Friday, December 16, 2016

The Challenge With Clarity

I define clarity as clearness of understanding. When you understand something, you can do something. Clarity has an enemy called convolution. Convolution is the intentional or unintentional confusion of something.

Ever met someone that enjoys confusing things that are simple?

Several years ago, I attended an event in Atlanta called “Leadercast,” where I heard acclaimed communications thought leader John Maxwell speak. The consummate clarity communicator, Maxwell taught us that everything starts simplistic and must be complicated until it becomes simple.

When it’s simple, you can do something with it.

By definition, simplistic means you treat complex issues as if they are simple. Take racism in America, which is a complex issue that often includes statements such as, "People living in poverty should work harder." This trite and overused statement is complex.

I've always been extroverted, so I have lots of friends. I also have several individuals that are in my life that I refer to as acquaintances. The majority of my acquaintances avoid controversial conversations at all cost, while the others like to engage in them.

Complicating something is only negative when there is a lack of authentic curiosity, care and concern. My friends and I tackle conversations about racism with those should ask (SAQ) questions, rather than the frequently asked (FAQ) questions.

C.J. Stewart with Leadership Atlanta alums JaKathryn Ross and Louis Gump

One of my mentors Pat Alacqua says that SAQs make you delve deeper and faster into a conversation, while FAQs tend to be shallow, simplistic statements such as, "People living in poverty should work harder.”

If my friends and I were complicating that statement with SAQs, we’d ask the follow questions of each other:

1. How do you define poverty?

2. Have you ever lived in poverty?

3. What experience do you have that shapes your opinions of people living in poverty?

4. How has history caused the people living in poverty to get there? Were they born into it?

5. Where do they get help? Do they have to give up their dignity in order to receive help?

6. Why are you not living in poverty? How would you avoid living in poverty?

These questions show authentic curiosity, care and concern for people living in poverty. The questions lead to something simple. When a thing gets simple, we can do something with or about it.

I recently read a book by Arthur Brooks called, “The Conservative Heart.” Brooks writes that people living in poverty need three things:

1. Values

2. A little bit of help

3. A lot of hope

I agree, especially that it starts with the values. My family and business values are six-fold. In sequence, they include: excellence, humility, integrity, loyalty, stewardship and teamwork.

Without values, you cannot ask for, receive or appreciate the help you need. The government provides a lot of help for people living in poverty. Without values, it’s like drinking out of water hose that eventually drowns you.

Hope is a powerful thing. Lose it, and you can literally die. Hope is desire on steroids. It is a strong desire of expectation. I hope that God continues to bless me to bless others. I trust Him and he can trust me.

He who owns the definition owns the movements:

Excellence – Meeting expectations
Humility – Not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less

Integrity – Doing the right thing even when you can do the wrong thing

Loyalty – Unwavering commitment to someone or something

Stewardship – Protection of people and beliefs

Teamwork – Individually doing your job within a team goal

Have I made myself clear with respect to simplistic statements being complicated in order to be simple?

If not, read the above information again in a quiet place several more times.

If so, let's continue, because there’s a challenge with clarity.

Clarity challenges your character. It challenges you to stop complaining and implores you to create change.

Character is who you are at all times. Do you complain about things most of the time, even when the “what to do' is made clear?

People who complain even when things are made clear can be perceived as “time wasters,” instead of value creators.

C.J. Stewart with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Turner Field Nov. 2016

I remember watching “The Jetsons” and “Star Trek” with my dad in the 80s. What was science fiction has become our reality today. So yes, times have changed, because people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took a simplistic statement like, "I have a dream" and had it challenged until it became a simple and actionable like the “Bus Boycott of Montgomery.”
Steve Jobs said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." That's a simplistic statement that had to be challenged and defended in order to get something as simple, useful and transformational as the iPhone.

Ask yourself these questions now. See if they challenge you to think and change:

1. What are four to 10 things that need to change right now in my life to make me feel happiness? (Now narrow it down to the Top 3.)

2. Who are one to three people I distance myself from because they challenge me in a positive way?

3. If the desired change that I pray about occurred today, who are one to three people who also benefit?

4. What are one to three things that prevent me from changing? Does my life work best in chaos or clarity?
5. Who are one to three people who prevent me from changing?

6. What are one to three things I worry about?

7. What are one to three things I dream about?


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why me receiving credit matters

I find myself being aggravated when I hear people make statements like, “It shouldn’t matter who gets the credit as long as God gets the Glory.” I feel that when people make this statement it's an opportunity to deflect accountability and responsibility.

As a motivator to get things done, I believe in accountability. I'm also a fan of receiving credit, because as a mentor of today's youth, I need to help them understand that problems are caused and solved by people.

I respect the need to be humble when individuals are a part of a team working to accomplish a specific goal. I ascribe to C.S. Lewis's definition of humility, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

1 John 4:15 (ESV) reads: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”

The irony of this verse, with respect to man deflecting credit when God works through him, is that John is credited as the author of this book in the Bible that millions regard sacred.

My calling in life is to be significant by serving millions and bringing them into a relationship with Christ, starting with my wife, Kelli, and our daughters, Mackenzi and Mackenna. Let’s break that down into six bite-sized chunks:

1. Calling

I have my own personal calling in life, and so do you. I found mine in my suffering. The questions I asked myself in order to determine my calling were:
  • What do I worry about? 
  • What do I dream about? 
  • What do I cry about? 
  • What do I laugh about? 
I worry about yielding to temptations that take me away from my submission to Christ. I dream of being recognized as one of the greatest sports coaches and mentors of all time. I cry about people living lives of hopelessness. I laugh when I see hope in the lives of all children.

2. Significance
Success is what you do, while significance is who you are and what you give.

3. Serving Millions
There are some who subscribe to the notion of serving and saving one person at a time. I support that while I desire to serve and save millions by the power of God.

4. Relationship with Christ
A relationship with Christ doesn’t remove trials and tribulations on earth, but it does guarantee spending eternity with him ruling and reigning.

2 Timothy 2:12 (ESV)
“If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.”

5. My Wife Kelli
Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

6. My Daughters Mackenzi (age 15) and Mackenna (age 9)
Titus 2:4 (ESV)
“And so train the young women to love their husbands and children.”

Jesus Christ is the standard for living a life of commitment, faith and endurance. He was God, while also being a man like me who deals with temptations and frustrations.

Romans 5:23 (ESV)
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.”

Jesus Tempted
Hebrews 2:18 (ESV)
“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Jesus Frustrated
Matthew 21:12 (ESV)
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.”

Acknowledgement from our love ones, employers and peers can be more valuable than money, and there are endless opportunities for us to want to quit doing God’s will. This is another reason why I have issue with the trite (overly used) statement, “It shouldn’t matter who gets the credit as long as God gets the Glory.”

One day, every knee will bow and confess that God is our Lord and Savior. And every name either will or will not be in the Book of Life. God has a Son whose name is Jesus, who receives the credit for dying on the cross for the sins of all. And God the Father receives the Glory for that.

Isaiah 45:23 (ESV)
“By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'”

Revelation 20:15 (ESV)
“And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

If it’s important for humans to have names, and if we all have talents and gifts from God, then I believe that it's alright for us to receive credit for the things that God is allowing us to do, so that He ultimately receives the Glory for.

  • Who gets the call if your bills aren’t paid? 
  • Who gets the call when you receive a promotion and raise at your job? 
  • Do you want your name in the Book of Life? 
  • Will someone else stand before God for you? 
God created everything that we enjoy on earth, and one day it will all pass. I believe that God should get the Glory in all things that I do for Him as one of His imperfect disciples because of The Great Commission.

Matthew‬ ‭28:17-20‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)
“And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why is Denzel Campbell such a great L.E.A.D. Mentor?

Several weeks ago I posted a blog entitled "Your 3-Step Guide to being an Effective L.E.A.D. Mentor". I wrote the blog to help prospective mentors understand our mindset as an organization. Stewardship is one of our core values and we define it as a protection of beliefs as well as people.

Denzel Campbell is featured in this blog. He's a L.E.A.D. Ambassador alum, a graduate of the University of South Carolina-Beaufort and also an employee at Aerotek.

He's a great L.E.A.D. mentor because he is a present, he understands how to be present as well as a partner.

Being A Present

C.J.: What do you worry about?

Denzel: I worry about letting others down and not living up to expectations. I care a lot about the people close to me and I want to continue to impress them while inspiring them as well. Always a topic of my mind for me.

C.J.: What do you cry about?

Denzel: My family, life’s hurdles, and my relationship with my girlfriend Courtney. It takes a lot out of me sometimes knowing I’m away and not able to see my family every day. Life’s hurdles can just come from left and right and I have to rely on my own decisions and the help of my girlfriend to figure things out at times. I know I have others to rely on for sure but when you’re young it seems like it’s you vs the world.

C.J.: What do you dream about?

Denzel: I dream about that big house on a lot of land and having enough money to take care of my family. I want to help them out in reasonable ways and also experience life’s luxuries and places I’ve never traveled. This world is so amazing and baseball allowed me to take it all in on and off the field.

C.J.: Why does God have you on earth?

Denzel: My purpose is to impact others in positive ways and spread the word through Christ. My attitude, where I come from, and the tone in my voice has given others motivation to strive for greatness. Regardless of what obstacles are in front of you, no matter your name, color, or sports preference, it’s possible to create success if giving an opportunity while believing in yourself. With faith, strong work ethic and through god I’m able to pass this message along to others.

C.J.: What world problem do you want to solve?

Denzel: Social inclusion. Our community efforts and day to day actions must correlate in a positive manner that benefits not only yourself but those involved as well. Regardless of differences, it takes everyone working together to get beyond those hurdles. It’s the only way everyone can prosper and we as a country can get to a better place. It takes time for sure but we must chip away.

C.J.: What is your calling in life from God?

Denzel: To service my community wherever I am and help place great people in the careers that will reward their long term goals. L.E.A.D. taught me life lessons, instilled a game plan in me, and gave me the keys to opportunities I thought would never exist. Baseball just made everything better. From there I obtained a job with Aerotek which allows me to help others in their careers like those who helped me from the beginning. The path God has given me continues to include heart and giving.

Being Present

C.J.: Where do you research your favorite articles and/or blogs?

Denzel: I like the main local news outlets online or sports websites. Something that’s on my phone while I’m on the go. ESPN, Bleacher Report, WTOC, or Fox News apps mainly. On Facebook and Twitter I can follow my favorite people as well to keep up with the day to day activities and helpful ideas.

C.J.: Where do you research your favorite inspirational video content?

Denzel: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. You can keep track of your favorite outlets on mobile devices and computers.

C.J.: What's your favorite quote?

Denzel: Jim Bouton “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and it turns out it was the other way around all the time.”

C.J.: What are some creative and virtual ways that you can mentor boys without being in their physical presence?

Denzel: I like to use video messaging, texts, or conference calls to pass along any message possible. It’s an easy setup and a lot of people can be involved with a good game plan.

Left to right: C.J. Stewart, Desmond Stegall, and Denzel Campbell

Being A Partner

C.J.: How do you define humility?

Denzel: Enjoy the wins in life but always remember where it started and the hard work it takes to continue growth in whatever you are achieving.

C.J.: What is your spiritual gift?

Denzel: Giving (Romans)

C.J.: What is your earthly talent?

Denzel: Guiding people in their careers and daily life. Passing along what was given to me for someone else to experience.

C.J.: What's more important, to be perfect or intentional? 

Denzel: Intentional. I feel these are actions based on a thought or decision you have made. It’s what you believe in as well. Good or bad it can affect you in the long term and how you learn from it could affect others as well.

C.J.: What do you have to give?

Denzel: My time and experiences from day one throughout my life. Money is one thing but being able to resonate with those same shoes you once filled means a lot more. C.J.: Why should a mentor follow you?

Denzel: I try to be myself and trust in the things I believe in and what makes me happy. I know working hard and giving back will lead to better things for those involved. I‘ve made mistakes as well but none I regret because I understand more about myself and life today. Give that message to someone else and being a friend can spread good vibes.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At 30,000 Feet

Today was a special day for L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). We presented L.E.A.D. to Major League Baseball Players Association at their headquarters in New York.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy (V.K.) is a senior at New Schools at Carver (Atlanta Public Schools) and he joined Kelli Stewart (L.E.A.D.'s Executive Director) and I today as the closer. It was his first flight and here is his reflection from today.

30,000 Feet - Establishing the Vision and Making Decisions

In The Clouds - Place of Protection of the Vision and Provision

On The Ground - Place of Growth and Harvest

Vernard's 30,000 foot aerial view

Why were you chosen to present to Major League Baseball Players Association along with Coach Kelli and Coach C.J.?

V.K.: I feel that I was chosen because I am an example of the process of becoming a L.E.A.D. Ambassador. I represent the future leadership of L.E.A.D. I have been in the organization since the 6th grade at Sylvan Hills Middle School (Atlanta Public Schools). I am also great at representing the organization and telling others about the organization.

How did it feel mentally to cruise on a plane at 30,000 feet?

V.K.: I was nervous at first but as the ride went along, I felt stable and safe.

How did it feel physically to cruise on a plane at 30,000 feet?

V.K.: At first it felt like I was on a roller coaster. The feeling was exciting and scary at the same time.

How did you view the world from 30,000 feet?

V.K.: I tried to compare it to Georgia and I realized that there are more places that I can travel outside of Atlanta.

What surprised you the most during the presentation to Major League Baseball Players Association?

V.K.: What surprised me in the meeting was the collective power that the people amongst me had.

How has your Atlanta Public Schools (APS) educational experience prepared you for the presentation to Major League Baseball Players Association?

V.K.: APS has prepared me by giving me opportunities to tell my life story. I am comfortable with telling my life story and proud to share it with new people without feeling ashamed.

How has your L.E.A.D. experience prepared you for the presentation to Major League Baseball Players Association?

V.K.: L.E.A.D. prepared me to also tell my story without being ashamed. L.E.A.D. has also prepared me because it gave me the context to speak with clarity in the meeting.

What world problem do you want to solve?

V.K.: I want to solve poverty in the inner cities throughout America because there is a lot of unnoticed talent in inner cities. As an inner city Atlanta teenage Black male, I feel that I get overlooked because of negative bias against me because of my skin color.

What college do you plan to attend fall 2017?

V.K.: I plan to attend Kennesaw State University. However, if I get the Posse Scholarship, I will be attending Texas A&M.

What major do you plan to pursue in college?

V.K.: I want to study business and marketing.

How has your experience at MLB in New York prepared you to lead in Atlanta for the remainder of 2016?

V.K.: The experience taught me to continue to focus on being successful and significant. Success is based on what you get and significance is based on what you give. Meeting with Mr. Dave Winfield was amazing. He reminded me that there is always someone watching you. He said that it may not be now or two years from now but that I will be rewarded for my commitment to excellence.

Mr. Dave Winfield and Vernard Kennedy

With respect to the leadership within L.E.A.D. using Coach C.J. (CEO), Coach Kelli (Executive Director), Coach Kevin Young (Program Director) and you (L.E.A.D. Ambassador), who's positioned at 30,000 Feet, In The Clouds and On The Ground and why?

V.K.: Coach C.J. serves at 30,000 feet because he has the most responsibility. Coach Kelli is in the clouds because her responsibilities allow her to pass her influence down unto the ground level. Coach Young is on the ground because he is actually involved with all of the student-athletes of L.E.A.D. the most. I have a lot of respect for Coach Young.

What do you need to do to get 30,000 Feet for L.E.A.D.?

V.K.: I need to have results to show that I'm are the right person for high level situations. I'm well on my way. Last year, was selected for the the 21st Century Leaders (21CL) 20 under 20. Now I have the power to nominate a L.E.A.D. Ambassador for the 2017 21CL 20u20. I have more power than Coach C.J. in this situation because I have received the award and he hasn't.

Omar Minaya, Kevin McGuinness, Vernard Kennedy, C.J. Stewart, Kelli Stewart, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Dave Winfield


Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Dividends of Poverty

There is a narrative that’s touted in the media and other propaganda on the daily that black boys living in America’s inner-city’s are violent and stupid. Here in Atlanta, we even have the data to support this narrative:

· Many of our inner-city neighborhoods have been rated the most dangerous of America’s inner-cities,

· Youth from three Atlanta zip codes – 30310, 30315, 30318 – grow up to comprise 80% of Georgia’s prison population.

· Black boys in Atlanta have about a 40% chance of graduating at all or on time.

When I hear this narrative – it pisses me off because the naysayers are also talking about me.

Although I partner with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) through my non-profit organization L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) and through my Rotary Club of Atlanta West End, this isn’t my first encounter with APS. My very first time inside of an APS school was as a seed in my mother’s womb. She started off at Doug, but when she got pregnant with me, she had to go to night school at Washington to finish her education. I was born at Grady Hospital and during my early years we lived in Hollywood Brooks. She also received some educational and career support from The Job Corps, right on Westlake Avenue. Ironically, when I was a little boy in the day care there, I had no idea that one of the ladies who I saw everyday was the aunt of my wife who I wouldn’t meet until some 15 years or so later.

I say all this to tell you, my Brothers, that I am you. I was on food stamps, TANF, Medicaid and WIC; all of those daily tell-tale reminders that you were born at the bottom and you have absolutely no shot of making it out of the gutter. After all, one of the most alarming stats on poverty in Atlanta today is that only about 4% of children born into poverty will ever make it out, so my being born into a family on the poverty rung of life was surely a death sentence – or so it seemed.

C.J. Stewart speaking to Atlanta Public Schools students at Turner Field.
My purpose in sharing this message with you is to reveal the hidden treasures, the dividends, that poverty paid out to me.

GRIT = Strength of Character

Know: Grit is strength of character. It's not based on talent. It's about getting difficult things done even when you don't have the knowledge and resources to do it. Grit is about possessing passion and perseverance. Your passion is found in your suffering. Pinpoint what makes you mad as hell and there is where you’ll find your life’s mission.

Feel: I want you to feel confident when approaching life challenges. You have grit because you are still standing despite your life's challenges. You are still standing in the face of things that would have already destroyed others folks. Remember, you are still standing.

Believe: The world has lots of problems and I need you to believe that you can solve them. You certainly can’t solve them all, but you can solve at least one. The world needs you because your grit allows you to get difficult things done and not quit when things get tough.

Do: I want you to be keenly aware of adversity, run to it and then conquer it like only you can.


Know: Discernment is the ability to judge well. Even if you weren’t born with it, growing up in poverty develops this gift in you like no other situation can. Knowing who to trust and who to leave alone can save your life and the lives of those around you. Discernment; it's a powerful weapon that you possess.

Feel: I want you to trust your gut. Discernment is one of those tricky gifts that sometimes doesn’t come with empirical evidence; sometimes it’s just a feeling you have in your gut. Learn to listen and trust this voice. In my life experience, I grew to find out that this feeling was the Holy Spirit speaking to me and guiding me before I was even thinking about being a follower of Christ.

Believe: I want you to believe that you can use your spiritual gift of discernment to navigate life's experience to make your life better and the lives of others better.

Do: Poor people are often taken advantage of because it's assumed that we don't know better and can't do better. I want you to protect the poor. You can do this; you must do this. As you progress in life and become financially secure, don’t forget the poor.


Know: Great men born in this great city of Atlanta have paved the way for you to become a living legend. We couldn’t chosen a better city in the world to be born in – especially when it comes to poverty. Immerse yourself in the rich history of black people in Atlanta and abroad – their legacies will fuel yours.

Feel: I want you to feel self confident in the fact that you can solve problems because men born in Atlanta and educated in Atlanta Public Schools such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Vernon Jordan, Mayor Maynard Jackson and Coach C.J. Stewart have solved and are solving problems.

Believe: I want you to believe that God has you on earth for this moment. You are a living legend and your legacy will live beyond you. Take care of it daily; use your grit and discernment to protect it.

Do: I want you to start living like you have the power to solve world problems. There are millions of people that will benefit from your contributions to the world that may never get the opportunity to say thank you to you. Do not believe what the world says about you. Make them believe differently. Write a new narrative.

A message to the young ladies: Please know that as I write this blog that I have you in my heart. As the father of the two beautiful little black girls, the leadership and mentoring work I do with black boys is so that my daughters know what a confident, strong and productive young man looks like. I need your prayers as I work with our young men, so they can be great community leaders, husbands and fathers for you.

Coach C.J. Stewart and three of Atlanta's most valuable assets. Photo by Audra Starr.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Your 3-Step Guide to being an Effective L.E.A.D. Mentor

Mentor: A trusted counselor or guide; Someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.

My calling in life is to be significant through service to others in an effort to bring them to Christ and address racism. This is a tall order, and one I could not come close to meeting were it not for my mentors, Dr. Craig L. Oliver, senior pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church and Dr. Tim Elmore, the founder of Growing Leaders.

When my wife Kelli and I founded L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), we became mentors to a group of boys who desperately needed strong role models who would be there for them – even when they didn’t want us to be. As our program has grown, so too have the issues facing the young men we work with. We cannot do this alone and are constantly on the lookout for people who want to be a part of preparing our city’s next generation of leaders.

Do you have what it takes to be a L.E.A.D. mentor? Are you willing to be a present, be present, and be a partner?

Be a Present

It’s easy to avoid the hard things in life. Very few people need help with that. What we do need help with is going deep. When you care enough to ask the tough questions and then stay around to listen to the answers, you are showing a young person you care. I’ve found that in asking the following six questions, I am actually telling the Ambassadors that I love them:

1. What do you worry about?

2. What do you cry about?

3. What do you dream about?

4. Why does God have you on Earth?

5. What world problem do you want to solve?

6. What is your calling in life from God?

Now it’s your turn. Do you have answers for these questions? Can you say them in six words of less? Are you ready to ask our Ambassadors these questions and listen to their answers?

When you help a young man you are mentoring see himself in a new way, you are a present; a present that strips away entitlement and replaces it with empowerment. Out goes the complaining and in comes critical thinking. No need to blame, because now he believes.

Be Present

The number one response when you ask someone to be a mentor is that they don’t think they have enough time. Mentorship is a blessing and a burden. I rely on my mentors to help me do what God has called me to do. To be able to do that for an Ambassador, I must first help him discover what God is calling him to do and then make sure he keeps that front and center. This requires a mentor to be there not just physically, but spiritually.

Can you be there spiritually? If you start by answering the six questions yourself, you will discover your super powers and learn how to be there even when you can’t physically be there.

For Geri Cook, it was through the weekly prayer she texted to Ambassador Vernard Kennedy – prayers that he shared with the other L.E.A.D. Ambassadors on their group text. Those prayers have come every Wednesday since February – the last time she saw the Ambassadors in person. She is present in her faithfulness to God and to the Ambassadors, who have learned a great lesson through her.

How else can you be present? Each month, our Ambassadors focus on a specific core value. You can share an article or blog post, send a video message from you and others, or pass along a favorite quote that reinforces what they are reflecting on that month:

Excellence (August, February)
Humility (September, March)
Integrity (October, April)
Loyalty (November, May)
Stewardship (December, June)
Teamwork (January, July)

You can also literally be present. We have over 50 activities on our calendar and invite you to join us for any one of them. When you come, I believe you will be a fan of what you see, and that’s what Black boys living in poverty in crime-ridden inner city neighborhoods need. They need to see values in action, receive a little bit of help, and a whole lot of hope. That is what L.E.A.D. is all about.

Be a Partner

This is a tough one. This requires humility. L.E.A.D. defines humility as not thinking less of yourself while thinking of others more than yourself. As a child, I recognized the humble people. They were the ones who did something great, but were embarrassed to take credit for it.

When you partner with our Ambassadors, you will learn as much from them as they will learn from you. They will introduce you to a different Atlanta. They will invite you to become a part of a team that is working to make your Atlanta and their Atlanta
C.J. Stewart and Ceasar Mitchell
one. The young men we serve need partners who are willing to walk beside them, learning from each other.

My calling in life is to be significant by serving millions and bringing them into a relationship with Christ, starting with my wife, Kelli, and our daughters Mackenzi and Mackenna. The world problem that I want to solve is racism. My spiritual gift is discernment and my earthly talent is coaching. This all became clear to me after being challenged by friends and loved ones. It involved lots of tears on my part. It is why L.E.A.D. is here and why we need you.

1. What is your calling in life from God?

2. What is your spiritual gift?

3. What is your earthly talent?

4. What’s more important, to be perfect or intentional?

5. What do you have to give?

6. Are you ready to start?

If you are ready to learn more about how you can help L.E.A.D., please contact Kelli Stewart (


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Jaws of Death

People often ask me what is my role in L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct).

Yes, I am the co-founder along with my wife Kelli.

Yes, I am the CEO, the Chief Empowerment Officer of L.E.A.D.

Those are my titles.

What I do within L.E.A.D. was hard for me to articulate until I met a gentleman named Dez Thornton. Dez gave me a visual story to tell that vividly brings to life what I do.

Imagine a crocodile infested river. On one side you have zebra who are trying to cross to get to the food that's on the other side. As the zebra

enter the water, some will make it across without incident; others will inevitably get caught and become entangled within the crocs' jaws. Some will die, some will manage to break free yet with many scars. Some of those scars will never heal.

The zebra represent black boys in the inner-city of Atlanta. The crocs represent three evils in life that are designed to destroy them: racism, prejudice and poverty. I'm not a spectator on the sideline of this struggle. I am in the river, in 

a boat, waiting to rescue any young man that will grab hold of the baseball bat that I extend to them. If they choose to grab hold of my bat, I will pull them into my boat and take them across the river safely. I have survived this very same struggle, and as a survivor, it is my duty, my burden, my blessing to provide safe passage for others.

How can you help?

Donate so I can purchase more boats.

Click here to donate to purchase more boats for L.E.A.D.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Inner City of Atlanta from A Different Vantage Point

My commitment to L.E.A.D. Ambassadors is to lead them out of ignorance so they don’t end up as anecdotes for others. I fulfill my commitment through mentoring, coaching, teaching, and role modeling. The only way I can be effective is to understand as much as I can about what it is to be a young black male growing up in the inner city of Atlanta today and who loves the game of baseball. I measure up in so many ways but still have work to do.

I wasn’t a drug dealer or trouble maker growing up but I did live in a crime ridden inner city Atlanta community similar to those communities where L.E.A.D. Ambassadors live. I know that youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia prison population with Georgia ranking number one in the U.S. in incarceration and the U.S. ranking number one in the world. It is my calling to make sure that I’ve done everything humanly possible to empower L.E.A.D. Ambassadors so they don’t become such a statistic.

Up until last year my understanding of inner city Atlanta was somewhat one-sided. I had focused on the community through the eyes of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors. That changed when I was invited on my first APD Ride Along last year. It was so impactful to my understanding of community interactions within the inner city, that I vowed to make an APD Ride Along a bi-annual occurrence.

My APD Ride Along this year took place on Saturday, August 13, 2016 from 4pm to Midnight. Following is my experience this year and why I’m happy that I participated.

Why did I do the ride along?

The experience of an APD Ride Along provides me with an understanding through police officers’ eyes that positively impacts how I relate to L.E.A.D. Ambassadors when faced with questions about law enforcement.

For instance, I accompanied Investigator J.T. Somers and Investigator Ralph Woolfolk. J.T. is a white male, born and raised in New Jersey. He was a former pitcher at Georgia Southern College. Ralph is a black male also from Atlanta. He was a standout multi-sport athlete at Our Lady of Mercy in Fairburn, GA. I have come to know both officers as good men. They are passionate and skilled at what they do. They demonstrate love for people and commitment to justice. I’ve seen their passion, witnessed their skills in action and their compassion for the people they serve. My positive experience naturally transfers to those I serve.

Additionally, and as we all know too well, the rhetoric over the last couple years in America speaks to a war between police officers and young black males. I chose to go on the police ride along because I want to feel what the officers feel when they are in the public eye. I want to see what they see and how they see it. The only way to achieve that is to participate in a ride along.

What did I see and experience while on the Ride Along?

I arrived at police headquarters with excitement at 3:58pm. The rotation was expected to start at 4pm. I was immediately escorted into the parking garage that housed the police squad cars, vans and SUV's. I'm thinking, “Wow! This is real!”.

At exactly 4:00pm sharp, Investigator J.T. Somers briefed me on a shooting case that we were investigating along with Investigator Ralph Woolfolk. J.T., Ralph and a few select others make up the newly appointed task force by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called Operation Whiplash which was created to jolt crime down. Here’s an 11Alive news segment about the Mayor’s Operation Whiplash.

About 5:00pm or so, after we finished up the necessary internet research and a deep conversation, we were in the squad car headed to the gentrified portion of Edgewood to investigate a shooting. I thought “Are you kidding me? I just heard the radio say shots fired and we are going to the crime scene?”

Left to right: Investigator Ralph Woolfolk and Investigator J.T. Somers and I headed to the scene of a shooting

We arrived at the scene of the shooting. I'm calm only because J.T. and Ralph are calm. The crime scene has now been identified. It is outside in front of a convenience store. We know this from viewing the surveillance tape inside the store. I'm standing there thinking, “Two guys actually had the nerve and total disregard for authority to get out of the car in the middle of the day with guns out, approach this kid and shoot him.” The gunmen just got back in the car after shooting the kid and drove off. The reality is that it happens every day somewhere in Atlanta. I learned that violent crime is up by 25% here.

The street was quickly blocked off so that the crime scene could be investigated. While several officers and I searched for the bullet shell case, along comes a K-9 Unit officer and his German Shepherd. I asked Ralph why the dog was here and he explained that it would find the shell case. I'm thinking “Hmmm Ok” and am anxious to see it happen. I mean “Really? Come on. That shell case is so small and could have been run over by car. It could be anywhere.” Well . . . guess what? It was right over next to the fence and hidden by some leaves. The dog found it within 5 minutes. Geez!

We made a quick stop at Smoothie King - my treat - and headed back to headquarters to continue putting the pieces together on another investigation.

The conversation between me and my Ride Along officers was so awesome. They both have baseball backgrounds and I couldn't help but ask how baseball helped prepare them to become the meticulous, disciplined and patient investigators that they are. There answer was in the question that I asked. You can't be successful in baseball without being meticulous, disciplined and patient.

At that moment, I began to realize that if any L.E.A.D. Ambassador chose to become an Atlanta police officer when the time came he would be well prepared because he went through L.E.A.D.’s methodology. Interesting fact, Atlanta Police Chief George Turner was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta. He went to Atlanta Public Schools, and he learned how to play the game of baseball.

I can tell you the night flew by. Before I knew it, the clock read 12:00A.M. Our shift was over and we were back at headquarters. Shortly after midnight, we were on our way home to our families.

C.J. Stewart with Investigator J.T. Somers at midnight

How did I feel?

Although I was wearing a bullet proof vest the entire time, I felt safe with Somers and Woolfolk. I observed that they chose verbal communication over pulling out guns and handcuffs. I also noticed that they treated all people, including suspected criminals, as “innocent until proven guilty”. A little cliché, I know, but it's how I felt about how they were doing their job.

We had a real conversation about race along the ride as well. The bottom line is that several young black teen males in Atlanta don't trust cops, especially white cops, in fear that they will be profiled and disrespected. I appreciated Somers, as a white cop, not shunning that narrative for some and making it a reality for others. I became to understand that his life experiences have positioned him to have an empathetic perspective for the plight of young black males in Atlanta.

I also saw that Somers has several verbal pitches that he can draw upon and throw out in varying situations. He acknowledges that everyone is different - just like the hitters that he faced as a pitcher at Georgia Southern University.

Woolfolk was a star in a Nickelodeon sit-com called My Brother and Me in the mid 90's. Check it out. He was also a baseball client of mine as a teenager aspiring to become a baseball elite player. The stories he told of his experiences as an Atlanta cop with Operation Whiplash, street patrol and Special Victim's Unit were clear, easy to understand and follow along. Just like a movie.

When will I do it again?

My plan is to do a ride along at least twice per year just so that I can understand and maintain an unbiased perspective on what's really going on in the inner city of Atlanta.

Famous rapper and actor Ice Cube played Dough Boy in the 1991 Academy Award Winning Movie Boys n the Hood. My favorite line from the movie, and one that sums up why I would put my life on the line with the Atlanta Police Department is this:

"Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood."

In the context of the movie, "they" was negative. The disconnected. The status quo. As a son of Atlanta and a trusted consequential leader in Atlanta, I am committed to being connected and not being known as "they".


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Ask the Right Questions in a Politically Correct Society

No doubt you’ve heard or read some strong statements surrounding the recent police shootings that have dominated the news, especially if you’re on social media. What you probably haven’t seen are people asking questions that might actually move the
Willie Stewart, Andy Menard (Tanner Tees), and C.J. Stewart
conversation forward.

I believe many of us run from asking questions to avoid getting a response we don’t like. If you follow me on social media, however, you’ve probably noticed that I like to ask questions. In fact, I crave being held accountable.

Asking the tough questions

I don’t just ask the easy questions, what I would consider Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Instead, I like to ask what I call Should Ask Questions (SAQs).

SAQs make you dig deeper, whereas FAQs maintain the status quo. SAQs make people uncomfortable. Sometimes SAQs make people cry, but that shouldn’t make you shy away from asking them. Remember, Jesus wept.

If you ask me, America needs to cry. You can’t be trite and shallow and solve an issue this big.

America can take a page from L.E.A.D.’s playbook on this. Here’s a look at the three-step process we engage with our Ambassadors to help them dig deeper when speaking with industry professionals, mentors and other adults with whom they come into contact.

1. Many times when we ask for advice, what we receive in return is a simplistic, trite statement. For example, one of our Ambassadors might ask an industry professional, “How does someone become successful?” and receive the answer, “Hard work pays off.”
What has our Ambassador learned from that statement? Particularly for these young men who haven’t had a job yet, what does it mean to engage in “hard work”? The answer doesn’t elevate the conversation, it completes it.

2. This is when we encourage our Ambassadors to challenge the statement – what I call “complicating” the conversation. What we want is for the answer to contain actionable advice. However, many times what we get next is a deeper answer, but not one that advances the conversation. So, perhaps the person replies, “Everyone that works hard isn’t successful.”
Fair enough, we all know people who have worked hard for years and never received any accolades, raises or other acknowledgments of their success. But again, our Ambassadors aren’t walking away with actionable advice.

3. What we want to do is ask those SAQs – specific questions that require specific answers. So, maybe now our Ambassadors ask, “What are some of the things a person can do in order to be a valuable employee?”
Now the Ambassadors get answers like “Arrive for work on time, have a positive attitude every day and engage with your boss in a manner that shows respect, meaning you don’t do things like curse during office conversation.” Finally, some actionable advice they can put to good use.

Don’t be afraid to go deep

The process of complicating things involves conversation. It's like tennis – sometimes there are long rallies. The most important thing to remember is that what is right is more important than who is right. And as much as our society is all about being politically correct and not upsetting anyone, there can be a right person in the conversation.

Decisions are made in this country every day, from “small” decisions like a husband and wife agreeing on the color of their new minivan to deciding who is going to represent our country in the Olympics. Once upon a time, someone decided to crown the Dallas Cowboys “America’s team.”

Now the time has come to decide how blacks fit into American society.

I want this blog to give Americans a framework on how to move from simplistic and trite statements to something simple and actionable – and permission to ask those SAQs and engage in difficult conversations. 

We’d be fools to think any progress can be made without conversation and conflict.

Safe At Home Game in Atlanta, GA Saturday, Aug. 20th at Georgia Tech


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Millennials Will Lead Us If We Let Them - A Conversation About Race

C.J. Stewart
It is my intention to be a catalyst for change and to work with people of all races, genders and economic backgrounds to move conversations about race from trite to solution.

As a man of deep faith, I have committed all glory to God. To that end, one of my goals over the next five years is to grow deeper in my faith. In addition, I want to gain the knowledge and experience necessary, so that I may be recognized as consequential leader with respect to racial issues, and, by doing so, make my intention a reality.

I found myself in a situation recently that proved to me that I was on the right track -a confirmation from God that He is using me to do something amazing. A young man named Chris, who I had coached some time ago, came to me for advice about how to address comments he was hearing from black friends and coworkers that were making him feel uneasy. We talked. At the end of our conversation I asked him to write down what he took away from our discussion.

I couldn’t be more proud of Chris. Here is what he wrote:

Recently within the United States, racial and social tensions have been growing. As a 29 year old white male, I was uncomfortable entering into these discussions. I feared good intentions would come off as racist, or certain phrases would be misconstrued.
I recently spoke with C.J. Stewart, my first batting instructor and former baseball coach for help. Statements I sometimes hear from black friends and co-workers range from “all white cops should die” to “I will disregard the Constitution until it has a black signature”. I felt there was no good way to address these statements without being viewed as racist, so I remained silent.
After C.J. and I spoke, I realized there are good ways to address such comments. I understand that the statements that were being made can be viewed as simplistic. By simplistic, I mean very surface level and not much context. If I address the statement straight on as simplistic, then we get nowhere. I need to get to the root of the problem to move the conversation forward, and to do that I need to ask questions.
By, asking questions such as “can you share some of your experiences [on] why you feel this way?” I acknowledge that there’s more to the statement, and that the conversation is complex. Complex is not a bad thing. It simply means that the statement is composed of many interconnected parts, and the initial conversation should be based on that complexity.
Once we break down the statement by having the complex conversation, and I truly understand the root problem, the conversation becomes simple. It becomes simple because I know where the other person is coming from. We have now created a non-hostile atmosphere between us because the other person can see that I have an understanding of his or her point of view.
I can use the A.C.T.S. Method between the simplistic and complex stages and help ensure that the other person knows where I am coming from and I am not here to judge, but to understand their perspective.
  • Acknowledgement – “I see you’re hurting; this must really hit home for you.” 
  • Confession – “I understand we come from different upbringings and have different experiences.”
  • Thanksgiving – “Thank you for bringing this up.”
  • Supplication (asking for something) – “Do you mind if I ask a few questions so I understand your experience?”
From this point, you are setup to have an honest conversation. The goal of this conversation is not to solve a problem or fix something, but simply to learn from each other. I do not believe I will ever understand everything that is involved [with] growing up black. Neither do I believe that the other person will understand some of the things I encounter being white. What I do believe is that the more I understand about the experiences he or she has gone through, the closer we stand a chance to be united. We have a long road in front of us. It starts with all parties involved being open-minded enough to understanding each other’s perspectives and experiences to begin to progress. When we can get to that point; we can begin moving in the right direction.

As Chris’ advisor, I knew I didn't have to have the right answers. I simply had to give him a framework that would allow him to be comfortable with having the challenging conversations about race. I think after having read Chris’ thoughts you will agree with me that he understood our conversation, and all of us will be blessed by his efforts.

Chris Johnson


Friday, July 8, 2016

Empowering Young Black Men to Speak on Alton Sterling Shooting

Earlier this week, I was attending a Gwinnett Braves game with a group of our Ambassadors when I heard that Alton Sterling, a black man, had been shot by a white Baton Rouge police officer.

I’m standing there watching the video that I’m sure many of you have seen by now, realizing that it’s something I have to share with the Ambassadors. Speaking with, and guiding, the Ambassadors through situations like this is not something I take lightly. I view it as an opportunity to empower them to use their voices and explore not just what they feel, but why they feel it.
We have a four-step “Pathway to Empowerment” methodology that I used in this situation:

Assessment: Without expressing judgment, I asked the Ambassadors what they knew about the shooting of Alton Sterling. I then asked them to share how they felt.

Engagement: Instead of focusing on what they said, I challenged them to think about why they said the things they did in reaction to the situation. I explained to them that you can’t solve anything with trite statements.

Empowerment: I gave them the power to share their thoughts publicly on social media as Ambassadors for L.E.A.D., as Atlanta Public School students and as citizens of Atlanta. 

Application: Lights, camera, action . . .I decided to shoot this video so you can see the reaction of the Ambassadors as they watch the video for first time of Alton Sterling being, and then I asked a couple of the Ambassadors to share their thoughts on what happened and what they want people to know about them as young black men.

No doubt, the shootings this week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have left many feeling helpless, angry and a whole host of other emotions. Hate and fear are two of the emotions I’m sure many of you have felt, but it’s not what we want for you or for our Ambassadors.

To combat emotions like hate and fear, particularly as they relate to the men and women who risk their lives each and every day to protect and serve our communities, L.E.A.D. will be hosting its second-annual “Safe at Home” game this August at Georgia Tech.

We’ll bring together our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors with officers from the Atlanta Police Department so they can interact with one another in a positive setting. Young black males and police officers may have more in common than even they realize – both are targeted and find themselves labeled as thugs, criminals or corrupt because of the actions of some of their peers. Through the “Safe at Home” game, we’re able to bring together two important groups who are assets to our community.

We want to abolish any notion of hatred or fear – from either side. Our young men seek to be stewards of this community, right alongside the men and women in uniform whose job it is to keep this community safe.

Now isn’t the time for hate and fear. It’s a time for reflection and change. Join us.


Thursday, May 26, 2016


I hear a lot of people go through “mid-life crisis” at 40. Since I turned 40 in April this year, I’ve been on the look-out for any signs of it. Although I haven’t seen any yet, I made the decision that I want to be prepared in the event I do. I know if I am prepared and my faith is strong I can meet any challenge head on and work through it successfully for a positive outcome.

So . . . I sat down and started to prepare for the possibility of a mid-life crisis. It wasn’t long before I came up with a list of 40 things that I feel led to do now that I’m 40. Now that I had my plan, I needed a way to hold myself accountable and look for support.

What better way to hold myself accountable than to make my list public by posting it here? I realize that holding myself accountable is only part of the equation, however. I know that I cannot accomplish these items on my own, so I also ask for your prayers and support as I work through my list.

Additionally, my hope is that by sharing it with you, you may be inspired to dream big as I’ve allowed myself to do. I would love to hear from you if something here inspires you to think bigger and bolder than you would otherwise.

1. Prepare my daughters to become awesome wives and mothers.

2. Love and support my wife in her life’s journey to become all that God has predestined her to be.

3. Be available to my relatives with all of my heart and soul.

4. Model a new narrative for Black males growing up in Atlanta’s inner city.

Ralph Berry, educator/coach Sylvan Hills Middle School; Tezra Holmes (Vernard's mother), L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy, New Schools at Carver; C.J. Stewart

5. Teach the Gospel and God’s word to millions throughout the world via blog postings, personal public testimony, a book and my daily actions.

6. Incorporate the game of baseball into the lives of Black males growing up in Atlanta’s inner city and use it as a tool to provide for their spiritual and personal development.

7. Through baseball, bring racially and economically diverse communities together to solve racism and poverty in Atlanta and the world.

8. Identify, and collaborate with, 40 intentional people throughout the world to solve racism, poverty and education reform.

9. Mentor my L.E.A.D. successor to hit the ground running as L.E.A.D. CEO in 2025.

10. Be a change agent who inspires and serves Atlanta Public Schools to empower its students so that, annually, at least 100 new Atlanta Public Schools alumnae attend and graduate college, work in a career of their choosing, and each donate $1,000.00 per year to Atlanta Public Schools.

BY 2020

11. Annually, through Diamond Directors, directly mentor 100 baseball coaches located throughout the world.

12. Create a forum and facilitate conversation with all NCAA Division 1 coaches on the topic of racism and inclusion.

13. Write and publish my first book to inspire others to view their failures as opportunities to grow in service to God and humanity.

14. Establish and accompany our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors on the first annual trip to Japan that includes a service project, a baseball game between the Ambassadors and Japanese high school students, and a tour of Japanese primary schools, as well as colleges and universities.

BY 2025

15. Mentor Pastors of Elizabeth Baptist Church.

16. Mentor a host of Black males that will represent billions of dollars of the U.S. economy on an annual basis.

17. Mentor 10 Black males so that they will all serve Major League Baseball as C-level executives.

18. Be a world renowned model of hope and happiness for Atlanta’s Black families.

My youth league football coach Bernard Terrell, C.J. Stewart and my father Willie Stewart
Photo credit: Audra Starr

19. Be a change agent who inspires and serves Atlanta Public Schools and inner city Atlanta communities to make the necessary changes that will result in an increase of the percentage of Black males graduating high school from 40% to 70%, annually.

20. Be a change agent who inspires and serves the Atlanta Public School Department of Athletics to do what is necessary to ensure that, on average, 100 student-athletes annually will receive National Letters of Intent for NCAA Division 1 schools.

21. Be a change agent who inspires and serves the community to create 1,000 new significant jobs in Atlanta.

22. Be debt free.

23. Operate a human resource development facility, L.E.A.D. Center For Youth, that will be home to 100 Ambassadors and will have the primary focus of preparing the Ambassadors for leadership positions in the community, education and commerce.

BY 2026

24. Watch my oldest daughter Mackenzi bring millions into a relationship with Christ through the notoriety she receives on tour as a professional tennis player.

Mackenzi Stewart age 14
Photo credit: Thomas Morse

BY 2030

25. Indirectly mentor 100,000 baseball coaches annually around the world through a baseball coach’s association and baseball coach development certification program offered by my company, Diamond Directors.

26. Indirectly mentor 500,000 baseball players annually around the world through a baseball players’ association and baseball player development certification program offered by my company, Diamond Directors.

27. Inspire the creation of a strict alliance of organizations whose collective mission it is to empower Black students to graduate from high school and college, and become employed in a career of their choosing by setting and promoting those expectations.

28. Mentor Atlanta's Mayors.

29. Be a change agent who inspires and serves college baseball coaches and administration to make necessary program changes that will result in a 50% increase of Black males competing at the NCAA Division 1 level.

30. Mentor Black baseball coaches so that they represent at least 30% of coaches at the NCAA Division 1 Baseball.

31. Support my daughters, Mackenzi and Mackenna, in their desire to use their experiences through tennis to encourage 500 Black girls from Atlanta Public Schools to take up tennis and, through that, influence and empower them to graduate from high school, apply and enroll, and graduate from college.

32. Continue my service as Deacon and use my testimony to help Elizabeth Baptist Church grow its active membership to 50,000.

33. Be witness to at least 1,000,000 people that I mentor, directly or indirectly, that have developed a clear and concise personal mission statement as well as realizing their calling in life, gift and talent.

34. Know of at least 20 L.E.A.D. Ambassadors who have become LEAD Atlanta and/or Leadership Atlanta alums.

35. Know of at least 20 L.E.A.D. Ambassadors who are members of American Enterprise Institute.

36. Coach baseball skills to 10,000 athletes in impoverished countries as a means of allowing them to receive a baseball scholarship to a U.S. university.

BY 2032

37. Watch my youngest daughter, Mackenna, bring millions into a relationship with Christ through the notoriety she receives on tour as a professional tennis player.

My wife Kelli Stewart, C.J. Stewart, and Mackenna Stewart age 8
Photo credit: Thomas Morse

BY 2040

38. Mentor U.S. Senators representing Georgia.

39. Be a change agent who inspires and serves Atlanta’s residential and business communities to effect change that results in significantly closing the economic gap between the wealthy and poor in Atlanta.

40. Know at least one L.E.A.D. Ambassador as an industry leader in the following sectors: Media, including broadcast and internet, Elementary and Secondary School Education, both public and private; and Financial.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Preparing Youth To Lead When They Leave

As youth development professionals, we spend a good deal of our time preparing students on how to get things: an internship, a job, a mentor, etc. We do not, however, spend enough time teaching them the proper way to leave the internship, job or mentorship. As a result, we are developing a generation of young people who have an idea on how to create relationships, but do not know how to maintain them.

As the CEO of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), I am always aware that our organization will not always be the right fit for every young man who enters our middle school pipeline. Even still, those who make it to the Ambassador Program don’t always finish the course. My mentor Bill McLellan once told me, ‘95% of the falls in mountain climbing occur in the last 5% of the climb’. Sometimes we just don’t finish things well, but we don’t have to go through life burning bridges.

Below are three ways that our organization prepares our Ambassadors to lead when they leave; either through program completion or attrition:

• Discuss the end at the beginning: Kelli and I have a 14-year-old daughter who is a beautiful girl in spirit and beauty. Undoubtedly, we are entering the stage of teenage life that most parents dread: dating. Although Mackenzi is at least a year or more from having a boyfriend (emphasis on ‘or more’), she knows the one question that any young man who asks to be in her presence must answer – ‘How are you going to break up with my daughter?’ As my mentor Dr. Covey says, we have to begin with the end in mind. When everybody’s heart is gushing at the beginning of a new relationship, that’s the best time to talk about how each party will behave when and if it becomes necessary to part ways.

• Evaluate Commitment Daily: Earning and keeping the Ambassador status is not an easy thing to do. I often equate our programming to the Military Academies; this isn’t for the general enlisted, but for young men who are willing to submit themselves to training that will test them on a daily basis in various areas of their lives. If an Ambassador is not asking himself everyday, ‘Do I really want to do this?’, then we aren’t doing our jobs right. Young people under your leadership should be encouraged to revaluate their commitment to your organization each day. This pause allows them to not only reflect, but to also recommit themselves for the challenges ahead.

• Don’t Be Afraid of Attrition: There are those who equate attrition to poor service and poor leadership and this assertion is true, sometimes. Attrition can also be attributed to choice. Sometimes people leave because they are not willing to adhere to the program standards that have been set before them. L.E.A.D. is a six-year program; what was good for a young man in the 6th grade, might not be what he wants in the 9th grade and that’s ok. Our job is to ensure that we’ve done all we can to prepare him to be a good steward over the relationships and opportunities that will come his way- whether we’re in his life or not. In addition, we also want to be sure we’re providing the best programming we can, so I strongly suggest doing periodic surveys. The feedback from these surveys will help to keep your program activities fresh, relevant and impactful.

Through technological innovation, our world has become so wide; the way we make it smaller and more personable is through relationships. Let’s be sure as men and women who are leading young people that we are preparing them to lead even when they have to leave.

Special thanks to L.E.A.D. Ambassador DeMarkus Parris (Alonzo Crim High School c/o 2017, Atlanta Public Schools) and Rose Caplan for helping me write this blog.