary. Being able to surround myself with excellent people is the most important aspect. That alone was the biggest factor in my decision and so far it has paid off tremendously. The future is very bright within this organization and I show gratitude for this opportunity. ~Neiko Johnson

Neiko Johnson was a graduate of the University of Kentucky and played baseball for four years
Follow Neiko Johnson on Twitter @ThisIsNJJ.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is your definition of excellence excellent?

L.E.A.D. has 6 core values that we govern ourselves by including excellence, humility, integrity, loyalty, stewardship and teamwork. We make decisions based on these core values. If we fail to fulfill our mission of empowering an at risk generation to lead and transform their city, it's because we didn't adhere to these values. By the grace of God, we continue to realize success because of theses values. 

September is a month that we focus on excellence. Our LEADers are required to blog weekly about what excellence means to them. They are asked to describe current and past experiences of excellence. This is important to L.E.A.D. because we want to make sure that we are serving our LEADers with excellence. 

The problem is that many of our LEADers can't define or describe excellence. So even if we feel that we are serving them with excellence, they can't receive it if they don't know what it is or what it feels like. It is a mystery to many of them.

I define excellence as simple as doing what is expected of you. Attending school everyday on time and prepared to learn is excellent. Even if you have a troubled home life, attending school where you can be supported by several teachers is crucial. There are good and bad teachers but rest to assure that there are a lot of good ones in the building that can serve you but not if you aren't in school.

"Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity.  The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere.  Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying exemplary. -Warren G. Bennis

Teachers expect students to behave with excellence in school by expecting them to stay on task and respecting others. Teachers asking students to be quiet isn't acting with excellence as a student. I am sensitive to the fact that there are several emotional reasons why some students may not be able to stay on task in class. We have an opportunity as intentional mentors to teach students how to communicate those issues to teachers so that they can be sensitive and helpful. Lack of communication can prevent excellence from occurring.

Receiving an A in a class is excellence. B's are good, C's are average and F's are failing. Students must respect the opportunity to receive an education by attending school everyday, behaving in class, studying at home and maintaining a good relationship with their teacher.  If they do that, they can receive an A. You and I know that from experience. 

"Excellent work requires regular inspection. We all do better when others are watching, especially when it’s the Lord and those we respect. Excellent execution requires alignment of expectations." ~Boyd Bailey

Fortunately for our LEADers, we have year round comprehensive programming that supports their development on and off the baseball field. Life is a game itself and those that lose don't have a good definition of what excellence is.

Martin Luther King Middle School (Atlanta Public Schools) LEADer Octavious Bradley with The Lovett School Headmaster Billy Peebles at Lovett Spring 2013
Keep L.E.A.D. in your prayers. Our mission is engage an at risk generation to lead and transform their city.

How do you define excellence? I will share your feedback with our LEADers.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Low graduation rates in Atlanta of African-American males isn't the real problem

It's great to lead the way, providing you bring the followers along and engage them in the process. ~Kevin Daum

Engagement is to occupy the attention or efforts of a person or persons. This question is for adults age 25 and older. Name three things that you were fully engaged in when you were in middle school? In case you forgot, that was around ages 11 though 13. While you are thinking, I recall being most engaged in baseball, girls, and the youth choir at church in that order. 

I loved playing baseball as a kid. I fell in love with it around the age of 8 while watching Chicago Cubs games in the daytime with my grandfather. I always felt that I could play professional baseball if I continued to love it and have the right people on my side. 

Girls became less "yucky" for lack of a better word when I entered middle school. They dressed different and looked different and had me confused daily on how to approach them. 

Singing in the choir at Elizabeth Baptist Church was the thing to do back then because that's where all of the really good looking and "good girls" hung out. I couldn't help but feel the presence of God through songs but admittedly, I was most engaged because of the opportunity to socialize. 

I have daughters ages 6 and 12 and my wife and I serve over 300 middle school males (LEADers) within the Atlanta Public School System (APS) throughout the year since 2010. Our organization L.E.A.D. spends over 100 hours with them per month in the areas of academics, athletics, civic responsibility and commerce. We are fortunate to have the full support of the principals and our coaches are teachers in the school. 

The three things that I would like for middle school boys to be most engaged with is their spiritual relationship with Christ Jesus, academics and athletics in that respected order.

L.E.A.D.'s 2013 Middle School Character Development League Signing Day at Walter L. Parks Middle School

The only way that it can happen is for the significance of it to be exposed to our young men early and nurtured by intentional mentors with consist interaction. Teachers, coaches and mentors have a great opportunity to empower young African-American males. They are in a struggling state for sure in Atlanta and as long as they are alive, we have an opportunity to save them from themselves. Remember the prayers and support that you needed when you were in middle school?

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Tabias Wimby (B.E.S.T. Academy, APS) shaking hands with Hall Of Fame Coach Vince Dooley

It's great to lead the way, providing you bring the followers along and engage them in the process. ~Kevin Daum

Because males within the Atlanta Public School System aren't engaged in their spirituality, academics and athletics, they are graduating from high school at a rate of 34% while 80% of the entire Georgia Prison population comes from zip codes 30310, 30314, and 30318 which are located within the Atlanta Public School district. So the problem is that they aren't engaged and the results of the problem is the low graduation rate. 

See how L.E.A.D. engages our LEADers at

Friday, September 6, 2013

What's In A Name?

Calyx Jaxson was born into the world on Wednesday, September 4th at 8:05AM weighing 8lbs and 8 oz to his awesome parents Callix and Amanda Crabbe. To his friends and family, Calyx will be known as C.J.

I met Callix in 2000 when he was a rising senior at Stone Mountain High School. I was in my second year as a professional swing coach, learning what it meant to be a professional and I was also in my first year as a professional scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

For three months, my job was to evaluate Callix's speed, hoping for an increase so that I could report it to my scouting supervisor in hopes that Callix would get drafted. He indeed was drafted that year by the Atlanta Braves, but he chose to attend Young Harris Junior College over LSU as a student/athlete. The following year he transferred to Manatee Junior College (FL) and was drafted and signed by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Through all of this, I accepted the responsibility of being his mentor and swing/life coach. I had done all of the things that he wanted to do and I believed He could do them too and much more. My wife and I made it a priority to help him reach his goal of being a Major League Baseball player, loving husband and father and community leader. He thought we were preparing him to be drafted but we knew we were preparing him to win at the game of life.

I remember telling Callix in 2000 that I would never watch him play a game until he was in the majors. On April 3, 2008, I saw my mentee, Callix Crabbe, play baseball for the first time against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. I was filled with emotion then as well as now. We did it! He was starting at second base for the San Diego Padres.

Today, Callix is a beloved husband and father to two healthy children Calyx Jaxson Crabbe (C. J.) and Alana Naessa Crabbe (age 2).

What does it mean to me to have Callix name his son after me? To know that he thinks that highly of me is truly a blessing. It's a testament to how God is using me and I give all the honor to Him. I am grateful to Callix and Amanda for blessing me in this way; the student has now become the teacher.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

9 reasons why I didn't drop out of high school

I was far from being a perfect kid and I'm even further from being a perfect adult. I was raised by a mother and father that didn't tolerate foolishness. It was dealt with immediately. 
As a child, I did the right things in life because it was encouraged. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have graduated from high school with perfect attendance or with academic honors. Sports and girls were my love and passion. 

Around the 8th grade, going to school began to be a burden to me. I was making good grades but I couldn't see how good grades would equate to a career. Especially my career. I wanted to be a professional baseball player and an entrepreneur as my back up plan.

Here are 9 reasons why I didn't drop out of high school. 

My church
I was raised at Elizabeth Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Southwest Atlanta. It was considered cool to serve on an auxiliary at church. Church taught me morals. It would have been immoral to drop out of school when so many people in the city of Atlanta sacrificed their life and freedom for me to get a free education.

My mentors
I never had mentors that played professional baseball but they were accomplished in other areas and willing to put me in the right place at the right time to accomplish my goals. I was willing to stay the course in school because they hadn't let me down and I didn't want to let them down.

A few of my coaches and mentors (left to right) Mike Hurst, Rusty Hudson, Emmett Johnson and Dave Whitfield

My grandmothers
Could you imagine telling your grandmother that you dropped out of high school because it was too hard and you were too lazy to do the work??? After all the hours that she has worked to provide for you??? I couldn't do it, and the thought of it makes me sick now.

My parents
What parent brings a child in the world for them to fail? Mine didn't. Neither one of my parents have a college degree but they introduced me to Christ, work ethic and discipline to name a few. They too had some rough times but they didn't give up on me so how could I drop out of school?

Dad and mom with my daughters
My coaches
I'm not the only one that had coaches give countless hours of their time to ensure that I could learn life lessons in sports. They never got paid a dime to help me. There is no way that I could see one of my coaches in public and look him in the eyes and say that I dropped out of high school.

The Milliner Family were my coaches age 13-16 at Old National Athletic Association

My teachers
I remember all of my teachers by first and last name. I spent more hours at school than I did at home. I had some teachers that I didn't like because they didn't take it easy on me. They pushed me towards excellence even when I didn't know excellence was the best thing for me. The good teachers are put on assignment by God. To quit on my teachers was to quit on God.

My friends
All of my true friends were smart. Some were lazy like me but they were all smart. If I had dropped out of school and was the only one at home chillin' while everybody else was at school, I would have gotten ridiculed (AKA "joned out") to the dullest. So immature and so lame on so many levels.

My future wife
I always wanted to get married young to a good woman. No chance in the world that a good woman would want a man without a high school education.

My unborn children 
I loved my parents and I dreamed of having children that loved me. I dreamed of the day that my kids would go to kindergarten, graduate from high school and college. I guess I wouldn't be a good example to them if I had dropped out of high school.

60% of African-American males in Atlanta Public Schools will not graduate from high school. Question for you young men: If you drop out of high school, who are all the people you will let down? Here a a hint, start with the man in the mirror.