Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What I saw in inner city Atlanta today and why was it there?

My baseball career began at Adams Park located in the inner city of Atlanta in 1983 with one thing on my mind - playing for the Chicago Cubs.

I watched Cubs games during the day with my grandfather and we would watch the Braves at night.

I wanted to be a Chicago Cubbie like my hero Jerome Walton who's also a Georgia native.

I played several little league games at Adams Park in front of Atlanta Mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young. Hank Aaron would also be in attendance from time to time. 
Why were they there you ask? Because they lived in the community and baseball was king.

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell getting some swings in at Adams Park
Later in high school, my mentor T.J. Wilson informed me that I could attend college for free if I could play baseball well enough, along with maintaining good grades.

My parents didn't have thousands of dollars sitting in a college fund for me so I decided to give it a shot. I wasn't a huge fan of school, but I did hear that education was a means to an end.

Baseball inspired me to do well in school. It taught me perseverance. Baseball allowed me to dream and see myself beyond my negligent teenage years.

In 1994, I signed a Letter of Intent to become a student-baseball player at Georgia State University. I was also drafted by the Chicago Cubs.

I reluctantly chose Georgia State because that's what my family thought was best. All the while, I was fearing that I had lost my childhood dream of being a Cubbie.

After graduating from Westlake High School's Magnet Program with honors, I was on academic probation after only a year at Georgia State; I didn't want to be there.  I wanted to be in the Cubs uniform that I had earned, but that would have to wait. I then transferred to Dekalb Junior College.

Only by the mercy, grace and divine order of God was I drafted a second time by the Chicago Cubs while at Dekalb Junior College. Only this time, I signed.

After my career was over in the Cubs organization, I realized that I wanted to be a Cubbie for the fame and money. I was selfish and reckless. But God allowed me to touch the Ivy of Wrigley Field, so that I would have the capacity to serve and lead others.

I was able to share this story with several youth today at Adams Park for the ribbon cutting of two batting cages. Special thanks to Coca-Cola for continuing to step up to the plate for Atlanta inner city youth.

We never dreamed of having batting cages at Adams Park when I was there playing baseball. We didn't even know that they existed, so how could we ask for them.

Why does Adams Park need batting cages in 2015? Because black boys in Atlanta love baseball and they want to compete with the rest of the world contrary to media reports.

Baseball players from Georgia State University and I coached kids in the new turfed cages and that was a surreal moment for me. I fought the tears and simply gave the glory to God.

I challenged the kids to use the batting cages and school to access a college education. Use baseball to prepare for life. Learn from the adversity of baseball to prepare you to lead Atlanta. Who in Atlanta will argue that we lack a much needed abundance of sound leadership in this city?

Click here to see how God is allowing me to L.E.A.D. in Atlanta.

There is too much underdeveloped human capital in my city but better days are ahead - we now have batting cages at Adams Park. Batting cages are laboratories that can prepare you to win at the game of life. -C.J. Stewart


C.J. Stewart with Georgia State Univ. Players at the unveiling of new
bating cages at Adams Park in Atlanta. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Going Back To Athens - Day 3

Monday, March 16

Day 1 and 2 of our empowerment visit to Athens, GA were great. It prepared us for today.

Today, the Ambassadors were able to share our S.W.O.T. Analysis Comparison with Zaxby's executives. It was awesome to see the Ambassadors speak about L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) with such confidence.

Bobby Dibble is the Zaxby's Catering Business Manager
L.E.A.D. exists because Atlanta can no longer be considered a world class city until hundreds of thousands of black males are living sustainable lives of significance. We believe that Zaxby's can help us achieve our why. Achieving our why equals success.

Success for black males in Atlanta is ownership of Zaxby's restaurants in the inner city of Atlanta.

Success is also positions of influence such as the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Superintendent, APS Board Chairman, Atlanta Mayor, Coca-Cola CEO, Governor of Georgia and Director of Athletics at Georgia State University to name a few.

The self-confidence of the Ambassadors went to a new level when they spent time with Zaxby's co-founder Zach McLeroy and heard the Zaxby's story. Priceless.

The value of self-confidence is that it leads to things like graduation from high school and college becoming simple. When things get simple, great things begin to happen with speed.

Get ready Atlanta to vote for a L.E.A.D. Ambassador to lead Atlanta and our state.


Going Back To Athens - Day 2

Sunday, March 15

It's normally tough for me to get good sleep in a hotel but this Holiday Inn in Athens is on "fleek" as our Ambassadors would say.

The buffet breakfast was great. We were shocked that there was still any food left because we are sharing the same hotel with the University of Missouri baseball team. They are in Athens facing the UGA Dogs for a weekend SEC series.

Talk about empowerment. I wish that I could have recorded the conversations between the Ambassadors and the Missouri baseball team while in the hotel last night. You would have been proud of them Atlanta.

After breakfast, Kelli and I had a quick workout with Missouri Assistant Coach Kerrick Jackson before we headed to the field for the game.

Kerrick is the only black coach in the SEC which is arguably the top baseball conference in the NCAA.

Kerrick Jackson
Like L.E.A.D., he is striving daily to increase the number of black athletes thriving in the NCAA in baseball and academics. Currently, less than 5% of NCAA student-baseball players are black.

After that big breakfast, we took a pass on driving our Enterprise Vans and walked 30 minutes to Foley Field for the game.

All the Ambassadors got silent as we approached Foley Field. They were completely engaged and respected the opportunity to be empowered.

Missouri out hit UGA today and got the win.

We took a short walk to Smoothie King and another 30 minute walk back to the hotel. I was impressed with their staff. They served all 34 of us in a very short period of time. We shut the place down.

CJ: What does it take to be a student-athlete at UGA?

Ambassador Vernard Kennedy (Sophomore, New Schools at Carver): It takes commitment to not only your school work, but as
player also. In the word "student-athlete" student comes first. You have to do your work and be able to perform on the baseball field. You also have to be a benefit to your team and school and be a great representative of what is expected of you.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Patrique McMahon and Aaron Schunk, The Lovett School (UGA signee)
CJ: What does it take to be a student-athlete at UGA?

Ambassador D'Anthony Morrow (Junior, Benjamin E. Mays High School): To attend UGA as a student-athlete, you must be coachable, responsible, respectable and humble. You must be an exceptional student and athlete. You must commit to the G!

CJ: What does it take to be a student-athlete at UGA?

Ambassador Byron Brinkley (Sophomore, Charles Drew Charter School): You have to have great grades, great attitude and great athletic ability.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Going Back To Athens - Day 1

Saturday, March 14

Follow the leader. Well today, L.E.A.D. is following our Executive Director Kelli Stewart. She was born in Atlanta and raised in Athens, GA. She graduated from Cedar Shoals High School in Athens and was a standout cadet in the JROTC under the leadership of Sgt. Sonny Fincher.

Today our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors were led through a JROTC obstacle course to prepare them for the obstacles that they will continue to face in their lives. Sgt. Fincher was joined by LTC Eric Cleveland and 1SG. Antoine Clark who currently serve as the leadership of the Cedar Shoals High School JROTC.

Childhood was not easy for Kelli at all. JROTC saved my wife and Sgt. Fincher is a hero. He gave Kelli to me in marriage and I grateful that The Lord still has him in our lives.  He's a good man.

Before the fun began, here are a few quotes that these three men shared that provide great context for the obstacle course.

Thank you for sharing this one Sgt. Fincher. "Life is tough. Life is even more tough when you are stupid." -John Wayne

"Doing the right thing may not be the popular thing. Leaders do the right thing all the time." 1SG Antoine Clark

Authority exists because the people in authority cares about you. The authority figure doesn't exist to give you a hard time. Don't fight authority - use them. They are a tool for you to use. -LTC Eric Cleveland


There is one way up and one way down. I was 25 feet high. From 25 feet, I could see what my teammates couldn't see that were on the ground. -L.E.A.D. Ambassador Jaquavious Gaither, New Schools at Carver

Wall Climbing

I had to trust myself. The wall represents life. The backpack represented racism. I got over the wall with the backpack on. -L.E.A.D. Ambassador Jarrod Rome, Benjamin E. Mays High School

Monkey Bars

The monkey bars are like life. Life can be slippery and you have to tighten your grip and move forward. -L.E.A.D. Ambassador Jatavius Ponder, New Schools at Carver


Monday, March 9, 2015

Good for who?

Today, I despise the words "good for you". Ironically, these are the selfish words that negatively empowered me the most prior to 2007.

In 2007, I was 31 years of age and living my dream working as a private hitting coach in the amateur baseball Mecca of East Cobb, GA. I was making good money, and rightfully taking credit for the development of 1st round draft picks and Major Leaguers.

At 31, I was also selfish as hell.

As a child, I dreamed of being rich and famous so that I could move to the suburbs and away from "my people" in the inner city of Atlanta. Television, movies and well meaning adults taught me that. I can't tell you how many times I heard people tell me, "Get yours and when you do, don't look back!"

BUT God had another plan. In 2007, He called me to lead in Atlanta.

When I share the mission and vision of L.E.A.D. with others, often times without fail I get a response of "good for you".I immediately respond with "no...its good for you, too!"

Atlanta is regarded as a world class city and I'm confused on how that can be. L.E.A.D. exists because Atlanta can't truly be considered a world class city until black males in Atlanta by the hundreds of thousands experience sustainable significance. Significance is greater than success.

What does living a life of significance look like for Black males in a world class city?

It looks like: on-time graduation, real investment into sports programming, not just equipment, but bona fide, proven programming and a resolute focus on prevention versus rehabilitation as it pertains to youth. It looks like year round core value training in our schools as a required school course and via our sports programs. When we have a cradle to CEO pipeline instead of a cradle to prison/grave pipeline, then Atlanta will be a world class city. 

C.J. Stewart with L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Denzel Campbell (left) and Desmond Stegall (right)
For now, we're a City that is experiencing significant economic growth and expansion and that's good. But let us not forget that we are also a City whose children are dying right before our very eyes, everyday, while we cut ribbons and welcome new companies to our communities. It's happening on our watch.

And that is really sad.

If you want to do something about this and make sure that all economic growth, expansion and revitalization is indeed good for ALL of Atlanta's citizenry, then join me. We are empowering a generation of Black boys who will grow up to become an electorate that is responsible, civically engaged, knowledgable and gainfully employed. And we need your help to do this great work. 

C.J. Stewart with U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson
Reach out to our executive director, Kelli Stewart (kelli.stewart@lead2legacy.org), and she will help you get involved.

Monday, March 2, 2015

S.I.T. To Encourage & Empower Atlanta Public Schools Student-Athletes

L.E.A.D.'s mission is to empower an at risk generation to lead and transform their city - Atlanta. L.E.A.D. is successfully living out its mission and is having an amazing impact in the lives of the youth that we serve in Atlanta Public Schools. Over the last seven years and beginning with our first class of graduating Ambassadors (2008), L.E.A.D. Ambassadors have graduated from high school at a rate of 100% and gone on to college at a rate of 95%. 

C.J. Stewart and the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors showcasing their L.E.A.D. Champions Rings by Jostens
Results like this are only sustainable if we have the community supporting our student-athletes. If you are looking for a way to serve that will have significant impact, then we need you to S.I.T. which stands for Simple, Intentional and Transformative. 

Here's what we need you to do:

S - It's Simple. Simply attend one of our Middle School Character Development League games this spring. View our calendar of events at Lead2Legacy.org and commit to a game today. 

I - Be Intentional. Commit to staying at least 3 innings and let your voice be heard. Cheer on the teams as they play their hearts out in front of a packed crowd.  

T - Transformative. By simply being intentional, you will have a transformative effect in the lives of the young men on the field. To look into the bleachers and see cheering fans will make our young men feel valued and loved. Your encouragement will lead to their empowerment.

Encouraging mentors to attend L.E.A.D. Middle School games

So go over to Lead2Legacy.org and click on the EVENTS tab or click here to go directly to our calendar. Choose a game and come S.I.T. a spell...you'll be glad you did!

Coach Ralph Berry is the head coach at Sylvan Hills Middle School

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Let's Talk About Race - Day 28


Why should racism end Allen?

Life's 2 most rewarding & difficult commandments stated 2,000 years ago by human civilizations' most quoted teacher:

Jesus said: Love God & Love Others.

Unless you've never read the Bible, these two commands sum up the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus came to give this simple clarity to all people.

You and me and every child, woman & man we are all God's creation and worthy of love, respect, kindness and consideration. In my selfishness and desire for my own comfort and entertainment these two commands are enough for daily strength training and personal conviction. I can't do these two things without acknowledging God and asking prayerfully for Jesus' help in humbling myself to love others. It is a daily discipline that helps me grow. I struggle often but I know it is God's will for me to pursue these two clear goals every moment. This is how we dismantle racism.

Allen Bell