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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Friday, July 17, 2015

SIR ISAAC NEWTON’S FIRST LAW OF MOTION, OR HOW TO AFFECT CHANGE


CJ, why do you feel you are qualified to speak on behalf of the black male population of Atlanta, GA?

I am qualified to speak on behalf of the black male population of Atlanta because of who I am. I am a black male born and raised in one of the most dangerous areas in Atlanta. It wasn’t easy for me or my family. I could have been a negative statistic, but for the grace of God, my family, and amazing relationships with several good people in Atlanta of varying race and gender, I made it out. I know where I’ve been and I know where I am now. I know a better life is possible, I know how it can be done, and I am committed to empowering others to do the same.

I was born and raised on Hollywood Road in one of the most dangerous parts of the inner city of Atlanta. My parents, Mr. Willie Stewart and Mrs. Gail Stewart, were very hard working people. I was educated in the Atlanta Pubic Schools and Fulton County Schools systems where black students were in the majority. Resources at home and at school were scarce.

As a child, I dreamed of playing professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs after being introduced to the game by my grandfather. It is through baseball, a loving family, caring friends of varying race and gender, and my Christian faith that I found a way out of the hard life I would have otherwise known living in the harsh inner city of Atlanta. There were failures along the way. I attended college at Georgia State University on a baseball scholarship, as well as Georgia Perimeter College and Kennesaw State University. I academically failed out of Georgia State and Georgia Perimeter after one year each. I ended up playing professional baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization but was cut early on.

I made it out of financial and emotional poverty because I chose to accept certain opportunities that came my way. The experiences I had from those opportunities gave me perspective, which brought me to an understanding that poverty brings about shame and struggle, and living a life of shame and constant struggle can be debilitating to a person’s self-esteem and self-respect. I chose to surround myself with experiences that strengthened my self-esteem and self-respect. I attribute much of who I am today to my strong relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and my earthly spiritual leader, Dr. Craig L. Oliver, Senior Pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church.

My life today, as a 39 year old Atlantan who is also a black man, is based on the decisions I’ve made along the way. Personally, I am the loving husband of Kelli Stewart and the proud father of our two daughters Kourtni Mackenzi Stewart (age 14) and Kelly Mackenna Stewart (age 8). I have a strong bond with my two sisters, Nicole and Erica, and I am an uncle to six nieces and one nephew. Professionally, I have developed some of Major League Baseball's top young talent through my for profit business Diamond Directors. Spiritually, I am committed to service to God, my family, and a new generation of leaders whose values are based on love, understanding, and respect for other human beings.

As an adult black male who works within Atlanta’s inner city environment, what are your thoughts about the future of Atlanta’s black youth, and what is your commitment to them, CJ?

The future of black youth in metro Atlanta is in their hands and the hands of its citizens, regardless of color or economic status. I love Atlanta and I believe that my city will never truly become a world class city until hundreds of thousands of black males are living a sustainable life of significance. Empowering Atlanta’s young black males to choose opportunities and experiences that promote self-esteem and self-respect is my commitment and my focus. I realize that I cannot do this alone, however, and encourage you to find a way to participate in changing the way our government and society thinks about Atlanta inner city black youth, and how each responds to their needs.

My wife, Kelli, and I are both co-founders of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) which is a Pathway2Empowerment organization. L.E.A.D. is an acronym for:

· Launching student athletes towards educational opportunities after converting raw talent into the skills required for entry into college athletic programs.

· Exposing teens to service and local enrichment activities in order to instill a sense of responsibility, belonging and investment; key requirements for building a civically engaged individual.

· Advising players, coaches and parents on the process of effectively supporting dreams of playing baseball on the college level.

· Directing young men towards their promise by using the historical journey of past African American legends as the road map.


We created L.E.A.D. as a vehicle to carry out our commitment to black youth who live in the inner city of Atlanta to empower them with opportunities to gain the knowledge and skill that they need to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.


What do you see as the biggest problems facing the black community in Atlanta today, CJ?

Perception is a major problem facing the black community in Atlanta – how blacks perceive themselves and how others outside the black community perceive them. This is such a complicated subject and I could write much on the topic, but, for now, our perceptions are formed in large part through media and education. It is what we see on TV and at the movies. It is what we read in newspapers, magazines and books. It is what we see and read through social media. It is also what we learn in school, at home, and in our places of worship. It is our responsibility to assess our perceptions.

Assessment is tricky, because sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. We continue to think the way we do because “we don’t know any other way”. I challenge you that when it comes to defining yourself, or someone else, based on skin color, you need to ask yourself “Is there another way to think about this? Can I think about this differently?” Challenge yourself to find an opportunity that will offer you a new experience, something outside your comfort zone.
On Sunday, July 12th, the Bell family joined my family at Elizabeth Baptist Church. Left to right: Allen Bell, Sherry Bell, Kelli Stewart, Mackenzi Stewart, Mackenna Stewart, CJ Stewart, Russell Bell and William Bell.

Sunday worship is a good place to start. I see an unofficial, unenforced segregation of church goers. It is most apparent if you look at our churches on Sundays during our spiritual worship times. At least in Atlanta, my experience is that whites and blacks attend their own churches. I am sure we worship where we feel most comfortable, but because of this we are missing opportunities to get to know each other during one of the most important aspects of our lives – celebrating God and all of his children. During Sunday worship we get to know each other on a level that we cannot experience elsewhere. It is through that experience that we are most likely to join together and work side by side to solve problems that may otherwise arise through misperceptions. I challenge you if you are white, attend a black church, and if you are black attend a white church. If you’ve never had the experience, it may feel awkward at first because you are experiencing something new, but take a deep breath, settle in, and you will learn much.

What do you need to do, CJ?

It is my duty as a blessed son of Atlanta to serve my city with all of my resources and relationships to truly make it the world class city that it should be.

I need to lead a paradigm shift within the black community that will raise poor black families up from poverty to prosperity which in turn will provide them with the opportunities necessary to live a sustainable life that has significant meaning for them, a life that they can be proud of.

To do this, I need to raise awareness among the black community that to achieve a sense of honor and pride in their lives they need to live their lives based upon a morally and ethically sound foundation. I created, and maintain, my own moral and ethical foundation through a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, and it has provided me with opportunities and experiences that I would never have imagined growing up.

What do you need to know in order to do what you need to do CJ?

I need to know as much as possible about the history of slavery in America, about the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and the current War on Drugs. Knowledge is power and the more I learn the better able I am to use that knowledge to successfully empower black families within the inner city of Atlanta. Ignorance and lack of confidence among blacks in Atlanta makes it difficult to break free from generational financial and emotional poverty. My hope is to bring about change by leading with a relatable understanding of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we can be as a people.

It is unfortunate, but I also need to understand and accept that racism is still alive and pervasive in Atlanta.

By acknowledging that racism is still a problem, I can objectively assess my own thoughts and perceptions about what it is to be black in Atlanta, and decide whether or not I need to change the direction of my own thoughts to become the best leader I can be for those I am committed to serve. I can also work systemically to eradicate racism if I have a better understanding of its existence in our community.

Further, by acknowledging that racism exists, I must accept that despite the progress our society has made with regard to racism, there are still many white people who harbor racially charged thoughts and motives. As wrong as these people and their motives are, it is ironic that they continue to be above the laws that govern all American citizens.

Additionally, I must understand that some white Americans are racially na├»ve. These people are the most challenging. They aren’t aware that their thoughts have negative consequences and perpetuate racism. Challenging as it might be, I have thoughts on how to handle this. It has to do with Newton’s First Law of Motion, part of which says: “an object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” All objects resist change in their state of motion. My intention is to be that “unbalanced force” and encourage change.

Conversely, I know that there are white people who have no place for racism in their lives. They make education and a better way of life a priority for all without regard to color. That said, sadly, some may not be aware that Georgia ranks near the bottom in America in education while it ranks number one in America in incarceration. As Georgians, they are working hard for positive change for all people of Georgia – change that will foster love. In my life, love always win and I love people that love people, but for change to be most effective one must have a sense of what they are working toward, a direction, a goal. Doing good just to do good is great, but it is more effective if done with purpose.

How do you do what you need to do CJ?

In order to be a successful leader in the black community and help effect change in the inner city of Atlanta to elevate it to world class status, I must have resolute and unshakeable faith in God and pray with intention and purpose. I must also collaborate strategically with those individuals and/or organizations that want the same things for Atlanta that I do, and that is for Atlanta to truly become a world class city by empowering hundreds of thousands of black men to live a sustainable life of significance.



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