Tuesday, April 21, 2015

If and Then

Life is all about how you handle the if and then moments. If I do something stupid, then something stupid happens. If I do something great, then something great happens. Lord knows that I did a lot of stupid things as a teenager.

L.E.A.D.'s (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) mission is to empower an at risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.

L.E.A.D. is an Atlanta based 501c3 organization that partners with Atlanta Public Schools and exists because Atlanta will never truly be a world class city until hundreds of thousands of black males are living a sustainable life of significance.

One of the effective ways that I develop our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors is by asking them random questions that force them to critically think. The rule is that I will never question what they say but I will question why they said it so that I can make them go deeper. As black males, they are some of the most valuable assets in Atlanta. Why? Because blacks males are dropping out of high school and being incarcerated more than any other race in Atlanta and systematically across America.

Here are two statements that I asked three of our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors to complete to prepare them today to fulfill expectations tomorrow.

1. Complete these two sentences L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy (New Schools at Carver). 

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would...

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would fight for it back like my ancestors did. I can't say that I could go through all that they did but I am willing to go through the trials for my freedom fighting spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

If baseball was taken away from me, then I would...

If baseball was taken away from me, then I honestly would be lost because this game has taught me a lot about life and how to encounter failures and how to work through them.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy with L.E.A.D. Executive Director/Co-founder Kelli Stewart

2. Complete these two sentences L.E.A.D. Ambassador D'Anthony Morrow (Benjamin E. Mays High School).

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would...

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would focus on educating myself and learning more about God so that when I regained my freedom I could become a community leader and fight poverty.

If baseball was taken away from me, then I would...

If baseball was taken away from me, then I would continue to use my academics to earn a scholarship into college.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors left to right: Tyquavious Noland, Jacoby Evans, D'Angelo Julio and D'Anthony Morrow

3. Complete these two sentences L.E.A.D. Ambassador Sean Warren (North Atlanta High School).

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would...

If my freedom was taken away from me, then I would protect my mind by demolishing all negative thoughts like the slaves were forced to.

If baseball was taken away from me, then I would...

If baseball was taken away from me, then I would not feel free.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Sean Warren (North Atlanta High School)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's response to L.E.A.D. is the Real Deal

Ambassador Austin Evans meets Governor Nathan Deal

Establishing a mission and setting SMART goals is essential to a life well lived.

Goals and missions can be categorized as being easy, crazy and impossible.

I love to seek crazy goals and missions. L.E.A.D.'s (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) mission is to empower an at risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. That's crazy and here is why!

1. Atlanta Public Schools serves 50,000+ students and 80% of those students live at or below the poverty level

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

3. 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools will not graduate from high school on time or at all

Really lock in on this conversation that I had with L.E.A.D. Ambassador Austin Evans after our meeting with Georgia Governor Deal yesterday at the State Capitol.

Austin Evans is a senior at Atlanta Public Schools' New Schools at Carver and is also a POSSE Foundation Scholarship recipient. He will be taking his talents to Texas A&M in the fall. Keep Austin uplifted in your prayers also because he is a finalist for the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Foundation Scholarship.

Rise up Atlanta!

Excuse the LSU sweatshirt that Austin is wearing Aggie fans!

CJ: Is the Governor approachable?

A. Evans: The governor is very a approachable man and I felt very comfortable in his presence.

CJ: Describe the personality of the Governor?

A. Evans: His personality was professional and as the conversation continued he showed me a more welcoming side of him. He's a very nice man.

CJ: Describe his hand shake?

A. Evans: He gave a respectable firm handshake while looking me in the eyes.

CJ: Can the Governor connect with teenage black males? Describe.

A. Evans: The governor can connect with black males if he reaches out to them in way that makes them comfortable. Black males feel as though the government doesn't exist to help them. That barrier must be removed before we can truly connect.

CJ: What surprised you the most about the Governor?

A. Evans: The most surprising thing was that he remembered my grandfather extremely well and had the utmost respect for him. My grandfather shined Governor Deal's shoes in Gainesville long before he became the Governor of Georgia.

CJ: If you had the power, influence and the leadership of the Governor, what three problems would you solve first in Georgia?

A. Evans: First I would change the disparities in the educational system. Second, I would close the tremendous wealth gap. Third, I would promote more unity and competition because through competition greatness happens.

CJ: What will you be doing in the year 2040?

A. Evans: In 2040, I plan on being a U.S. Senator representing and empowering Georgia.

Austin actually told Governor Deal that he wanted to become a U.S. Senator and the Governor's look into Austin's eyes was priceless. Thank you Kelli Stewart for capturing that surreal moment.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Austin Evans and Governor Nathan Deal
Thank you Governor Deal for your Commendation of support and special praise of L.E.A.D.

All we have to do now is continue leading.

Join us at lead2legacy.org.


Monday, April 13, 2015

The Decline of Blacks in Baseball...Here We Go Again

The Decline of Blacks in Baseball...Here We Go Again
by: Kelli Stewart, L.E.A.D. Co-founder/Executive Director

"Here we go again in circles...I think I heard it all. We've been here before, but we need something more." - Lecrae, Nuthin'

I pen this message with a heavy, offended and angry heart.

Let me be clear: I am an advocate for children. In addition to my two biological children, The Lord has given me charge to speak for hundreds of young, Black boys in the City of Atlanta through my organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) where I serve as the executive director.

LEAD is not just another non-profit, it was birthed in my family’s home and is our third child. The boys we serve, our boys, know our names and are counting on us to be there to guide them and protect their dreams. Their families’ have invited us to join their teams because they see an opportunity that no one else is offering their sons. My husband, C.J. Stewart, and I consider it a privilege to be chosen for such an endeavor – to be the voice for children who are often counted out and misrepresented. He was once that child until others in his community became advocates for him and his dreams.

This is why it is especially disturbing and extremely offensive to me that every year, without fail, like clockwork, around the start of baseball season (and even more intense near and on Jackie Robinson Day) the sports industry starts churning with articles about the decline of blacks in baseball.  Mind you, I endure this madness all while we serve over 200 Black boys each year and could serve more with the right partnerships and funding. And by the way, we have a waiting list of schools and school districts who want our programs in their communities. To hear "black kids aren't interested" and "baseball doesn't resonate with the black community" year after year when my paradigm here in Atlanta is the exact opposite, is very irritating.

Some folks just pretend like they're trying to help.

Sometime, folks just pretend like they're trying to help. When someone is pretending like they want to help you, they host “summits” and “roundtables” and “workshops”. These tactics have their place, but at some point you have to stop talking and start doing. When someone really wants to help you, they do site visits, meet with your leadership, evaluate your program and, if you’re worthy, make multi-year commitments to community based programs that nurture sustainability and growth. I specifically say "community based programs" because it is not Major League Baseball's job to run programming in our communities. It is up to leadership within the community to establish programs that organizations like MLB can get behind and support. (The previous statement is another blog all by itself, but I digress.)

Here in Atlanta, Black boys are winning through LEAD and we have the stats to prove it. To date, 100% of the young men who complete our program graduate from high school, 95% enroll into college and 92% receive scholarship money to help pay for college. One statistic we don’t track is how many of our program graduates play Major League Baseball – because that’s not our focus. Who cares how many Black men are playing Major League Baseball when Black boys aren’t even graduating from high school in respectable numbers? In Atlanta, about 60% of Black boys do not graduate from high school at all or on time. What’s even more depressing is that 80% of Georgia’s prison population is made up of youth from three Atlanta zip codes: 30310, 30315 and 30318. And you want me to use baseball to increase the number of Jason Heywards and Andrew McCutchens as I stare down the barrel of these miserable statistics and the detrimental outcomes that they breed?

LEAD Ambassador Austin Evans, Governor Nathan Deal, C.J. Stewart (LEAD Co-founder/CEO)

Forgive me if I want to use baseball for a more pressing concern. I am much more concerned about Black boys progressing through and graduating from high school on time, pursuing advanced education options, becoming gainfully employed, becoming actively engaged community leaders, husbands and fathers. And by being concerned about these things, one of the ancillary effects could be that you have more Black families with more disposable income who can afford the price tag that goes along with being in love with baseball.

So forgive me if I’m just a bit perturbed by this annual round of rhetoric; I’ve heard it before. All talk and very little action. Most importantly, our boys have heard it before and they know who’s genuinely trying to help them and who’s just posturing.

Meanwhile in Atlanta through LEAD, we’re getting it done.

Join us. www.lead2legacy.org


Thursday, April 9, 2015

39 things about me on my 39th birthday

Today is the 39th time that I have celebrated a birthday on earth.

I saw my father Willie James Stewart and my mother Gail Stewart for the first time on April 10, 1976 in Grady Memorial Hospital.

God blessed me with good parents.

I have two sisters Nicole Stewart and Erica Stewart, six nieces and one nephew.

I remember celebrating several of my early birthdays at McDonald's. I loved getting the birthday plates with Ronald McDonald and the other characters on it. Remember Grimace!

I also remembered how close my birthday was to the start of the Major League Baseball season each year.

So today, I'm 39 years of age with a beautiful wife Kelli Stewart and two awesome daughters Mackenzi (age 13) and Mackenna (age 7).

I am their earthly protector and provider on assignment from God.

I would also like to share 39 additional things about me that you may or may not have already known.

1. I'm a follower of Christ.

2. My favorite color is red because red is bold.

3. As a child, I dreamed of playing Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs.

4. I saw my future wife Kelli on I-20 in Atlanta and followed her to a gas station off the exit. A little over a year later we were married and have been for 18 years.

5. My favorite college football team is the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Go DAWGS!

6. My favorite restaurant is Longhorns.

7. I love all Apple products.

8. My favorite quote is an African Proverb. "To understand the road ahead ask those coming back. Success leaves clues."

9. I would love to visit India.

10. My favorite Atlanta landmark is The Varsity.

11. My all time favorite Atlanta Braves player is Brian McCann.

12. The only NFL jersey that I have ever purchased is #2 Matt Ryan. Rise Up Falcons!

13. My favorite book is Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

14. My favorite musical artists are Outkast.

15. C.J. stands for Courteney James.

I wish that I could sing like Boyz II Men.

17. I can guarantee that I will be married to Kelli Stewart until death.

18. I would be honored to meet John Maxwell.

19. The most emotional moment in my life was receiving a proclamation of C.J. Stewart Day in Atlanta through perpetuity on November 20, 2011 by Atlanta City Councilman Michael Bond.

I often dream about L.E.A.D. Ambassadors leading Atlanta.

Presenting an award of support to The Lovett School Head Baseball Coach Lance Oubs for support of L.E.A.D.

21. I get super irritated when people pop gum.

22. The best team that I have ever been a member of is Leadership Atlanta.

23. The sports team that I love to hate is the Duke Blue Devils.

24. The scariest moment of my life was when I saved a neighbor from being malled to death by a pit bull.

25. If I inherited one million dollars, I would give 10% to my church Elizabeth Baptist. I would put 10% in savings and I would ask my wife Kelli what to do with the remaining 80%.

26. The person that I trust the most in the world is my wife Kelli.

27. I am afraid of snakes.

28. I can eat an entire bag of Oreo's within 15 minutes.

29. I enjoy blessing others more than receiving blessings.

30. I have a bad habit of interrupting people when they are talking.

31. If I could be age 10 again, I would take school more serious.

32. My favorite form of exercise is bike riding.

33. I'm jealous of New Edition because I think that Kelli loves them more than me.

34. The gift that I would love to receive on my birthday is an Apple Watch.

35. My earthly role model is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

36. My least favorite thing in the world to do is playing golf.

37. My 2015 NBA Finals prediction is the Atlanta Hawks over the San Antonio Spurs in 7 games.

38. I constantly pray to God for patience, wisdom, renewed faith and trust in Him.

39. My mission in life is to be significant and to serve millions starting with my wife Kelli and daughters Mackenzi and Mackenna.


Monday, April 6, 2015

From Bankhead 2 Buckhead

Yesterday I visited Home Depot's Corporate Office and had lunch with a dear friend and mentor, Bill McLellan. After we ate, he took me to the 18th floor to view something I experience every day. 

To my right, I saw the Atlanta skyline and all of the familiar buildings I've seen that tell me I'm home when I'm flying or driving into the City. To my left, I saw a not so familiar skyline emerging from the landscape - the Buckhead skyline.

Buckhead is the skyline to the left and downtown Atlanta to the right
For those unafraid to admit it, Atlanta is a tale of two cities. For some, it is indeed the best of times and for others the worst of times. The haves and the have nots are all separated by what I call the "Great Divide" - aka The Northside Drive overpass. On one side of this bridge, you'll find 10,000 homes valued under $100K or less, and on the other side, you'll find 10,000 homes valued at $1Million or more. This Great Divide exists for a myriad of reasons, some personal and too many institutional. 

Even though these disparities paint a bleak picture, I'm encouraged because each day I have the privilege to link Bankhead and Buckhead through an unusual suspect - baseball. 

Baseball has afforded me a presence in both communities. Kelli and I started our company, Diamond Directors, about 15 years ago. Through this venture, we work with the some of the most talented amateur and professional baseball players in the country. A little over seven years ago, Kelli and I embarked on another venture - L.E.A.D. Through L.E.A.D., we work with some of the most raw, untapped talent in Atlanta. As funny as it sounds, I'm getting an opportunity to work with myself because I was exactly who my Ambassadors are. 

And what do I do with this privilege I've been given?

Every chance I get, I create opportunities for my Ambassadors and Diamond Directors clients to interact with each other. I love connecting the kids because they quickly get past all of the labels that society puts on them - privilege vs. poverty - and they see what's most important - people. 

Baseball provides the artery from which their humanity can flow. They don't care about Black and White; they want to talk about top plays, batting averages and oh did you see that fastball Teheran threw to win the game last night??!! Baseball allows them to be brothers and they only become enemies when they wear different uniforms and step between the lines. After the game is over though, they're just brothers again. Baseball is the tie that binds. 

Next time you travel between Bankhead and Buckhead, ask yourself, what has God given me to link these two communities in ways that members of both can be empowered? Not so one can be envied and the other pitied. Envy and pity never bridged any gaps - only understanding and love can do that. 


Friday, April 3, 2015

Jesus was resurrected for me so that I can do three things

By the grace of God, I was raised in a home that believed that Jesus lived the perfect life, died on the cross and was resurrected. As an adult, I continue to believe the Good News because I have experienced Him for myself.

God has granted me life on earth to do three things well while giving Him the glory and I will share them shortly.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. ~Lewis Carroll

This is one of my favorite quotes because it holds me accountable for living life on purpose.

I've been reading Stephen R. Covey's famous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he challenges us all to create a personal mission statement so that we can live life on purpose.

My personal mission statement is to be significant and to serve millions starting with my wife Kelli and daughters Mackenzi and Mackenna.

Be significant

Significance is who you are while success is what you do.

I've accomplished a lot of awesome things in my life. As a child I wanted to play professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs and God allowed me to do that. I wanted to also become an entrepreneur every since I heard of the profession while I was a middle school student at Ronald E. McNair. God has also allowed me to do that as well.

I'm significant because I can be trusted to serve my wife, daughters and mankind with excellence like my eternal life depends on it.

Serve my wife and daughters

My wife and daughters are gifts to me from God. I have the daily pleasure of protecting and providing for them so that they may serve each other and others well.

Serve mankind

God has blessed me with two parents that are still alive, healthy and happily married. I have two grandmothers that celebrated their 90th birthdays this past December.

I have two younger sisters, nieces, a nephew, several aunts, uncles and cousins.

My family tree is strong and we are all rooted in God to serve each other and mankind.

I have the daily honor of using the information that I have learned over the years as a baseball player to now develop young boys to become significant men that love God and live on purpose.

Click here to go behind the scenes with Jason Heyward and I. Also checkout our recent L.E.A.D. eMagazine to see how God allows me to lead others.

Glory be to God and Happy Easter to all!