Thursday, December 31, 2015

3 Things I Learned in 2015 from the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors


I heard this quote the other day - Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. I haven’t been able to find out who said it, but I do know I am in full agreement!

I took advantage of many opportunities to learn from life’s experiences this year, and it turned out to be an awesome year! I kept myself open to learning whether it was through my participation in Leadership Atlanta, or relocating with my family from Cherokee County to closer, familiar surroundings in Atlanta. I must admit though, nowhere did I find life’s learning opportunities more evident and abundant than in my work with my L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) Ambassadors.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate the time I spend with the Ambassadors because of what I learn from them. My wife Kelli and I started L.E.A.D. in 2007 and, every year, our Ambassadors have been teaching me what it takes to inspire and empower Atlanta’s young, Black, inner-city males to live a sustainable life of significance. 2015 has been no different in that regard, and I’d like to share with you three things that I’ve learned from our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors this year.

1. Black Boys want a hero, more than they need a coach.

We live in a time where Black Males have a better chance of being incarcerated than graduating from high school. Where their lives are expendable after thoughts of those in society who are supposed to protect them. Make no mistakes about it, Black Boys in particular are in a state of crisis in this country and what they need now is a HERO, more than a coach.

This crisis is not lost on our Ambassadors, and I have learned from them that they need me to be their hero more than their coach. They need my reassurances based on my experiences and confidence that they can survive their struggles and that they have an authentic opportunity to live a significant life. They need this more than learning how to hit, field and throw a baseball.

I have also learned from our Ambassadors’ successes that I must continue to dig deep and look within myself to be the hero they need, so that they can have continued success. Ironically...soul-searching introspection to find the hero within is exactly what L.E.A.D. is asking the Ambassadors to do for themselves. So the cycle continues, what L.E.A.D. asks of its Ambassadors, they ask of me. I am honored to meet their request.



2. Black Boys want to be challenged, not chastened.

Kelli and I challenge the Ambassadors to become all that God has called them to be. That challenge along with helping them develop a sense of self awareness and core values allows them to correct themselves, most times, before being chastened by others. For example, we know that the Ambassadors are consistently making right choices over wrong ones even when wrong “has a louder voice” in their head.

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) also challenges its Ambassadors to lead and become heroes, especially to those young men that are coming up behind them within Atlanta Public Schools. They are accepting the challenge and are successful because we are providing them with the blueprint for positive transformation. They understand that there is a learning curve, and it will be a long and difficult road; but they also know that they will get the attention and resources they need to achieve the mission. They don’t have to dream their dreams alone; we are their allies and our belief in them fuels their desire for success and significance.

Further, as a youth empowerment organization, it is our duty to put our Ambassadors in places that take them out of their comfort zone. We extend their experiences to events at the Atlanta Opera, dining at various Buckhead restaurants, or speaking to a large group of adults about what it is to be a black male living in Atlanta, living in the world.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors along with Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who is also an Atlanta Public Schools Alum.

3. Black Boys need a pathway to empowerment, not enabling.

There are a lot of aspects of L.E.A.D. that I am proud of, and this one ranks high on my list - we are a meritocracy. Because of this, we have what some believe to be a high attrition rate, around 15%-20%. Some of the attrition is due to lack of funding, but most of it is because of the high standards we set. We are uncompromising in our expectations for our Ambassadors, and when they fail to meet these standards, they are met with the consequences. One such consequence is termination from the program, and when that happens we encounter quite a bit of criticism.

My stance is this: we cannot empower our youth to overcome their struggles by enabling them to use those same struggles as a crutch. Through stories they’ve shared with me, the Ambassadors have taught me how much they respect our organization by reaching for, and at times exceeding, our standards; even more so when they accept the negative consequences for not meeting the standards. Too many times they’ve told me that being in L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is the first time they’ve been held accountable on a consistent basis. For some reason, when it comes to helping Black Boys, most folks throw accountability right out of the window. This is exactly what they need; trust me, I know. Not too long ago, I was a Black Boy walking the same streets as my Ambassadors walk today. I’ve overcome similar situations to theirs. The last thing they need is someone offering them benefits or opportunity without accountability.

Photo taken at Booker T. Washington High School, Atlanta Public Schools

Our Pathway2Empowerment model for our Ambassadors includes a K-12 education from Atlanta Public Schools, Core Value training via Habitudes®, and access to higher education via the military and/or the two to four-year college/university system. Ambassadors who work within our model and hold themselves accountable to it, go on to be employed at industry leading companies like Home Depot and Aerotek, and are well on their way to living a sustainable life of significance.

Kelli and I wish you a very Happy New Year, and encourage you to include an Ambassador game or two in your 2016 schedule. The Ambassadors love a crowd to cheer them on. Our summer schedule will be posted later in the spring on our website: www.lead2legacy.org.

Click here to check out our end of year edition of L.E.A.D. For Youth.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic


Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic

At-risk Atlanta Public School Students Groomed to L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct)

“Today you are the primary celebrities out here…” That is the message that Kelli Stewart will deliver to hundreds of at-risk Atlanta Public School students anxiously awaiting in the stands early morning November 20th at Turner Field. They will be there to participate in L.E.A.D.’s 9th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic. For the past 8 years in our capacity as L.E.A.D. co-founders, Kelli and I have counted on this message to get the attention of the young people attending our annual baseball clinic. We know from years of experience that if the message gets through and we can get our young people excited about the game of baseball, then we will have a better chance to plant seeds of success in those young fertile minds. Consequently, this will allow us to set much needed expectations regarding how much we need them to not become successful, but most importantly significant.



The proof is in the pudding as this year’s clinic will be facilitated by past participants who have gotten the message and have gone on to become L.E.A.D. Ambassadors. They are now becoming celebrities in their communities, as more and more Atlantans become familiar with L.E.A.D. and our work. The Ambassadors’ celebrity is valuable because it creates credibility with the new clinic participants. Credibility is key for the Ambassadors to pull off an unforgettable experience for their young charges.

Through L.E.A.D., we currently serve 31 high school Ambassadors – the program runs from November through July of the next year. These are 31 young black males who attend Atlanta Public Schools and who are being groomed to lead Atlanta and the world. By 2020, L.E.A.D. hopes to serve 100 Ambassadors annually. The goal has always been to have L.E.A.D. Ambassadors set a good example for, and lead, their peers within APS high schools. They are being specifically trained to be influencers within their schools and inner city Atlanta communities, and for good reasons – the Ambassadors know their schools and communities better than any adult mentor could. With 100 Ambassadors, L.E.A.D. will be able to provide peer leadership in 11 APS high schools, and continue to assist APS to realize its mission of creating “… a caring culture of trust and collaboration, [where] every student will graduate ready for college and career.”



Words of wisdom for the Ambassadors from CJ Stewart's mentor Major General Ronald Johnson (U.S. Army)

Not only are the young black males that L.E.A.D. serves being positioned as leaders in their communities, they are being groomed to be career ready when they graduate from college. They will need three things along the way from their Atlanta community to guarantee their success in this regard:
Access to other influencers and decision makers;
Constant encouragement (time and prayers); and
Financial investment

They will also need:

1. Internships and shadow opportunities while they are in high school and college;

2. Interview opportunities for open, and newly created, positions upon graduating from college; and

3. A yes after the interview. If L.E.A.D. does its job right, and the Ambassadors do what they are charged with, a “yes” will be inevitable..

Access to these necessities for success should be a no brainer, and L.E.A.D. should not have a difficult time finding opportunities for its Ambassadors. After all, Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS and Chick-fil-A. Additionally, the world's newest athletic venue is being built in Atlanta and will bear the name of Atlanta's newest corporate resident, Mercedes Benz. Porsche has recently acquired an Atlanta address for its North American headquarters connecting its proximity to the world's busiest passenger airport - Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But . . . here’s why you must help:

· ON THE DOWNSIDE: Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of Georgia's State Prison population. About 60% of black males either will not graduate on time or at all from Atlanta Public Schools while the state of Georgia ranks 31st in education in America. It takes an investment of $3,500 per young man annually for L.E.A.D. to develop an Ambassador, and it costs Georgia tax payers $100,000 per year to incarcerate one of them. Do the math! And if the numbers don’t motivate you, maybe your sense of humanity will. Did you know that Georgia is number one in America in incarceration and America leads the world in incarceration?

· ON THE UPSIDE: When the percentage of blacks graduating from college and being gainfully employed increases, there will be a substantial economic return to the city of Atlanta. Additionally, it follows that the higher the graduation and employment rate, the lower the incarceration rate.

It stands to reason that if we don’t participate in the lives of young black males and empower them to live a sustainable life of significance, then Atlanta will never truly become a world class city. I recently stated this very sentiment to several of my Leadership Atlanta 2015 classmates at a CEO Roundtable discussion. Woodruff Foundation chairman, Russ Harden, was there and he agreed with me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Ceasar Mitchell, Courtney English, Byron Amos, Vernon Jordan, Herman Russell and Andre Dickens all achieved a high level of celebrity in their own right. We have every reason to believe that given the right opportunities our young black men can hold similar careers, with the potential for even greater successes. We fully expect by 2020, our Ambassadors will lead in positions such as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, Atlanta Police Chief, Atlanta Fire Chief, Georgia College and University Deans and Director of Athletics, Atlanta Mayor, Atlanta based Fortune 500 Company Executives, L.E.A.D. CEO, Clergymen and Atlanta Public Schools Teachers and Principals, to name a few; and, we believe that it all starts with Kelli’s message to the eager young baseball clinic participants each year.



Safe At Home Game 2015

With that said, let's raise the profile of over 50,000 Atlanta Public School students to celebrity status by sharing this blog, and come out on Friday, November 20 to Turner Field between 10:00AM and 2:00 pm, to meet L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and join in the excitement with 300 new young celebrities. You are also welcome to worship with the Ambassadors on Sunday, November 22nd at 12:00PM at Elizabeth Baptist Church (4245 Cascade Road, SW, Atlanta, GA 30331-7245)


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Sunday, November 1, 2015

6AM AND IT’S A NEW DAY . . . OR IS IT?


FOR ME, when my iPhone alarm sounds at 6AM, I’m ready for a new day. I have a purpose. . . what I believe to be a God given purpose. It is to do whatever is necessary to help Atlanta Public Schools (APS) realize its vision and fulfill its mission, to ensure that young black male students in the APS system have every opportunity to graduate from high school, go to college, and have career choices to live a life of significance.

ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Vision "A high performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system."

Mission "With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career."

FOR APS, when 6AM rolls around on any given day students, teachers and stakeholders are met with critical issues resulting from an educational system that has been grossly mismanaged. The state of APS is not just an Atlanta problem, it affects the entire State of Georgia.

POVERTY, GRADUATION RATES, AND INCARCERATION

· 80% of the 51,000+ students APS services live at or below the poverty level.

· Sixty percent of black males attending APS high schools either won't graduate on time or at all

· Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes that are served by APS, grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population.

· Georgia ranks number one in America in incarceration and America ranks number one in the world in incarceration.

· In Atlanta, if you are born into poverty you have a 4% chance of making it out.

It’s not hard to see that we are indeed in a crisis situation. We continue to lose far too many young, black boys and men via the cradle to prison/cemetery pipeline. As a Black man who grew up in Atlanta, the state of my City is always on my heart and keeps me up a lot of nights. Even still, my faith in God gives me confidence that my determination to work His plan in my life will yield benefits for all of Atlanta’s citizens, and we will finally come to realize the true promise for young, Black males – a sustained life of significance.



L.E.A.D. Ambassadors serving with Lt. Col. Rooker and the APS JROTC for the Empty Stocking Fund

To that end, I am sounding the alarm for a new day in APS. We must wake up as concerned citizens of Atlanta, and work consistently and diligently each day with purpose for the right results. I offer L.E.A.D. as a viable solution . . . tried and true . . . getting consistent results that are already benefitting the City. 

Through L.E.A.D., Kelli, myself, our board and a host of supporters have built a positive culture amongst Black boys in APS; a culture built on dreams that some call crazy due to what they see as lofty ideals. Ideals such as viewing the Black boys in APS as viable candidates to run some of this City’s high profile companies. Crazy as it may seem, based on our experience over the last 8 years, we have confidence in our methodology and we’re seeing it yield results for APS and its students. 


Here are a few ways that L.E.A.D. is empowering APS students and teachers:

L.E.A.D. AD CONNECT - On Thursday, October 22nd at 6:00AM, my alarm went off and I suited up in my red and black. Not just because those are Ambassador colors, but because we were headed to my wife’s hometown, Athens, Georgia, to spend quality time with members of the University of Georgia’s Athletic Staff. Through our AD Connect Program, we are empowering APS Athletic Directors (ADs) and coaches by leveraging relationships we have at the college level. In addition to providing a closer look into the operations of college athletics, we are helping the ADs and coaches meet their annual continuing education requirement. Ultimately, L.E.A.D.’s AD Connect Program demonstrates the District’s desire to develop quality ADs and coaches who will mentor APS student-athletes. That morning, 10 ADs and coaches traveled with me to Athens for a dose of empowerment courtesy of the amazing UGA Department of Athletics under the leadership of Director of Athletics, Greg McGarity.



Atlanta Public Schools Middle and High School AD's - Some of Atlanta's finest people.

In addition to UGA, the L.E.A.D. AD Connect Program collaborates with Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and Mercer. Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State were the first two schools to come aboard.

SAFE AT HOME - The first, annual Safe at Home® Game was played on the first Saturday in August this year at Georgia Tech and it was a huge success! It was the final activity of the Safe at Home program - a collaborative effort of L.E.A.D., APIVEO and the Atlanta Police Foundation designed to build rapport between Atlanta’s inner city youth and Atlanta’s Cops.

Safe at Home was created as a response to the growing tension between the Black community and police officers that has resulted in death and violence in many inner-cities across the country. We have been extremely fortunate to not have a Ferguson like incident in Atlanta and Kelli and I wanted to be as proactive as possible to help ensure we never have one.

As part of the program, L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and Atlanta Police Officers got the opportunity to interact on a level playing field, through joint practices, a picnic and a Braves outing. As a result, the officers saw the Ambassadors as potential leaders, with purpose, and hope for a better future. Additionally, the Ambassadors connected with the police officers and gained a better understanding of the dangerous situations they face each day. Each party saw the human side of the other. 




DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. was considered crazy by many to believe that blacks would be able to live in prosperity in America, but he had a core group who believed in the work he did. They worked tirelessly to help him realize his dream. Some think, that Kelli and I are crazy to believe that, through L.E.A.D., we can empower an at-risk generation of young, black males from the inner city of Atlanta to lead and transform their city of Atlanta, and eventually the world. Like Dr. King, we have countless amounts of friends around the world that we count on to pray for us, to hold us accountable for fulfilling our calling by God as well as challenge us to do more than we believe that we're capable of accomplishing.

Dr. King cut a nice trail for our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors to finish paving, so that millions can travel on it living a sustainable life of significance.

So, every morning my iPhone alarm goes off at 6am. When it does, I have a few choices, I can:


  • wake up feeling blessed that it’s a new day to serve, get going and produce results; 
  • hit snooze, buy a few more minutes, then get going; 
  • or, stay in bed, pull the covers closer, and do nothing.  

Listen. Can you hear that? It's 6:00AM and APS's alarm is sounding loud and clear. What are your plans to help APS realize its potential and provide for a bright promising future for its students?



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Thursday, October 15, 2015

The New-Old Way To Show Love - Accountability

In Lean On Me, Principal Clark cleans house by dismissing the troublemakers who have prevented the school from achieving the district's expectations on test scores.


Most of us saw Morgan Freeman portray Joe Clark, the once doomed principal who is now heralded for turning around a low performing, inner-city school named Eastside High in Paterson, New Jersey. Most of us remember this intense scene in the movie when Mr. Clark placed students identified as "troublemakers" on the stage to publicly and formally dismiss them from the school. He qualified what he meant by troublemakers - 5+ year students, drug dealers, drug users, gang members etc. Although Morgan Freeman's performance in the auditorium was one of the best parts of the movie for me, the best part of the auditorium scene is the elation shown by the students seated in the auditorium as the troublemakers were escorted out of school. And did you catch the relief and joy on the teachers' faces when they saw this demonstration of support from their leader? It was the boost that Eastside High needed to propel them to defy the odds and do what everyone said low income students can't do - achieve. 

Now all that sounds good for the movies, one may say, but what we can't forget is in this instance - art imitated life. 

So I pose this question: How long will we continue to hold our students and teachers hostage by not holding students with habitual behavior offenses accountable?

Let me be clear before I proceed, this conversation is not about who's right, but what's right. I implore you to process and comment in that context. 

I won't be long winded on this, but I do want to leave you with a few thoughts to get the discussion started:
  • Is it possible to do a Joe Clark "dismissal" in our urban, low performing school systems today? 
  • I am told that students cannot be suspended more than 10 days in a school year, what happens when students commit another offense that warrants suspension? I'm asking for the professional protocol that teachers/administrators have to go through when this happens.
  • Are there any consequences for parents if their children continually demonstrate they cannot behave at school?
  • Are schools supposed to be in the business of rehabilitation or education?


CJ and I speak with CEOs, COOs, heads of Human Resources, managers, supervisors, College Athletic Directors and Recruiting Coordinators all over this City and State. One of the main complaints we hear as it pertains to Black male applicants is they generally do not protect or do right by the opportunity. 

Let's look at the baseball angle for example. Black males make up about 6% of baseball student-athletes in the NCAA. Regardless of the lie that the media tries to sell this country - BLACK BOYS DO PLAY BASEBALL - especially here in metro-Atlanta. Why is our representation so low? Consider this. Black athletes carry with them the PERCEPTION of laziness, lack of discipline, lack of loyalty and a social mesh of issues that most coaches prefer to pass on. Such is the perception that all Black folks have to fight, but let's stay focused on athletes for now. When you see a Black Athlete at a predominately White college, rest assured that he/she is working his/her buns off to fight off a perception that they may not even embody. For those who do embody this negative perception, however, where do they get this notion that they can come to practice any time they want to (yeah, we talkin' about practice), wear their uniform however they want (if they have on the correct uniform at all) and curse their teammates and coaches out, but still get to keep their scholarship? 

Could it be that they have been raised/educated by public school systems that have allowed them to run amuck for so long that they think this is how the world works? Could it be they can't keep a job because they have become accustomed to bucking authority while still being able to enjoy the benefits as if they have met and kept the standard? 

These are all questions and thoughts that are heavy on my spirit right now.

We must remember as adults the discipline that we endured as children that helped us to become the accountable citizens we are today. Accountable, not perfect. 

Accountability doesn't mean giving up - it can be one the best demonstrations of love we can show our children. 

I welcome your comments. 

Written by: Guest Blogger - Kelli Stewart

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Till Before You Teach


I had the privilege of meeting with a gentleman named Steve Mayers who serves as the Director of Guest Relations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. As a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with the airport – how people and things were always in constant motion, going to different places yet seemingly always in sync. I learned the latter part of that statement not to be so true when I started flying a lot as a professional baseball player.

During my time with Steve and his team, I wanted to know his top priority in his role as Director of Guest Relations. In summary this is what I heard him say: his goal is for every guest to have an enjoyable experience while on his property. That is an impressive goal to have, especially when you think of all of the different scenarios attached to people’s travels at Hartsfield-Jackson. Some are soldiers leaving loved ones for a long deployment, some are parents saying goodbye to children as they go off to college, some are family members there to receive the remains of loved ones while others are leaving for honeymoons, weddings and graduations. Such a myriad of emotions can be pulsing through guests as they hurry around the airport.

Since Steve and his team cannot service the millions of guests at Hartsfield-Jackson by themselves, they must rely on the talent pool available to them in metro-Atlanta. Since Atlanta Public Schools serves over 52,000 students, the system should be a prime target for employment talent at the airport. While I don’t know the stats on
the percentage of employees at the airport who attended/graduated from APS schools, I do know that the airport has a high turnover rate for vendor employees. Most of the jobs for the various vendors require basic educational qualifications such as a high school diploma or GED. While most are not jobs that one would want to make a career out of, they are, however, entry-level opportunities that could lead to higher positions if a job candidate has the right awareness and make-up.


Here’s what I mean by make-up and awareness:

Make-up:

Candidates must possess CORE VALUES, a guiding set of principles that govern their behaviors regardless of the environment. CORE VALUES do not produce perfect people, however a person who embodies CORE VALUES will be a more disciplined and accountable employee.
Candidates must possess APTITUDE, the ability to learn information and apply it appropriately.

Candidates must possess COGNITIVE learning skills that allow them to expand their APTITUDE from one discipline to another. This skill makes them valuable across organizational competencies.

AWARENESS

· Candidates who know how to create and maintain healthy relationships are building networks for their future and their posterity’s future.
· Candidates who know to ask, “What’s next” are positioned to properly evaluate opportunities. Understanding the “What’s next” of an opportunity can help the candidate decide if he needs more information (from a mentor or family member) or if this is an opportunity that he should pass on. Understanding how to EVALUATE opportunities is a vital life skill.
· SEIZING an opportunity includes the acquisition, maintenance, and execution of the opportunity. This is a critical step where most candidates fail.

I’m sure there are more bullets to add, but these are the top three points that affect the young men I encounter each day through L.E.A.D. As a side note, I want to be clear that the young men I serve in Buckhead through my for profit company, Diamond Directors, don't always make the grade when it comes to having the best make-up and awareness either. However, they have access to strong generational networks that can mitigate their poor handling of relationships/opportunities. For my Ambassadors, if they handle an opportunity poorly, their first shot is often their last; their margin for error is slim to none.

In my next blog(s), I’ll layout L.E.A.D.’s methodology for developing the necessary make-up and awareness in our Ambassadors so they are properly equipped to make the most out of college and career opportunities and ultimately win at the game of life.

As we continue on this journey of proper alignment with Atlanta Public Schools for the purpose of empowering our students, it's important to keep our mission statement front and center along with that of APS. The updated mission of APS follows ours.

L.E.A.D.'s Mission: To empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their City.

APS's Mission: With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career.


We had an amazing lunch today at Sylvan Hills Middle School (Atlanta Public Schools). From left to right: Ralph Berry (Physical education teacher, Sylvan Hills Middle School); Keshun Freeman (GA Tech student/athlete (football); Tre' Jackson (GA Tech student/athlete (football); Kele Eveland (GA Tech) and CJ Stewart (L.E.A.D., CEO)


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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

THREE LEGGED STOOL - ALL THREE LEGS REQUIRED FOR STABILIZATION AND SUCCESS



Guest blogger and L.E.A.D. Board Member and founder of Renaissance Sports Kevin Donovan and responds to L.E.A.D.'s CEO CJ Stewart's September 14, 2015 blog post "There is No Silver Bullet, Right?"

I have long felt that the secret to L.E.A.D.’s successful methodology is its comprehensive scope: It is not just sports, academics, service, etc. It is instead, a holistic methodology that is like a three legged stool – all three are required to succeed. The legs are:


Expression (individual) – This is the sports element for L.E.A.D. and for other Non-Profit Partners (NPPs) it could be something else. This is the forum through which a young person develops their personal identity (L.E.A.D.’s sports pillar - Baseball)


Community (collective) – The elements that create the obligation of youth to their community through an understanding that they are an important part of it and the key to future success. (L.E.A.D.’s community service and commerce pillars)

Structure (pathway) – the underlying discipline, accountability and guidance that creates the guardrails for young people and points them toward the future. (L.E.A.D.’s academic pillar - education, family)

When we look at these elements together, it becomes obvious that they all must be present for any single one of them to succeed. If we were to look backwards at all the failures of programs and initiatives intended to address the challenges of inner city youth, we would find that they are missing one or more of these “legs”. 

Success requires true empathy – the ability to truly imagine what the world is to a young Black kid without a stable family structure. In starkest, simplest terms, it means no future, only present. But if the three legs are there, then their entire perception of what the world is actually about is transformed. And ironically it has nothing to do with race – any human in these circumstances would have exactly the same personal experience and react exactly the same way. But give them structure/community/expression and the path forward is lit!

We live in a city that is rightfully sensitive to spending on anything that doesn’t deliver a return on investment – a perception that is fueled by a history of poor performance and lack of accountability. This makes it easy for many to give up – to rationalize indifference, accept inferiority and distance ourselves from the consequences. And, that always brings us back to the all-important “why” question; why should we, the community as a whole, care?

Not because this is charity, not because we might feel guilty, not because you and Kelli are really nice people. In the big picture, none of those motivations are relevant. The reason we must care is because the future of our city will be directly determined by the quality and character of our youth. And in that sense, we have now seen a glimmer of a return on our investment. Like any investment, a good one is a function of discipline, focus, and an applied methodology that provides a path to a return. In financial terms, L.E.A.D. is a growth stock with a portfolio of Ambassadors that show tremendous promise over the long term. By collaborating with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and the other NPP’s, we should be able to “merge” and expand our portfolio to deliver an even greater return on our shared investment, defined as fulfillment of the APS mission.

Of course, we’re talking about people here, not stocks, but we also know that investors respond to what’s in it for them, and in our case its nothing less than the future of our city.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – just trying to articulate it for what I think is the next step on the road map: A meeting with Dr. Meria Carstarphen. I think if we can get a deep understanding of her strategic plan in detail (in advance), we could take a powerful leadership role and facilitate the alignment of other NPP’s in service to APS goals. That’s what you’re thinking right?

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

THE UNLIKELY CLOSER AND THE ASSIGNMENT


God blessed me with an assignment on Friday, September 19th, 2015 to be a platform guest and give the benediction for the Georgia Highlands College Presidential Inauguration of Dr. Donald Green. I knew that I was doing something special because I was so nervous that I prayed to God before I spoke that I wouldn't pass out.

I was beyond honored especially considering that I don't have a college degree. Thank you Donald for sharing your special day with me, my family and thousands of students from Atlanta Public Schools.

From left to right: Dr. Donald Green, President, Georgia Highlands College; C.J. Stewart, CEO, L.E.A.D., Inc.; Chancellor Henry "Hank" M. Huckaby, The University System of Georgia


Here is what I shared from my heart.

There are four walls that influential and significant people like Dr. Green face everyday.


The first wall is one that has "I don't get it" written all over it.

The second wall reads, "I get it!"

The third wall reads, "I get it but I will do nothing about it".

The fourth wall reads, "I get it and I will do something about it now and will not stop until it is finished!"

When I spoke to Dr. Green for the first time last year, I informed him that inner city Atlanta Public Schools serves 51,000+ students and that 80% of those students live at or below the poverty level. Youth from three inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population and 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools either will not graduate on time or at all from high school.

Dr. Green's response was to join me at my alma mater Grove Park Elementary School located in poverty stricken northwest Atlanta Bankhead. He addressed every student in the school with the passion that he's famous for and weeks later had them all - and I mean all on buses headed to Cartersville, GA to experience the magic of Georgia Highlands College. Dr. Green gets it and he's doing something about it.

When the Grove Park Elementary School students arrived at Georgia Highlands College, they were welcomed by members of the administrative team - including Donald. They were divided into groups for a tour, dodge ball in the gym, conversation with minority students enrolled at Georgia Highlands, and they also participated in a science experiment. After the Georgia Highlands College experience, they made comments like "I could go to college if everyone was as helpful as the Georgia Highlands staff." Also, "I wish I had someone pushing me to go to college like Mr. Green."

Georgia will not work without called men like Dr. Green leading the way.

The reknown English writer and scholar Dorothy Sayers once said “If you do your work so well that by God's grace it helps you serve others who can never thank you or helps those coming after you do it better, then you know that you are serving the work and truly loving your neighbor."

Will you please stand and join me as I pray…

Lord, we acknowledge you as being Almighty and all powerful. We come confessing our sins of our past, present and future. We come thanking you for your everlasting mercy and grace. Thank You Father for blessing this state of Georgia and Georgia Highlands College with the leadership of Dr. Donald Green. Now Father, we ask you to bless Dr. Green, his family, his administrators, his staff and his faculty beyond measure so that they all may bless, encourage, and inspire others. It's in Jesus name that we pray, Amen.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET, RIGHT?


“There is no silver bullet . . . “That is the worn-out trite comment I hear again and again to issues raised during the many meetings I have each month with other influential Atlantans. The issues we discuss range from how to improve educational opportunities, to providing access to quality healthcare for poor, Black students to dismantling racism. These problems may be complex, but they are not unsolvable. In fact, they may be solvable with the simplest solutions. We need to explore the possibility that a simple but well thought out methodology will work to remedy the long-standing problems of Atlanta’s inner city and empower her communities. We need to challenge and inspire each other to look at these possibilities, and start responding to these issues in earnest.

Let’s start by talking about the problem of properly educating inner-city, Black youth in Atlanta. My work and experience as the CEO of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) has positioned me to have special insight on this issue, and I believe that the methodology that L.E.A.D. has developed is the silver bullet we need to empower Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students to fulfill APS’ mission.

Dr. Donald Green is a friend of mine and is the President of Georgia Highlands College. I will be giving the benediction at his Inauguration on Friday, September 18, 2015. He recently visited my alma mater Grove Park Elementary School, Atlanta Public Schools.

I started L.E.A.D. eight years ago with my wife, Kelli, to ensure that young, Black boys in Atlanta would have every opportunity to graduate from high school and go to college. We were na├»ve back then. Based on the conversations we had with the City and numerous organizations working with APS and the inner city community, we thought, by now, we would have seen substantial improvements in Atlanta’s inner city schools. Sadly, APS graduation rates overall are still dismal. The most recent statistic (2013) shows that the graduation rate for APS is 58.6%.

L.E.A.D. has grown and improved on its methodology over the years. We are making marked difference in the academic scores and graduation rate of Black males, but it isn’t nearly enough, and we can’t go it alone. There are many reasons we are not farther along than we could be. A major issue is that some non-profit partners (NPP) of APS are working at cross-purposes, with a lack of accountability along with skewed priorities, and misguided reasons for service. I know with that statement alone, I've arched some backs, but I encourage you to keep reading.

Let's address the cross-purposes issue. The mission of Atlanta Public Schools is that through a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career. If a partner's primary mission and goals do not fall in line with this mission statement, then no partnership should exist. Let's go even further to say that if a Principal tells an NPP that its services are not needed, then trust that the Principal knows what he/she is talking about and don't take offense to it. We have had what we thought were great ideas and when we brought them to our Partner Schools, the Principals unapologetically told us - that's not what we need. Partnerships that work are those that provide the school with what they NEED instead of what the NPP wants them to have.

Through L.E.A.D.’s partnership with APS, we have helped to improve the graduation rate of young, Black male students, and have helped those students go on to college, most with scholarships. We have found, based on our experience and success, that in order to improve education for Atlanta’s inner-city youth, and to help APS achieve its mission, the number one priority for an APS partner should be to empower APS to meet its annual goals to successfully carry out its mission. Period. Annual plans should be developed and executed around APS’ needs, not the other way around. We need to set our personal agendas aside, or at least make them secondary to those we purport to serve.

We also need to ask ourselves the uncomfortable questions, or at least welcome the opportunity, and accept the challenge, to dig deeper when someone leads us in that direction. For instance, we need to continually review our mission statements and ask ourselves “Is our work in line with our mission? If so, does our mission empower Atlanta Public Schools students to fulfill graduation requirements, or does it enable the current cycle of failure?”

Lastly, we must always know our why. NPPs must ask - Why do we want to serve in Atlanta Public Schools? The right answer is to empower APS, its students and families to see that every APS student graduates ready for college and career. If you are primarily in it for economical, and/or emotional rewards, then you will perpetuate the problem, not solve it. It is that simple!

I believe, that L.E.A.D.’s methodology works and that it provides an uncomplicated viable solution to the complex issues facing Atlanta’s inner city today, especially where education is involved. So what exactly is L.E.A.D.'s Methodology, you ask? I liken it to the methodology for weight loss: calories in - calories burned = weight loss. It's so simple yet it requires tremendous discipline and accountability to be consistently achieved. Our methodology is the same way: aligned missions + accountability = a successful partnership. Again, tremendous discipline and accountability are necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

As for the non-profit community, we have to stop confusing the District, families and students - we need non-profit collaboration. Please let me know if you are interested in creating a consortium for the purpose of building our collective efforts around the needs of APS, its students and families. Dr. Meria Carstarphen is the new APS Superintendent, and I know she would be more than willing to let us know exactly what it would take to turn things around. Let’s come together and serve Atlanta’s inner city the way they need to be served and not the way we want to serve them.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Non-profit Accountability Challenge


Atlanta Public Schools’ mission is that “every student will graduate ready for college and career”. Its vision is to be “a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system”. The non-profit sector works with Atlanta Public Schools, its students and families, in an effort to help APS carry out its mission and fulfill its vision. The fact is, however, that APS has some uphill work to do to carry out its mission. The most recent statistic (2013) shows that the graduation rate for APS is 58.6%. Why is this and how can we change it?

Kelli and I have been working with APS, as well as within the non-profit sector, for 8 years now through our non-profit, L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). Based on our experience we believe that the failure by APS to meet its 100% graduation rate stems, in large part, from non-profit partners working at cross-purposes to APS’ mission. How can APS achieve its goals if the non-profits serving it are not working together? It can’t and it isn’t. So when objectives aren’t met and the results are in to show little improvement year to year, the blame is placed on the kids for not listening and wanting to succeed and on all teachers for not being competent. Kelli and I see a different APS student and a different teacher.

We see students who are attentive and committed to their education. Maybe it is because we are committed to our own mission and vision, and they align with those of APS. Maybe it is also because we are doing what we set out to do and that is to help APS improve the graduation rate of young black male students, which currently stands at 40% (on-time or at all). Simply stated - APS's agenda is our agenda. We have year over year statistics that tell the story of our successes. We are successful because we hold ourselves accountable.

We see teachers and administrators who are fulfilling many roles to provide a quality educational experience for our students. I believe the actions of a few employees have left this system with a scarlet letter and not enough champions for those educators still on the front lines fighting the good fight. We have also been successful champions of those remaining educators.

How can we change the way non-profits work within APS so that APS can successfully meet its mission? One way would be to hold its non-profit partners accountable for their work within the system. Showing accountability would be easy. Answer the question: How many students graduated from high school because of your direct involvement in APS?

Here is the thought behind such a challenge. As non-profits, we spend so much time, money and energy competing with each other for resources. What if we took the competition public and tried to outdo one another in a way that measured high school graduation rates of APS students? Consider sports and presidential campaigns. In sports, the best professional sports team is determined by who scores the most points during the season, and a presidential candidate can’t win the race without the most electoral votes. In the same way, a non-profit would “win” resources if they could demonstrate that they were directly involved in increasing the high school graduation rate of APS students.

It is my understanding that undeterminable amounts of money are being raised by Georgia non-profits annually for service in education. Given where Georgia ranks in education nationally, it is easy to conclude that these funds are being wasted on insignificant outcomes. If we compete in the open, those dollars would go to the most successful non-profits who can show results in assisting APS meet its mission.

The overall winners you ask? Well that's easy - APS students and families, their communities, the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, the United States, and yes the World.


The alternative is to continue on in the same manner . . . making a profit while failing kids.


Lt. Jim Hodges (Atlanta Police Department) with L.E.A.D. Ambassador Cameron Giles. Learn more about the Safe At Home Game brought them together.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Organizational Collaboration not Fragmentation Will Help Atlanta Public Schools


Atlanta Public Schools (APS) relies heavily on human and financial resources from non-profit organizations to support the system in educating Atlanta’s youth. Fragmentation of Georgia’s non-profit sector has diluted the pool of resources so sorely needed by APS, and as a result, those who would benefit the most – children and families – end up not receiving the support they need.

Rendell Jackson, Assistant Director of Athletics, Atlanta Public Schools; David Jernigan, Atlanta Public School Deputy Superintendent; Isaiah Jimerson, L.E.A.D. Ambassador, Benjamin E. Mays High School c/o 2019. Isaiah donated $1,000 to his middle school alma mater Jean Childs Young as the recipient of the APIVEO Player of the Month.

Georgia’s fragmented non-profit sector exists, in part, because organizations that focus on the same issues – poverty, for instance – are unwilling to work together for the betterment of who they wish to serve. These organizations may understand the various causes and effects of poverty, but they each have their own ideas about how to deal with it – sometimes to the detriment of those they are looking to serve. In my experience, when the leadership of an organization focuses on their own interests instead of the needs of the ones they are trying to help, then service or charity becomes patronizing and toxic. There is a big difference in providing people what they need as opposed to what one thinks they need and wants them to have. (A great read on this topic is a book called Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton.)



As an APS partner, L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) provides resources that empower inner-city black males to create a sustainable life for themselves for the betterment of their communities. We work, and have worked, with organizations that understand what it means to serve and those that just don’t get it. For instance, in 2010, we started working with another non-profit organization who admired the work that we were doing and wanted to become involved in APS. We thought we could work together towards a positive outcome for APS, its students and families. As we began to cultivate a relationship with this organization, I started seeing signs of fundamental differences in how our organizations sought to serve. One day it became very clear at a weekend youth baseball game.

L.E.A.D. invited the other organization’s members to come out to a Saturday baseball game in the fall of 2010, to show support for our players and witness the partnership in action. When my family showed up at the field, we saw a table piled high with used clothes. After wading through several disgusted stares from our families, we found out that the items were intended for them. Needless to say, I was incensed. Neither our leadership nor our families ever indicated a need for clothing, used or otherwise, and no one from the other organization ever asked us if this was a need we needed to fill. This action showed a lack of organizational collaboration and a lack of understanding of what it means to serve in such a way that others maintain their dignity. Although they may have had good intentions, their actions ended up sending the wrong message to our families who are looking for empowerment and not hand-outs.

Lesson learned: Many want to serve in the inner city of Atlanta, but few know how to do it in such a way that those being served are given the opportunity to maintain their dignity.

We’ve also had times when we’ve had to admit that some of our own programs weren’t working. Just this past year, we had to humble ourselves and realize that the education piece of our programming wasn't working the way it needed to in order for our Ambassadors to improve academically. Since math is an area where most students struggle, we decided to implement a math camp as part of our summer programming. I can only describe the two years we did this as a "don't throw the baby out with the bath water" experience. There were a few good outcomes of the pilot, but not enough to justify keeping this aspect of our programming in house. That's why this year, we partnered with Odyssey Atlanta; an educational non-profit organization that serves students in grades 1st-12th from economically disadvantaged communities. Odyssey’s academic enrichment program focuses on students with unmet potential, preparing them for high school graduation and supporting them on their path to college. It made absolutely no sense for L.E.A.D. to provide a math camp, or any other kind of academic offering, when Odyssey has an established track record of excellence in this area.

The lack of mutual support among Atlanta organizations has not always been the case. I remember like it was yesterday, as a Grove Park Elementary School student in the early 80's. Dr. Alonzo Crim was the Superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools back then. In fact, in 1973, he became ”the first Black Superintendent of schools in a major city in the South”. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who was the President of the Atlanta Board of Education at the time, had recommended him for the position.

Dr. Crim began an initiative that he called a “Community of Believers” - a network that consisted of Atlanta organizations and individuals who believed in the potential of the City’s children and who were willing to invest time and money into that potential. When Dr. Crim became superintendent in 1973, he promised to build a school system ''where students would know that people cared about them'' and would help them achieve.

Under Dr. Crim's leadership, students’ performance levels in basic skills rose to above the national average, attendance increased significantly to over 92%, and the graduation rate rose to more than 70% (Page, 2000). He was the longest tenured African-American superintendent in the nation by 1986. Dr. Crim’s legacy is captured and continued at the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence at Georgia State University

I look forward to a time when we can get back to a collective focus among Atlanta’s organizations, and that it rivals that of Dr. Crim’s Community of Believers. I also look forward to the time when, through a concerted, authentic effort, Atlanta Public Schools become the school of choice for Atlantans, and there will be no need for voucher programs. In order to break the cycle of poverty, we must come together with collective influence and understand that new voices with proven track records deserve a seat at the table.

C.J. Stewart speaking to United States Senator David Perdue about L.E.A.D. at U.S. Military Academy Day 2015

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

SAFE AT HOME - A GAME CHANGER FOR ATLANTA'S INNER CITY COMMUNITIES


The Inaugural Safe at Home Game was played last Saturday and was a huge success! It was the final activity of a month long series of events that were designed to build rapport between Atlanta’s inner city youth and cops. The final score was L.E.A.D. Ambassadors 10, Atlanta Police Department 7. The Ambassadors won the game! However, I think everyone who participated would agree that both groups won the series because Safe at Home was a game changer for them and the communities in which they live and work.

Working with APIVEO and the Atlanta Police Foundation to create the Safe at Home program has been one of the best decisions that we’ve made as an organization. Our work together created opportunities for the Ambassadors and the police officers to interact on a level playing field. As a result, police officers saw the Ambassadors as potential leaders, with purpose, and hope for a better future.

They were all very polite and genial. I could sense that they had hope and an idea that they are going somewhere in life. The hopelessness and its collateral effects that I normally see in kids from their neighborhoods doesn't operate in them. ~Lieutenant Jim Hodges


C.J. Stewart exchanging game jerseys with Lt. Hodges of the Atlanta Police Department. Photo credit Jim Stacey.

Additionally, because L.E.A.D. Ambassadors effectively connected with police, they learned to see the officers’ human side.

I learned that everyone is human and has different emotions. The police started to get a little frustrated when they made errors and I realized that we do the same thing on our own team. So no one should get mad at someone else because they didn't do correctly on the field or at the plate. We should all keep our heads high and continue to have a great game. ~ L.E.A.D. Ambassador Cameron Giles

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Cameron Giles (B.E. Mays High School, Atlanta Public Schools) and Lt. Jim Hodges. Photo credit Jeff McPhail.

I also came to realize a few things from my own experience over the last month. For starters, we don’t take time to get to know our police officers. We tend to put more effort into learning about celebrities and their lives, than we put into getting to know those whose job it is to protect us.

Another realization hit me, as I participated in a police ride in Zone 3 - the area around Atlanta Braves Turner Field. Dispatch alerted us that several shots were being fired in a neighborhood nearby. As a civilian, my instinct was to get as far away from gunfire as possible, while the officers went into it. This made me think about what would happen without a police presence in our neighborhoods. I urge you to think about the chaos that would ensue in that scenario.

It also occurred to me later, while speaking with our police officers’ wives during the first two innings of the game on Saturday that the officers have families, same as me, only I don’t put my life in danger like that on a daily basis.

I can honestly say all of this has been humbling. I'd also like to think that I represented my community well, and that the time I spent with the officers on the ride-along helped raise awareness of the work we are doing through L.E.A.D. and with our Ambassadors.

Photo credit Jim Stacey.
The relationship between APIVEO, Atlanta Police Foundation and L.E.A.D. is stronger now because of our work together on Safe at Home, and that is a big win for all three organizations, especially our Ambassadors, police officers, families of both groups, and Atlanta’s inner city communities. Together our voices will be heard as we develop Atlanta’s next generation of leaders. You can help….ask us how.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

GRAND SLAM EMPOWERS L.E.A.D. AMBASSADORS TO WIN!


Come out to Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Baseball Field this Saturday, August 1 at 11am for the first annual Safe at Home game between Atlanta’s inner city youth and cops. These groups are good at bat so you may see a Grand Slam or two. We know that, in baseball, a Grand Slam is “a home run hit when each of the three bases is occupied by a runner, thus scoring four runs”. However, for some, a Grand Slam is L.E.A.D. “knocking it out of the park with bases loaded” to empower Atlanta’s underserved inner city youth to lead Atlanta, the Nation, or maybe even the World.

First “up at bat”. A base hit. Safe on First.


Joining L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) requires a participant's commitment to complete its program.

Initially, the teenaged boys that we serve are attracted to our program by the very thought of playing baseball. Commitment to other aspects of the program is not their priority. Money, influence and girls are valued more than education and community. I’d argue that’s the case for most boys their age.

I “get it”. A middle or high schooler may feel that he has less freedom if he accepts the tenets of accountability, core values and morals. However, the Ambassadors (young men who have committed to L.E.A.D.’s program) will tell you that the structure created in their lives through participation in our program frees them from the constant worry of becoming an Atlanta statistic: Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population.

Further, once committed to the program, the Ambassadors are also free to think seriously about graduating from high school and college, and starting a career of their own choosing. They are fully aware that this breaks their cycle of poverty and helps reverse another statistic: Only 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools will graduate from high school on time or at all.

When the Safe at Home game is over, I hope adults encourage more inner city youth to see that a commitment to L.E.A.D. is a pro-active first step toward a promising future.

Another base hit. Players now safe on First and Second.

Commitment by itself will not lead to a successful outcome. Engagement is also necessary. The Ambassadors are exposed to growth opportunities that empower. We do not enable or encourage negative behavior. Doing so only spurs a groundless sense of empowerment.

We are grateful for our Safe at Home partners APIVEO and the Atlanta Police Foundation for creating and participating in activities that have engaged the Ambassadors in positive interactions during this last month. L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and Atlanta inner city cops have had fun getting to know each other, and building relationships based on trust. To hit a Grand Slam, we need more partners like these.

Another base hit. Players safe on First, Second and Third.

The third component to L.E.A.D.’s program is development. The program is year round and serves black males grades 6 to12 enrolled in Atlanta Public Schools. The Ambassadors are immersed in activities and learning environments specifically designed for assessment, engagement, empowerment and application. They are also taught six core values twice during the year - excellence, humility, integrity, loyalty, stewardship, and teamwork. Everyone in L.E.A.D.’s organization is held accountable for learning them and incorporating these values into their lives.

L.E.A.D. mentors and coaches never miss a chance to encourage the Ambassadors to strive to become Atlanta’s next generation of leaders.

Another hit. A home run. Bases loaded. L.E.A.D. Hits a Grand Slam!

Commitment, Engagement, Development and a successfully executed methodology is L.E.A.D.’s Grand Slam. As a Pathway2Empowerment organization, it is attracting Atlanta’s inner city young black boys to commit to, engage in, and develop, a sustainable life of significance. Their success is crucial to Atlanta making a name for itself as a world class city. How will you help?


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

THEN AND NOW – "COUNTED OUT" TO "SAFE AT HOME"


Through L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), I apply what I’ve learned as a black male growing up in one of Atlanta’s most dangerous housing projects, to empower young inner city black boys to choose a life different than what their environment dictates. Based on statistics*, these kids are counted out and end up living the inevitable cycle of cradle to grave poverty – with the likelihood of incarceration along the way. But, when they commit to L.E.A.D.’s program, they participate in opportunities with positive growth experiences to break the cycle. Safe at Home is one such opportunity that I could argue was years in the making. Here’s how I see it.

C.J. Stewart, the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors, Brad Jubin of APIVEO as well as members of the Atlanta Police Department baseball team were presented at a recent Atlanta Braves game

THEN

When I was coming up, I had a mentor, Officer TJ Wilson. He took me to see my first Georgia Tech baseball game when I was 14. I was hooked, so Officer Wilson made sure I got to see many more. All the while, I became obsessed with becoming a Yellow Jacket. When it came time to apply, the reality hit, I would never make it. Based on test scores, I wasn’t prepared for the academic rigor of Georgia Tech. I had graduated from Westlake High School’s Magnet Program with honors, but it wasn’t enough. In addition, I wouldn’t have been able to handle being the only black player on the team. I didn’t have relatable skills. I lived in a black only world, attended all black inner city schools, and my interaction with white ball players was minimal.

I did not, however, let non-admittance to Georgia Tech’s baseball program deter me from my goal of playing professionally with the Chicago Cubs. My dream was realized, but it was brief. I didn’t have the fortitude to compete at that level. Upon returning to Atlanta, I regrouped and started Diamond Directors, a for-profit baseball player development concern; but, the Chicago Cubs experience, and all that led up to it, tugged at me.

NOW

My wife, Kelli, and I established L.E.A.D., a non-profit organization to create positive outcomes for at-risk, minority and inner city youth by leveraging the relationship between education, athletics and service. The impetus for L.E.A.D. was a culmination of what I learned growing up as a black male in Atlanta’s inner city, which include the frustrations I encountered as well as the support I received from the community.

Through my work with L.E.A.D., I now have strong relationships with Georgia Tech’s athletic department and baseball coach, as well as some of its staff, professors and alumni. I also have solid partnerships with other organizations and corporations who fully understand and support L.E.A.D.’s mission, including the Atlanta Police Department, APIVEO and Zaxby’s.

COMING TOGETHER

The Safe at Home event is a collaborative effort of Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Police Department, APIVEO, Zaxby’s and L.E.A.D. It is made up of a series of “get-togethers”, and its mission is to foster respect between Atlanta's inner city youth and cops, bolster positive perceptions of each toward the other, and raise the level of favorable nods these groups get from, and within, the community. It concludes with The Safe at Home baseball game between the two groups in their own backyard – where they live and work. The game is self-officiated and will be played at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium this Saturday, August 1, 2015 at 11am. Fan attendance is free. Come out, sit in the stands, and support L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and the Atlanta Police Department cops for taking a stand and showing what’s possible against all odds.


Click here to see L.E.A.D.'s Mid Year Highlight Video.

I am proud that L.E.A.D. is a partner of an uplifting event such as Safe at Home, and is able to offer it to its Ambassadors. Their participation in Safe at Home will expose them to the positive experiences necessary to continue to empower them to lead fulfilling lives.

Pastor Dave Pridemore, founder of The Camp Grace will be joining us for the Safe at Home game

*Statistics still show that:

· Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population.


· Georgia ranks number one in incarceration in America while America ranks number one in the world.


· Astoundingly, 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools will not graduate from high school on time or at all. Meanwhile, the state ranks at the bottom in education in America


Click here to check out L.E.A.D.'s 2nd Quarter eMagazine.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

SAFE AT HOME - AN OPPORTUNITY AND NEW EXPERIENCES FOR A NEW NORMAL


L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) has a tried and true formula or methodology to empower Atlanta’s inner city poor black males to prosper. We provide opportunities that move these young men out of the never ending daily life cycle of poverty and exposure to crime, into life experiences that create a foundation for a significant sustainable life, one of their own choosing.
We have found over the years that to be successful, we must work with Atlanta’s inner city at risk young black males to help them find a new normal. How do we do that? A number of ways, but one of them is that we provide opportunities for life affirming experiences, or activities that emphasize the positive aspects of life. We also engage the community and encourage them to participate in our mission.

Specifically, some of the work we do involves changing perceptions around those who live and work in Atlanta’s inner city communities. This is a big job because we are talking about changing how people think about things. For example, it is not uncommon for the phrase “Atlanta’s inner city youth” to be used interchangeably with “Atlanta’s at risk inner city poor blacks”. Additionally, many think of Atlanta inner city cops as policing and not protecting. Further, television will have many believe, rightly or wrongly, that friction between inner city black males and white cops is the norm. Even if you don't see it on television, you see it in social media. All of these combined present a negative image of both young black men and cops who live and work in Atlanta’s inner city. We are committed to leading change in support of our youth and cops.




Safe at Home is our most recent effort in collaboration with APIVEO the Atlanta Police Department to foster respect between Atlanta’s inner city youth and cops. This event is made up of a series of “get-togethers” that result in numerous and varied experiences for both our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and Atlanta inner city cops that bolster positive perceptions of each toward the other, and raises the level of favorable nods these groups get from, and within, the community.


Lt. Hodges and L.E.A.D. Ambassador Cameron Giles (B.E. Mays High School)

I know what it is like to be an Atlanta inner city poor black male. I was born and raised in one of the most dangerous and poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta. My family, school and community lacked the resources that were available to kids growing up in wealthier white neighborhoods. I also know that my perception has changed somewhat over the years, but even so, statistics still show that:

Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population.
Georgia ranks number one in incarceration in America while America ranks number one in the world.
Astoundingly, 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools will not graduate from high school on time or at all. Meanwhile, the state ranks at the bottom in education in America.

We work with unwavering commitment and urgency to meet our goals to help these kids. Failure is not an option. We cannot erase from the minds of our young Ambassadors the negative influences of the past but we know we can positively influence their future and the Safe at Home experience is one way we do it. I invite you to come out Saturday, August 1, to Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium and try on a new normal. Sit in the stands and cheer for the respect I know you will see happening between L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and the Atlanta Police Department.

When the Safe at Home game is over, I challenge you:
if you have been counted out by the Atlanta Public School system, then apply to become a L.E.A.D. Ambassador, or
if you are an adult who is aching to see a change in our inner city communities, then tell black boys in the inner of Atlanta "you should become a L.E.A.D. Ambassador".


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