Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic

Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic

At-risk Atlanta Public School Students Groomed to L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct)

“Today you are the primary celebrities out here…” That is the message that Kelli Stewart will deliver to hundreds of at-risk Atlanta Public School students anxiously awaiting in the stands early morning November 20th at Turner Field. They will be there to participate in L.E.A.D.’s 9th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic. For the past 8 years in our capacity as L.E.A.D. co-founders, Kelli and I have counted on this message to get the attention of the young people attending our annual baseball clinic. We know from years of experience that if the message gets through and we can get our young people excited about the game of baseball, then we will have a better chance to plant seeds of success in those young fertile minds. Consequently, this will allow us to set much needed expectations regarding how much we need them to not become successful, but most importantly significant.

The proof is in the pudding as this year’s clinic will be facilitated by past participants who have gotten the message and have gone on to become L.E.A.D. Ambassadors. They are now becoming celebrities in their communities, as more and more Atlantans become familiar with L.E.A.D. and our work. The Ambassadors’ celebrity is valuable because it creates credibility with the new clinic participants. Credibility is key for the Ambassadors to pull off an unforgettable experience for their young charges.

Through L.E.A.D., we currently serve 31 high school Ambassadors – the program runs from November through July of the next year. These are 31 young black males who attend Atlanta Public Schools and who are being groomed to lead Atlanta and the world. By 2020, L.E.A.D. hopes to serve 100 Ambassadors annually. The goal has always been to have L.E.A.D. Ambassadors set a good example for, and lead, their peers within APS high schools. They are being specifically trained to be influencers within their schools and inner city Atlanta communities, and for good reasons – the Ambassadors know their schools and communities better than any adult mentor could. With 100 Ambassadors, L.E.A.D. will be able to provide peer leadership in 11 APS high schools, and continue to assist APS to realize its mission of creating “… a caring culture of trust and collaboration, [where] every student will graduate ready for college and career.”

Words of wisdom for the Ambassadors from CJ Stewart's mentor Major General Ronald Johnson (U.S. Army)

Not only are the young black males that L.E.A.D. serves being positioned as leaders in their communities, they are being groomed to be career ready when they graduate from college. They will need three things along the way from their Atlanta community to guarantee their success in this regard:
Access to other influencers and decision makers;
Constant encouragement (time and prayers); and
Financial investment

They will also need:

1. Internships and shadow opportunities while they are in high school and college;

2. Interview opportunities for open, and newly created, positions upon graduating from college; and

3. A yes after the interview. If L.E.A.D. does its job right, and the Ambassadors do what they are charged with, a “yes” will be inevitable..

Access to these necessities for success should be a no brainer, and L.E.A.D. should not have a difficult time finding opportunities for its Ambassadors. After all, Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS and Chick-fil-A. Additionally, the world's newest athletic venue is being built in Atlanta and will bear the name of Atlanta's newest corporate resident, Mercedes Benz. Porsche has recently acquired an Atlanta address for its North American headquarters connecting its proximity to the world's busiest passenger airport - Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But . . . here’s why you must help:

· ON THE DOWNSIDE: Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of Georgia's State Prison population. About 60% of black males either will not graduate on time or at all from Atlanta Public Schools while the state of Georgia ranks 31st in education in America. It takes an investment of $3,500 per young man annually for L.E.A.D. to develop an Ambassador, and it costs Georgia tax payers $100,000 per year to incarcerate one of them. Do the math! And if the numbers don’t motivate you, maybe your sense of humanity will. Did you know that Georgia is number one in America in incarceration and America leads the world in incarceration?

· ON THE UPSIDE: When the percentage of blacks graduating from college and being gainfully employed increases, there will be a substantial economic return to the city of Atlanta. Additionally, it follows that the higher the graduation and employment rate, the lower the incarceration rate.

It stands to reason that if we don’t participate in the lives of young black males and empower them to live a sustainable life of significance, then Atlanta will never truly become a world class city. I recently stated this very sentiment to several of my Leadership Atlanta 2015 classmates at a CEO Roundtable discussion. Woodruff Foundation chairman, Russ Harden, was there and he agreed with me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Ceasar Mitchell, Courtney English, Byron Amos, Vernon Jordan, Herman Russell and Andre Dickens all achieved a high level of celebrity in their own right. We have every reason to believe that given the right opportunities our young black men can hold similar careers, with the potential for even greater successes. We fully expect by 2020, our Ambassadors will lead in positions such as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, Atlanta Police Chief, Atlanta Fire Chief, Georgia College and University Deans and Director of Athletics, Atlanta Mayor, Atlanta based Fortune 500 Company Executives, L.E.A.D. CEO, Clergymen and Atlanta Public Schools Teachers and Principals, to name a few; and, we believe that it all starts with Kelli’s message to the eager young baseball clinic participants each year.

Safe At Home Game 2015

With that said, let's raise the profile of over 50,000 Atlanta Public School students to celebrity status by sharing this blog, and come out on Friday, November 20 to Turner Field between 10:00AM and 2:00 pm, to meet L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and join in the excitement with 300 new young celebrities. You are also welcome to worship with the Ambassadors on Sunday, November 22nd at 12:00PM at Elizabeth Baptist Church (4245 Cascade Road, SW, Atlanta, GA 30331-7245)


Sunday, November 1, 2015


FOR ME, when my iPhone alarm sounds at 6AM, I’m ready for a new day. I have a purpose. . . what I believe to be a God given purpose. It is to do whatever is necessary to help Atlanta Public Schools (APS) realize its vision and fulfill its mission, to ensure that young black male students in the APS system have every opportunity to graduate from high school, go to college, and have career choices to live a life of significance.


Vision "A high performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system."

Mission "With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career."

FOR APS, when 6AM rolls around on any given day students, teachers and stakeholders are met with critical issues resulting from an educational system that has been grossly mismanaged. The state of APS is not just an Atlanta problem, it affects the entire State of Georgia.


· 80% of the 51,000+ students APS services live at or below the poverty level.

· Sixty percent of black males attending APS high schools either won't graduate on time or at all

· Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes that are served by APS, grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia Prison population.

· Georgia ranks number one in America in incarceration and America ranks number one in the world in incarceration.

· In Atlanta, if you are born into poverty you have a 4% chance of making it out.

It’s not hard to see that we are indeed in a crisis situation. We continue to lose far too many young, black boys and men via the cradle to prison/cemetery pipeline. As a Black man who grew up in Atlanta, the state of my City is always on my heart and keeps me up a lot of nights. Even still, my faith in God gives me confidence that my determination to work His plan in my life will yield benefits for all of Atlanta’s citizens, and we will finally come to realize the true promise for young, Black males – a sustained life of significance.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors serving with Lt. Col. Rooker and the APS JROTC for the Empty Stocking Fund

To that end, I am sounding the alarm for a new day in APS. We must wake up as concerned citizens of Atlanta, and work consistently and diligently each day with purpose for the right results. I offer L.E.A.D. as a viable solution . . . tried and true . . . getting consistent results that are already benefitting the City. 

Through L.E.A.D., Kelli, myself, our board and a host of supporters have built a positive culture amongst Black boys in APS; a culture built on dreams that some call crazy due to what they see as lofty ideals. Ideals such as viewing the Black boys in APS as viable candidates to run some of this City’s high profile companies. Crazy as it may seem, based on our experience over the last 8 years, we have confidence in our methodology and we’re seeing it yield results for APS and its students. 

Here are a few ways that L.E.A.D. is empowering APS students and teachers:

L.E.A.D. AD CONNECT - On Thursday, October 22nd at 6:00AM, my alarm went off and I suited up in my red and black. Not just because those are Ambassador colors, but because we were headed to my wife’s hometown, Athens, Georgia, to spend quality time with members of the University of Georgia’s Athletic Staff. Through our AD Connect Program, we are empowering APS Athletic Directors (ADs) and coaches by leveraging relationships we have at the college level. In addition to providing a closer look into the operations of college athletics, we are helping the ADs and coaches meet their annual continuing education requirement. Ultimately, L.E.A.D.’s AD Connect Program demonstrates the District’s desire to develop quality ADs and coaches who will mentor APS student-athletes. That morning, 10 ADs and coaches traveled with me to Athens for a dose of empowerment courtesy of the amazing UGA Department of Athletics under the leadership of Director of Athletics, Greg McGarity.

Atlanta Public Schools Middle and High School AD's - Some of Atlanta's finest people.

In addition to UGA, the L.E.A.D. AD Connect Program collaborates with Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and Mercer. Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State were the first two schools to come aboard.

SAFE AT HOME - The first, annual Safe at Home® Game was played on the first Saturday in August this year at Georgia Tech and it was a huge success! It was the final activity of the Safe at Home program - a collaborative effort of L.E.A.D., APIVEO and the Atlanta Police Foundation designed to build rapport between Atlanta’s inner city youth and Atlanta’s Cops.

Safe at Home was created as a response to the growing tension between the Black community and police officers that has resulted in death and violence in many inner-cities across the country. We have been extremely fortunate to not have a Ferguson like incident in Atlanta and Kelli and I wanted to be as proactive as possible to help ensure we never have one.

As part of the program, L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and Atlanta Police Officers got the opportunity to interact on a level playing field, through joint practices, a picnic and a Braves outing. As a result, the officers saw the Ambassadors as potential leaders, with purpose, and hope for a better future. Additionally, the Ambassadors connected with the police officers and gained a better understanding of the dangerous situations they face each day. Each party saw the human side of the other. 

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. was considered crazy by many to believe that blacks would be able to live in prosperity in America, but he had a core group who believed in the work he did. They worked tirelessly to help him realize his dream. Some think, that Kelli and I are crazy to believe that, through L.E.A.D., we can empower an at-risk generation of young, black males from the inner city of Atlanta to lead and transform their city of Atlanta, and eventually the world. Like Dr. King, we have countless amounts of friends around the world that we count on to pray for us, to hold us accountable for fulfilling our calling by God as well as challenge us to do more than we believe that we're capable of accomplishing.

Dr. King cut a nice trail for our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors to finish paving, so that millions can travel on it living a sustainable life of significance.

So, every morning my iPhone alarm goes off at 6am. When it does, I have a few choices, I can:

  • wake up feeling blessed that it’s a new day to serve, get going and produce results; 
  • hit snooze, buy a few more minutes, then get going; 
  • or, stay in bed, pull the covers closer, and do nothing.  

Listen. Can you hear that? It's 6:00AM and APS's alarm is sounding loud and clear. What are your plans to help APS realize its potential and provide for a bright promising future for its students?