Tuesday, September 22, 2015


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?


Saturday, September 19, 2015


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.


Monday, September 14, 2015


“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.


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.