Tuesday, June 30, 2015


L.E.A.D.’s (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) mission is to empower at risk inner city young black males to become Atlanta’s leaders. Our experience is that a young black male without a father’s positive influence in his life struggles socially and emotionally. A likely outcome is a life of crime and ultimately jail, and that is not acceptable to us. So how do we create a new legacy, and sustain it?

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors on a tour of the Fulton County Jail 2015

We know that strong positive male figures in a young person’s life provide support to help create a solid foundation necessary for a young person to lead an empowered life – a life that isbased on making good choices and finding the right opportunities that result in emotional and social success.

We also know that a young person can’t have too many positive male influences throughout his life. They can come from various backgrounds. They can be fathers, coaches, teachers and pastors. How a young person interacts and learns from them depends on whether they are a role model, mentor or a hero. It is important to distinguish between the three, as each will have a different approach and impact. A young person needs to choose an influencer based on what his dreams are for himself. Initially, he may not know what he wants, but over time and through experience and growth he will. The key is to get started.

Following are guidelines to help you identify, and work with, the right influencer:


Heroes you may know or not know. A hero will be someone on a similar path or journey you’ve chosen. Someone you can emulate. Here’s what to look for in a hero:
• They take a stand and lead by example in service to those in need.

• They do it voluntarily and without regard to perceived risks.

• They accept anticipated sacrifice.

• They are steadfast in their principles and beliefs when making decisions.

• They are transformative.


Mentors you know personally and interact with regularly. They provide support to challenges in daily life. They provide answers to questions that come up in the normal course of living, such as: Where do I find the school bus schedule? I want to play baseball, how do I get started? Where is the best place to study? I want to work, where do I look for opportunities? What do I have to do to get a driver’s license? Mentors may be lifelong relationships, or they may be in your life for a short while, depending on your needs.


Role models you know personally and sometimes well. You learn from them through observation. They may offer insight into their actions and successes and you listen. They provide affirmation that you can be successful if you do things they’ve done to be successful.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Tyquavious Noland is a rising senior student/athlete at Maynard H. Jackson High School

L.E.A.D. challenges its Ambassadors to lead and become heroes to those young men that are coming up behind them. These young Ambassadors are accepting the challenge and taking steps toward positive change that would scare an adult. They are working hard to transform their character positively even though they know the risk of losing what they know and are comfortable with. This often means the loss of family and childhood friends. The Ambassadors are consistently making right choices over wrong ones even when wrong “has a louder voice” in their head. They are learning to question “why the behavior” instead of simply singling out the behavior. The Ambassadors are also learning to model excellence because they know a peer is watching, and when they watch the positive character transformation take place, they will follow. 

L.E.A.D. provides strong positive male leaders as role models, mentors and heroes to assist in the Ambassadors in change, and we hold them accountable. Becoming a hero is a process. An Ambassador who accepts the challenge of becoming a leader and does what is necessary to become a hero knows there is a learning curve and it will be a long and difficult road. They also know that they will get the attention they need to succeed, and we will be dreaming their dream along with them.

Resources: http://blog.richmond.edu/heroes/2013/05/17/10-reasons-why-we-need-heroes/ and http://www.thesimpledollar.com/heroes-role-models-and-mentors-finding-people-to-believe-in/


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Inaction Is Not an Option or Be Bold, Take Risks and Create Opportunities

Inaction Is Not an Option or Be Bold, Take Risks and Create Opportunities

When my wife Kelli and I decided to create L.E.A.D. to empower at risk youth living in Atlanta’s inner city, we knew it was a bold move and not without risk. We were a young family and had the responsibility of raising two very young children of our own. We also knew that starting an organization committed to providing opportunities to empower at risk youth was not going to be easy. Where would we find the time and resources to succeed and grow our own family and L.E.A.D.? We knew if we failed it would negatively impact our own children, and the at risk youth that we committed to empower to succeed. Our willingness to take the risk, however, outweighed the shame we knew we would have to live with if we didn’t proceed.

Kelli and I took the bold steps and accepted the risks to start L.E.A.D., and never looked back. Here’s why we are very happy we did:

• 80% of Atlanta Public Schools students live at or below the poverty level, but every year L.E.A.D. Ambassador College Graduates prove that change is coming.

photo credit Audra Starr

• 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools won't graduate on time or at all, but L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are helping to reverse that trend by graduating from high school on time and going to college.

• Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia State Prison population, but L.E.A.D. has created a sustainable program and continues to work to empower at risk youth living in those areas. Now they dream of college instead of living in despair of what they continue to hear is their destiny - prison or death.

Over the years, Kelli and I found that mentorship is key to L.E.A.D.’s success. One of the rules we live by, that I learned from my own experiences is: humility is a must have and we should think more of others, but not to the detriment of thinking less of yourself. For example, when I was a teenager, I grew up playing baseball against my white counterparts, convincing myself that I was better at the game than they were. Deep down I had my doubts which stemmed from my lack of resources. I didn't have the training or equipment they had. What I didn’t realize then, but do now, is that by thinking that way I was putting myself down. It is clear now that my conflicting thoughts kept me off balance. Thinking back, had I had the humility to acknowledge that my white counterparts were good, and maybe even better than me, due in part to their access to training and equipment, I might have concentrated more on ways to make myself a better ball player. Instead I focused on why I might not be as good - as I was trying to convince myself that I was - in spite of what I didn’t have. It was a crazy existence.

Humility is also among the core values we teach our Ambassadors. The key to learning these core values is understanding them and that is done through experience and practice. Some L.E.A.D. Ambassadors have an easier time of it than others because they have had core value training at home. Those who struggle have little to none. Sometimes, a young man lacking in core values is accepted into L.E.A.D. as an Ambassador even though he is known to have a bad temper, and is often times disrespectful. In spite of all of that, I believe event that young man can lead Atlanta. I am confident of this because we have mutual love and respect for each other. My Ambassadors know that I will give my life for them. If I'm not willing to do so, they will not wear the Ambassadors logo. I know that God has me on earth to serve and empower them – whatever it takes.

So as I continue to work to empower my young men to lead and transform their City of Atlanta, believe me when I say that I get tired. I get tired of Black boys being considered criminal by some simply because of the color of their skin. I get tired of media reports each year that show a decline of blacks at the Major League Baseball level and I get tired of the same media reports that say Black boys just don't play baseball. As tired as I am of hearing all of this, and reading about it, I am equally energized by the knowledge that, for our Ambassadors, the MLB isn't a microcosm of the world. They know there is so much more and they are willing to be bold and take the necessary risks to find it.

photo credit Jay Boatwright

Friday, June 5, 2015

College invites fears and cheers

College wasn't easy for me at all, and even though I graduated from Westlake High School in 1994 with honors, I wasn't ready for it.

My biggest fear in entering college was not having enough discipline to manage my time as a student-athlete. I was always the kid that ignored his parents and teachers when advised to "manage your time well." Ironically, what I most looked forward to was the freedom and independence to do what I wanted and what made me happy.

What made me happy was to play baseball, and so that’s what I concentrated on to the detriment of my studies. I wasn’t a dumb kid. I was smart. Even so, I failed to apply the discipline necessary, and do what I needed to do, to maintain my status as a student-athlete. More specifically, I failed to manage my time well between what I wanted to do – play baseball, and what I needed to do – study and keep my grades up. As a result, I failed out of Georgia State University and Dekalb Junior College.

Lucky for me I had a second chance with the Chicago Cubs and was drafted again in 1996. It wasn’t until my career was cut short with the Cubs and I returned home to Atlanta, that I realized that in order to be able to do what I wanted to do, I’d have to balance discipline and also do what was necessary.

I recently asked our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors what their biggest fears were about attending college, as well as, what were they most looking forward to. Here’s what they had to say:

My biggest fear in attending college is being home sick and with regards to that, the distance between home and school is something I will be looking forward to and how it will effect me or will it effect me at all?

~ L.E.A.D. Ambassador Austin Evans, New Schools at Carver c/o 2015, Texas A&M University Fall 2015

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Austin Evans and CJ Stewart
I fear that I'm not going to be the smartest one in my classes. I'm looking forward to establishing and maintaining great relationships.

~ L.E.A.D. Ambassador Cameron Tucker, Henry W. Grady High School c/o 2015, Tuskegee University Fall 2015

My fears regarding college is the negative peer pressure from the upperclassmen. I'm looking forward to meeting new people and getting a great education.

~ L.E.A.D. Ambassador Desmond Jones, Benjamin E. Mays High School c/o 2015, Tuskegee University Fall 2015

My fear regarding college is being so overworked and stressed out that I develop bad eating habits and losing sleep. I'm looking forward to being independent.

~ L.E.A.D. Ambassador Jacoby Evans, Booker T. Washington High School c/o 2015, Georgia State University/U.S. Army

I fear while attending college that I will not make a name for myself. I most look forward to making everyone on campus love me.

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is an Atlanta based non-profit organization that partners with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.