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 naïve 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.


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