Monday, December 4, 2017

Servant Leadership - Georgia's Own, A Credit Union That Cares

Do you assess a company’s mission and value statements before doing business with them, and then reassess on an ongoing basis? We do. We have to. My wife, Kelli and I, co-founded L.E.A.D., Inc. in 2007, and this year we celebrate 10 years of empowering Atlanta’s at risk inner city youth to become leaders. How have we managed to keep going, and have great success?

We found the best way is through servant leadership. I wrote a blog post on L.E.A.D.’s Servant Leadership Role in Atlanta in March 2016. We also found that surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, and partnering with other organizations and businesses whose values align with ours, is key.

Georgia’s Own Credit Union has been a L.E.A.D. partner almost from the very beginning, and over the years has consistently shown us who they are. Through their dedication and commitment to L.E.A.D. they’ve worked to raise money at their Annual Golf Challenge to benefit L.E.A.D. In 2010, L.E.A.D. received $28,000 from the golf challenge. Yesterday Georgia’s Own CEO, Dave Preter, handed L.E.A.D. a check for $100,000 - for the fourth year in a row - from its 9th Annual Golf Challenge. We call that "hitting it out of the Park" for there is no measure of our gratitude.

David Preter the CEO of Georgia's Own Credit Union is dedicated to the success of Georgia, especially our youth. He is passionate about fulfilling Georgia’s Own servant leadership role in Georgia, and that passion reverberates throughout the company. Our experience is that the entire Georgia's Own staff shows commitment to serving others. When two organizations collaborate from the same mindset they set a higher tone, which was all too apparent during the recent golf challenge.

L.E.A.D. Ambassadors had the opportunity to caddy for the golfers at the tournament and interact with them on the golf course. We all know how valuable that is. Mountains get moved through conversations on the golf course. Following are the thoughts of two L.E.A.D. Ambassadors who participated this year:

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Catchings: I am a senior at North Atlanta High School, and also a L.E.A.D. Ambassador. My experience with the golf tournament this year was great. I had a chance to meet new people and play golf, I've never played golf before. Golf is a quite interesting sport, it's very different from baseball. The group I was caddying for actually explained the game to me and was showing me the different shot names. It's a game of patience and accuracy, and it's also kind of soothing. I am just thankful for the opportunity, because not many teenagers get the chance to experience this terrific event. It helped me open up more which could help me in the future. A message to the folks at Georgia’s Own who put on the tournament: I love that you guys fed us and had a ceremony for us, for the donation. Thanks again for everything and I wish the best to all of you guys.

Antonio Catchings receiving the ball at 2nd base
L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Bryce Johnson: Being able to participate in the Georgia’s Own Golf Tournament was a great experience. Being able to make connections with so many people was the best part about the tournament. When you make connections It opens up new opportunities. Some of us got internship opportunities (like my teammate Je’Mario Almond). Others got advice for their future jobs. Some may have gotten advice for their new business that they wanted to make.

Another amazing thing that happened was that me and my fellow Maynard Jackson scholars met our Spanish teacher’s boyfriend. What a small world!

I was an Ambassador last year when we had about 20 Ambassadors and this year we had about 35 at the tournament which was really good. We all caddied the golfers and learned a little something about golf. My dad plays golf and so did I when I was little so I already had a feel for what was going on. When we started out It was freezing cold and plus the wind was making It even worse. But as the day went on it got warmer. We all got a chance to hit a ball on the 12th hole and we also took pictures. Then after we were finished playing we went inside for the lunch and the food was delicious. Then they had the auction and then they granted us the check. We are so thankful for the 100,000 dollar check. It’s because of people like this LEAD can do what they do. We thank everyone who participated and helped this event be a success. The experience was one of a kind and we are looking forward to next year.

Bryce Johnson
If you are looking for a new banking partner, and care about corporate culture and its level of commitment to the community, I recommend looking seriously at Georgia’s Own Credit Union.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Enabling vs. Empowering

I was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta – a “Grady Baby”, which almost always means you were born Black and poor.

I found hope in five things:

• My School: Atlanta Public Schools (APS) which was led by leaders such as Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and Dr. Alonso Crim;

• My Role Models: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Atlanta’s first Black Mayor Maynard Jackson were APS alums like me;

• My Home: A city that was growing and successful. Atlanta is the home to CNN, the Atlanta Braves (the first pro sports team in the South), and the headquarters of Delta, thanks in part to the work of Mayor Maynard Jackson, who helped build Atlanta’s airport and make our city a gateway to the world;

• My Sport: Cascade Youth Organization, a part of Atlanta Parks and Recreation, gave me and hundreds of other kids a chance to play baseball. National leaders like Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy had relatives that played at the park as well, so it was common for me to see these giants at the park from time to time. My first baseball coach was Emmett Johnson who was Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Chairman;

• My Church: I was born into Christianity and Elizabeth Baptist Church which was full of good people, many of them highly educated and bourgeois. Being bourgeois can be good or bad and it depends on your willingness to serve others.

Hope is a gift, but turning hope into reality is a journey. My journey began in school.

C.J. Stewart
Atlanta Public Schools today has three tiers of students. Tier 1 students are highly motivated and will graduate from high school regardless of their socioeconomic status. Tier 3's lack motivation and will most likely drop out of high school and have a high probability of being incarcerated and/or living a life of poverty regardless of their socioeconomic status. It is the Tier 2 students – the ones between the highest and the lowest, the ones that could end up going either way - that are often the most challenging to teach, coach and/or mentor.

I was a Tier 2 student.

My parents didn't want me to feel poor, so I was always dressed like rich kids. They made the sacrifices financially to make sure that we went on family vacations, wore nice clothes and attended social events like the Nutcracker.

As an elementary and middle school student within Atlanta Public Schools, I was wrestling with the constant desire to have sex. It was all over television. I was also getting good at using profanity to seem cool. I was willing to hang out with the "bad kids" in order to fit in. Everyone wants to belong and belonging to my church groups and the Boy Scouts just wasn't cool enough to me.

At my young age, I noticed that there were three types of people that enabled me to lean towards Tier 3.

1. White women
2. Black women
3. Black men

It is a raw generalization, but you have to remember, this is how a kid like me – like lots of kids like me - saw the world. How did they enable me to be cool? I’ll tell you:

White women were the best for me because they would always cut me the most slack. I felt that White women were just inherently nicer than Black women based on my interactions with them in person and from what I saw of them on television.

Black women, in contrast, were always super strict and stern. The older women were a part of the Civil Rights Movement and felt the need to empower young Black males, but often they did more enabling than empowering. Although they were stern, they didn't have it in their heart to let me fail, so I could always get my way even though I would get a tongue-lashing.

Black men were humble to a fault. They were often apologetic about their gifts and talents. They would give you a lot of "back in the day" talks that could last for hours. I would get away with being bad because they didn't have a plan of action to hold me accountable.

By definition, there is a fine line between enabling and empowering, but a vast difference in the path that each can lead to – a journey that is as different as a Tier 3 student is from a Tier 1.

C.J. Stewart

I have been the Chief Empowerment Officer for L.E.A.D. for 10 years and we partner with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. LEAD Scouts The Counted Out. The over 300 student-athletes that we serve earn the opportunity to become empowered by LEAD with the ABC'S ...

• Attendance
• Behavior
• Curriculum (grades)
• Service

The sea of life is rough and challenging, and there are many sources of help that can “enable” our young men to tread water and survive. But we want to do so much more than just survive.

LEAD is a boat in the sea of life, a means of navigating that sea and empowering our young men to take their journey toward leadership. Through Standards, Expectations and Accountability (the S.E.A.), our student-athletes rise above the waves and move forward.

As a consequential leader in Atlanta, it is my prayer that Black Males being raised in poverty find a boat like ours, get on board, and take this most important journey of their lives. By holding Atlanta’s future leaders accountable, we are building a battalion of LEAD’s own version of Navy SEALS, empowering them to take charge and turn their own hopes into reality.


Friday, October 6, 2017


As they say, the third time’s the charm, and so it was for the Atlanta Police Department on August 19 at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Baseball Stadium. APD officers played L.E.A.D. Ambassadors in the Third Annual Safe at Home Game and won this year after having lost to the Ambassadors the two previous years. The final score was APD 14, L.E.A.D. Ambassadors 4. No matter though, the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are in a rebuilding year and are looking forward to a rematch in 2018. 

The real story, however, is not that APD won the game, but how APD officers and L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are changing the game of life in Atlanta’s inner-city communities, in which they live and work, through the game of baseball.

The Safe at Home Game is all in good fun, but with a profound purpose. It is a self-officiated game played at the end of a series of events that are designed to build rapport between Atlanta’s inner-city kids and inner-city and cops. Our work with APIVEO in creating the Safe at Home program has created opportunities for the Ambassadors and the police officers to interact on a level playing field. As a result, each group has new experiences with the other, perspectives change, and create hope for a better future.

Officer Fletcher – APD Officer

Officer Fletcher has come to know Atlanta’s inner-city youth through his daily patrol of inner-city neighborhoods. As a first-time participant in the Safe At Home program, he has gained a much-needed new perspective on Atlanta’s inner-city youth. Here’s what he had to say after the game:

I am a police officer for the city of Atlanta Police Department. Words cannot express the joy I had in playing in this year’s police vs youth game. I am one of those officers who patrol through a few of the lower income, inner-city neighborhoods on a daily basis. On a daily basis kids and adults yell vulgar language just at the mere presence of a police vehicle, and I can honestly say a lot of times it bothers me.
On many occasions, I have exited my patrol vehicle and attempted to interact and play sports with the youth. Often the youth refuse to play or an adult comes and tells them to go in the house -" we don't talk to police". This baseball game meant so much to me because during and after the game these young
men told me “thank you” for playing. They also told me I'm the coolest and funniest cop they had ever met. It meant a lot to me because I have two small sons who were able to come and watch the game, and see why daddy can't walk the next day because he is getting old and pulls a muscle every time he plays sports. The kids told me thank you a lot, but I am the one who should be thanking them and the organizations, L.E.A.D., Inc. and APIVEO, for putting this event together. I cannot wait for the next opportunity.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Neco McClure says that “being able to play in the Safe At Home Game was a gift”, and L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Pierce says he saw that the APD officers were “just like us”. Neco and Antonio also walked away from the experience with a different perspective on the officers they practiced with and played against, and they want others to have the same opportunity.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Neco McClure

I thought there would have been umpires at the game, but turns out it was a self-officiated game. I liked that about the game because you gain respect for each other as you tell whether the person was out or not. I also liked that everyone got to play, and if you made mistakes it would be alright. This was my first year at the Safe At Home Game, and I loved how you got to be honest. Honesty is the key to the game. You don’t want to cheat in the game because you wouldn’t want anyone to lie about you getting thrown out or struck out.

The importance of the Safe At Home Game is to get inner-city kids and cops to come together and have a chance at playing a friendly game of baseball.
Photo by Jasmine Norwood
You’re not only playing a game of baseball, you are also getting to know each one of the police officers and learning about their childhood, and how childhood could make a difference in how you live further in life.

Being able to play in the Safe At Home Game was a gift for me. It exposed me to something better in life. It showed me a different way - how not to do the wrong thing, make bad decisions, and be behind bars when I could just be playing baseball, going to college, and have a chance to play in the major leagues.

I would definitely recommend bringing back the Safe At Home Game so that other people can see a different side to cops, and see how we all can come together as a team and build a better city and state.

L.E.A.D. Ambassador Antonio Pierce

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

What I learned from the Atlanta Police Department and Ambassadors experience, is that the police officers we met are a special group of men. They are just like us. They have a job just like us. I have known people to belittle cops because someone they know has committed a crime. What I know is that if you commit a crime you have to do the justified time.

I learned that APD men are just like us. They have been through some of the same things we are going
Photo by Jeff McPhail
through as most are retired baseball players. The APD men were well rounded, very outspoken and uplifting. They taught me a lot about my ability to play this game we love - baseball. They mentored me along the process. Some of the officers - I've been knowing for years - are so cool to hang around. I had fun practicing and fielding with the them. It was such a great experience. I want to have the Safe At Home Game ever year.

L.E.A.D. CEO CJ Stewart

I have personally learned a lot over the last three years of L.E.A.D.’s involvement with Safe at Home. For instance, we don’t put forth enough effort getting to know our police officers. We spend more time on, and put more effort into, learning about celebrities and their lives, than we do getting to know those whose job it is to protect us.

Additionally, I have participated in Zone 3 police rides - Zone 3 is the area around where Turner Field used to be. I witnessed APD officers heading into gunfire after an alert by Dispatch. My instinct, as a civilian, when I heard the same alert was to get as fa
r away from gunfire as possible. That experience made me question what would happen without a police presence in our neighborhoods. I imagine chaos.

I would be remiss not to mention the conversations I’ve had with our police officers’ wives over time. What stood out the most from those talks is that these officers have families, same as me, only I don’t put my life in danger like that on a daily basis.

My personal participation in the Safe At Home program has been humbling. I also think that through my participation, I've helped to shine a light on two groups in our community who get a bad reputation because of what a few people do. Through Safe At Home, I've been a part of highlighting what's good about Black boys and cops.

The relationship between APIVEO, Atlanta Police Foundation and L.E.A.D. is stronger now because of our work together on Safe at Home. That's a win for our Ambassadors, our officers and for Atlanta overall.

Together our voices will be heard as we develop Atlanta’s next generation of leaders. You can help. Visit to learn more.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Grit by Association

My wife, Kelli and I have been working over the last ten (10) years to empower Atlanta’s inner-city young black men to become leaders and to lead lives of significance. We have seen young men in our program grow and have great success. However, the underlying problems continue to exist that stifle our ability to significantly alter the narrative of young black men living in the inner-city communities of Atlanta in general. No amount of money or human resources will resolve these problems, change the narrative, or create a positive environment for growth and success until uninitiated adult mentors and failing Black male youth partner in “grit by association”, or are working with relentless determination toward a common goal from the same page of the playbook.

People create problems, and they have the ability to resolve them.

We have problems in the inner city of Atlanta that have been created by people over many years. Jim Crow laws played a big part in economic and social disparity among Blacks and Whites. Although Jim Crow laws no longer legally exist, the inequitable intentions can be seen in redlining, gentrification, negative rhetoric and aggression. They continue to negatively affect poor and Black communities.

For instance, in Atlanta, if you are born into poverty you have a 4% chance of making it out according to the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, too many Black males in Atlanta drop out of high school, are unemployed, and go to jail as a result of the negative cycle of oppression heaped upon the Black community by Jim Crow, and later, laws.

Despite our abilities as problem solvers, these problems persist year after year.

Why haven’t these problems been resolved? It isn’t the lack of money or mentors coming out of non-profit charitable organizations. Georgia has one non-profit charitable organization for every 361 people. It is ranked in the top 1/3 of most charitable states overall. Georgia’s charitable organizations are generous with both their money and volunteers. Then what is the answer?

Resolution of the same old problems plaguing Atlanta - that stand in the way of our progress - will only be solved by educated empathetic people working together within the same context, and with the same grit, passion and purpose. More specifically, it will only work when mentors and mentees attain grit by association. For that to happen, each person first needs to find his or her context.

The responses to the following three questions establish that context and lead to understanding “why you exist”, “your purpose”:

1. Everyone is suffering with something. What are you suffering from?

2. There are endless amount of problems in the world. What world problem do you want to help solve?

3. Life is complex but doesn't have to be complicated. Why do you want to continue to live?

Participation in this exercise by the mentor and mentee is imperative to identify the commonality of purpose, or the association between them. Once established, acknowledged and understood, then each participant’s grit, or the relentless pursuit of the common purpose, becomes grit by association, and is more meaningful and stronger. Growth follows, and problem resolution becomes inevitable.

Solving Atlanta’s problems will not happen overnight, but they will be resolved overtime by taking conscious actions together toward the same goal. Lewis Carroll said “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” I think the same holds true that: “If you and your partner want to end up together in the same place at the same time, you need to walk down the same road, in tandem, to the same destination.”


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mound Moments

One of the most intriguing yet impactful moments in a baseball game happens when play is temporarily suspended and the manager walks out to the mound to check on the pitcher’s welfare. I call this suspenseful intervention a Mound Moment. As the manager and pitcher stand eye to eye, onlookers eagerly read body language in a desperate attempt to figure out what may happen. “Maybe it’s just a pep talk, maybe they’re talking strategy or maybe the pitcher is going to be relieved.” No matter the
outcome, one thing is certain— the manager is in complete control of the pitcher’s fate. Now that my playing days are behind me, my Mound Moments are a clear case of life imitating sport. From baseball diamonds and classrooms to dangerous street corners and living rooms, I’ve stood eye to eye with hundreds of black boys and had thousands of Mound Moments. The only difference is my discussions aren’t about balls and strikes, they’re about success and failure.

Black boys come up to bat with two strikes. Strike one is being Black. Strike two is being male. Stereotypes and cultural biases dramatically shrink Black boys margins for error. Because of their skin color, they’re often presumed guilty until proven innocent. Born into the 0 - 2 count, Black boys face enormous pressures that force them to defy nature and live their lives from the outside in. My purpose is to meet you at the mound and reveal the three steps necessary for Black boys to make it to the big leagues in life and baseball, despite immeasurable odds.

#1 Self-Confidence

Most inner-city Black boys grow up prematurely navigating experiences that make it nearly impossible for them to build self-confidence. This partially explains why they swing and miss the White-Is-Right pitch and consistently underperform when the stakes are highest. There’s an undeniable connection between socioeconomic status and the amount of trust one has for his own abilities and judgements. Since self-confidence is not inherited, the simple remedy for Black boys is to own their reality and use adversity as a tool for building confidence. The concept of learning from losses transforms their thinking and propels them to win. The height of self-confidence in baseball is striking out and expecting to hit a home run the next time you’re up to bat. The height of self-confidence in life is when your self-talk is stronger than everyone else’s talk.

#2 Self-Discipline

Once self-confidence is established, the next natural step is to take action. Knowing what needs to be done and failing to act is the equivalent of expecting to hit a home run, standing at the plate and never swinging your bat. Skill building in any undertaking requires a mix of action and discipline. Although the idea of self-discipline is simple, the execution is often crippling. In order to dispel the myth that Hope Is Enough, Black boys must confidently take uncomfortable and inconvenient actions that move them toward their desires. The secret to overcoming weakness and mastering self-discipline is to gain control of your feelings, prioritize your needs and resist any temptation to abandon your goals.

#3 Self-Awareness

The application of sustained self-confidence and self-discipline brings out subtle shifts in traits, behaviors and motivations. As Black boys realize they exist separately from their environment, confusion, complaints and excuses get “thrown out” and focus, gratitude and accountability get called up from the bull pen. Black boys newly found sense of self-awareness give them permission to explore their individuality and find comfort in their uniqueness. Ultimately, winning is redefined as mastery of self.

Success in life and baseball is both simple and fundamental. The height of your success is determined by the speed of your adjustments. The next time you’re desperately trying to read a manager’s body language at the mound, rest assured he’s either boosting confidence, sharpening discipline or raising awareness.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017


God has blessed me with focus and I am grateful. With focus, I can better identify and communicate to others what we need at our organization, L.E.A.D., to sustain and grow it. So, when people ask us what they can do to help I am able to communicate our needs effectively.

I found my focus partly by understanding a leadership framework that John Maxwell shared at a Leadercast event that I attended several years ago. The premise is to move something such as an idea or statement from simplistic to simple. To do that we need to make a simplistic idea or statement complicated by challenging and questioning it. When we do, we expand it and then drill down to the value. That makes an idea simple and more effective. John says taking your idea through the grid Simplistic > Complex > Simple is not easy but its effective. We have applied and continue to apply John’s framework to L.E.A.D.

For instance, when my wife, Kelli, and I started L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) ten years ago we wanted to help Black boys play baseball. There was a void in the inner city of Atlanta and we aimed to fill it. Then we realized that Atlanta had a bigger problem. High truancy, low graduation rates and poverty among inner-city Black youth to name a few. We

also suffered high incarceration rates among young Black men. We had to make a shift from what we originally intended - helping Black boys play baseball in Atlanta - to a place of focus that we maintain and protect today - empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. We went from simplistic to simple as we asked questions and moved through the weeds. Out of the complexity, we found our L.E.A.D. philosophy - “leadership is developed by leading” - and our methodology - Pathway To Empowerment™.

John Maxwell’s process also provided us with the framework necessary to focus on creating an environment that nurtures successful relationships among L.E.A.D. participants, and with those who partner with us to help us lead. We are now celebrating L.E.A.D.’s 10th Anniversary. Our organization’s foundation is firmly set. We remain convicted in our mission, and L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are succeeding. We remain focused. We need you.

We need you to lead with us and we are ready for you. We’ve taken L.E.A.D. through John Maxwell’s grid, evaluated and drilled down to make things simple but effective. Through this focus, we’ve identified four things that you can do to help our organization empower the Ambassadors to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.


There is power in prayer. Please be in prayer for us daily throughout the year. Pray that L.E.A.D. seeks God daily and is obedient to His assignments. Pray that we be patient, discerning and forgiving of others. You can pray these prayers privately, or you can also send them to us via email. You can keep them anonymous or you can share your name. Prayers we receive by email are forwarded to a designated Ambassador who shares it with the other Ambassadors. We cannot emphasize enough the positive impact this show of support has on the Ambassadors and the organization as a whole. Click here to email us your prayer for us.


We all have a calling to fulfill on our lives. I believe we are called, generally speaking, to be the hands and feet of God on earth. It really helps us as an organization when we are in the presence of people who understand their own spiritual gifts and earthly talents. If that’s you, please reach out to us to discuss how we can work together.

If you are unsure about your gifts and talents, and would like to discover them try what I did. I discovered mine by answering these four questions:

What do you laugh about?
What do you worry about?
What do you cry about?
What do you dream about?

Your answers to these questions may help you identify your God given gifts and talent and lead you to find your purpose in life. You may also discover that you are a good fit for L.E.A.D. .


One of the best ways to help L.E.A.D. is by simply showing up to our games and cheering us on. We all know the power of money and we can always use it to further our mission, but there is so much power in encouragement. It speaks volumes to our Ambassadors when people they may know only in passing, or even those they may not know, take the time to show up and watch them compete. At least that’s what I experienced growing up playing baseball. As a child, I dreamed of playing pro-baseball in front of fans that were cheering me while, in a sense, as their hero, I was empowering them. I even practiced signing my autograph for hours as an inner-city Atlanta elementary school student so I’d be ready when the day came.

Our young Ambassadors are creating a new normal for themselves by participating in L.E.A.D.’s program, and they are succeeding. They are dreaming new dreams. They are whittling away at staggering statistics that had

them, too often, mired in nightmares of being incarcerated. Those night-mares are turning into dreams of high school and college graduation, and sustainable careers and families. 100% of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors graduate from high school. 95% of our Ambassadors attend college and 90% on scholarship. 5% of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors enlist in the military.

Your presence at our games and other events is a powerful message to the Ambassadors that the community supports them, and cares about them. We see “pep in their step” after games that are more fully attended. Click here to attend an upcoming L.E.A.D. game or event and show your support for L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.


L.E.A.D. is much more than a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. We are a Methodology and a Movement.

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is a place where mentors find it is safe, as do the mentees, to show themselves because they find that engaging with our Ambassadors is enlightening and empowering. I find this to be true each time I interact with them. I am able to be vulnerable and admit that I don't have all of the answers they may need as they work on self-empowerment. I can go even deeper with them, and let them know that sometimes, during low times, even I can fall short of motivating myself.

Further, I always have lots of questions for the Ambassadors. Since we’ve created a culture that promotes honesty, I can ask them questions and they can authentically respond with how they feel. The manner in which these discussions take place allows me to serve them in a way that they need instead of in a way that I think they need, and those interactions reinforce trust.

L.E.A.D. promotes honest discussion and nurtures trust among its mentors and mentees. We welcome mentors. To find out more about becoming a partner in mentorship click here. We also welcome financial donations to sustain our Methodology and Movement. To make a recurring financial donation click here.

We welcome you to come lead with us to fulfill our mission to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. You can be a prayer warrior for us, share your gifts and talents, show up at games and events, and make recurring donations. Use the following links to email us with any questions or comments you may have about signing on:

Click here to email us your prayer for us.
Click here to make a recurring financial donation.
Click here to attend an upcoming L.E.A.D. event.
Click here if you would like to share your gifts and talents with L.E.A.D.

We appreciate you, and look forward to leading with you!


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Are Black Boys Blackballed?

It's widely accepted that sports is a microcosm of life. I would argue that no sport imitates life quite like baseball. If you stop to think about it, we spend our entire lives in the batter's box swinging at whatever life throws our way. When I first fell in love with baseball over 30 years ago I dreamed I would one day have the on-field talent and toughness of Jackie Robinson and the off-field charisma and consciousness of Martin Luther King Jr. Little did I know my entire life would be shaped by an attempt to right baseball’s biggest wrong, the lack of Black boys.

I dreamed of playing pro baseball while living on Hollywood Road as a child
In case you’re wondering, this blog is NOT meant to shame America's game. Instead, it’s meant to put a fence around decades of challenges faced by deserving Black boys who simply want their chance at bat. Apologies if this comes at you like a brushback pitch but my true aim is to spark a conversation that will bring forth solutions.

For decades older fans, coaches and casual observers have suggested three reasons to explain the sharp decline of Black boys in baseball:

  • Black boys aren't as athletic as they used to be. 
  • Black boys refuse to practice on their own. 
  • Black boys have lost the ability to think critically. 
I’m the first to admit, Black boys need to take responsibility for their own success. However, years of first- hand experience has completely persuaded me that reversing the above “reasons” will not magically level the playing field. In my opinion, the problem exists largely because Black boys face three elusive pitches that they just can’t seem to hit:

First the fast ball — White Is Right! This is the fastest pitch most black boys will ever see. It comes right down the plate in the form of the decision to play for a white coach versus a black coach. Individually this decision appears inconsequential but collectively it adversely affects the Black talent pool. Black boys are inclined to think the grass

is greener on the other side- meaning White coaches provide better instruction, more favor with scouts and a shield from the label that Black boys are lazy and not coachable. As a teenager, I was guilty of deciding that White was right. At the time, it was a selfish decision to protect my ego. Fleeing from my fears, I abandoned my community and planted the seeds of my talents in a garden that wasn’t mine. As a result, there was no harvest for the upcoming generation of Black boys. That cycle continues. Instead of thinking legacy, many Black boys are consumed with winning. 

That brings me to the second pitch, the change up— Winning Is Everything! The reduced speed and deceptive delivery of the change up confuses black boys timing. At an age when they should be intensely focused on self-development, they focus on winning games instead. Anxious and afraid they won’t have access to scholarships or major league scouting opportunities, black boys make the fatal mistake of equating wins with self-worth. The relentless pursuit of winning brings on an identity crisis causing them to bankrupt their personal identity in exchange for the identity of their team. Their “win now” obsession becomes the very thing that causes them to lose big later.

Finally, the curve ball. This is the most dangerous pitch of all. Hope Is Enough! Black boys filled with the illusion of hope sit and wait for the world to come to them. For a short time they spin forward through life like the threads of a curve ball but inaction suddenly drops them on a downward path toward their fate.

The true culprit for the decline of black boys in baseball
Photo by Jason Getz
is an all-star pitcher with the name HISTORY stitched on it’s back. History continues to throw elusive pitches past Black boys whose experience and exposure not only cause 
them to strike out in baseball, too often they strike out in life. This blog comes from the heart of a man who bleeds baseball. I’m in search of solutions that will preserve the future of the game I love. If you could wave a magic wand (or bat) what would you do to get more Black boys back into baseball? I invite you to disagree with me.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

What Keeps Temptation from Eroding Core Values?

Happy Mothers Day to my wife, Kelli Stewart, who challenges me - when necessary - to keep my core values strong!

Monica Pearson (left) along with my wife Kelli and I

Developing and maintaining strong values saved me from myself. The reason that I'm not in jail, or a deadbeat dad is that I made a commitment to learn and adopt good values. I believe that good values need on-going maintenance and require continuous discipline and commitment. It doesn’t take much for our values to erode over time if we aren’t careful. Temptation is all around us. Values will whittle away if you don’t stay vigilant and continue to make good choices.

These are the values that I’ve learned and adopted and that have served me well over the years:

Excellence - fulfilling expectations
Humility - not thinking of yourself less so that you can serve others more
Integrity - doing the right thing even when you can do the wrong thing
Loyalty - doing the right things for the right reasons, even if they're not popular
Stewardship - protector of your values and people
Teamwork - being your best within a group of people that are being their best for a specific purpose

I've never been tempted by drugs – never a dope boy - but I’ve experienced other temptations. There are plenty of opportunities for all of us to make bad choices. They are in an abundance daily.

One of the values I work hard to preserve is my integrity – doing the right thing even when I can do the wrong thing. I’ve found plenty of opportunities to do the wrong thing that given time will erode my integrity, if I let them; and know that it can be broken over time by perpetuating bad habits. For instance, I have a bad habit of browsing my phone while in the presence of my wife and daughters. I know better, but choose to do it anyway. Not only do I miss opportunities to connect with the most important people in my life, but I am also whittling away at one of my core values – integrity – by putting it in conflict each time.

Thankfully, the ladies of my life check my bad habit, and sometimes they do it with words that hurt my heart. They tell me that I care more about my phone than spending time with them. However, I’ll take the hurt because it gets my attention and makes me realize I am making the wrong choices for the goals and commitments I’ve made. Their words are a game changer, and for that I am grateful.

As you can see I am not perfect. Far from it. Like everyone, my values are constantly challenged. When they are, I rely on my family, friends and faith to keep my commitment strong.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why is it intimidating to dream?

Before eight year’s old, I'm not sure I had a real “dream” of what I wanted to be when I grew up. However, at eight, after having watched Chicago Cubs baseball games with my grandfather in the summers, I knew. With the roaring AC inside, I would go outside to practice what I saw on television with what I had around me; collecting hundreds of rocks as baseballs with targets of large tree limbs and broom sticks used as a bat.

Living in Atlanta, the home of the Civil Rights Movement and being educated in the same public school system, I remember clearly as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the word “dream” in his famous I Have a Dream speech quoted often to this day. Dr. King had a dream of freedom for all Black Americans, the end of segregation and discrimination. I had a dream of playing for the Chicago Cubs. Why are dreams important and what holds us back from really dreaming about the future, today?

To Share our Dreams or not…

As an eight year old Black boy being raised in the inner city of Atlanta, I openly and unapologetically told people that I wanted to play Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs. Many adults wanted a different future for me, an engineer, doctor or lawyer. This created conflict as our expectations were different. Dr. King’s dream of ending discrimination and segregation to set Black Americans truly free also created conflict. He believed so much in his dream, he paid for it with his life. If he hadn’t shared his dream, it would not become a reality and neither would mine.

Why do we hesitate to dream?

Dreams can be big, bigger than we are. They can be intimidating, overwhelming which makes us want to shy away before we even get started. Dreamers encounter naysayers, obstacles and conflict as evidenced by my experience and Dr. King’s. I suggest, any dreamer who dares to dream and implement can expect to encounter the same. Dreams can be costly, expose us and require sacrifice. So why bother?

Dr. King along with Jackie Robinson

I believe dreams are given to us by our creator to bring his heart to those on earth. Our personal experiences are used to create a passion in each of us about how we can make a positive impact on those in our communities. Dreams by design are led by us individually but implemented cooperatively. Dreams are a gift that bring us to live a life of significance.

All of us have the ability to dream; those who can tout significant achievements or those with disadvantageous circumstances. As leaders in our community, how do we foster the dreams of those most in need? How can we be dream enhancers instead of dream stealers for our disadvantaged youth? How can we show them what is possible?

• Dare to dream, because it takes courage
• Recognize that when you dream, you will encounter obstacles
• Enlist others to help you reach your dream, you were not designed to go it alone
• Dream Big – because when you do, big things happen.

I'm great at what I do as a coach and a mentor because it's my calling from God and I am responding to the call. I know it's my calling because of the GREAT EIGHT™.

What is your calling? Ask yourself these GREAT EIGHT™ questions daily for just 30 days to find out.

Remember – significance starts with a dream. Become significant – start dreaming.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Touching them all – Your plan to hit every base on the road to success

1st Base – We point the finger; we are reactive
2nd Base – We are convicted; we become proactive
3rd Base – We experience success; we become distinctive
Home – We serve others; we become predictive

Over lunch during the 2016-17 winter break, L.E.A.D. Ambassador Austin Evans reflected on his
Austin is at top row between the S and A
experience in December 2016 when noted white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke on the campus of Texas A&M.

My wife, Kelli, who also is the Executive Director at L.E.A.D., and I listened with great interest.

Austin has the privilege of serving as the Off-Campus Senator for Texas A&M, which is a "big time" responsibility as far as I'm concerned. In this position, Austin leads more than 45,000 students of the predominately white institution.

DOES L.E.A.D. and the Atlanta Public Schools system work? You tell me.

Austin said his effort to lead students who were outraged with Spencer's presence on campus was far from easy.

If I were a student there, I would be outraged, too. I would have called for new leadership, too.

That's what I refer to as First Base thinking. At First Base, we point fingers and react negatively to things that are negative.

Today, I'm regarded among many as a servant-leader, a responsibility of which I am humbled. For me, humility isn't thinking less of you, but thinking of more of others. Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant-leader at a time when people didn't know if being a servant and a leader could coexist.

Can a janitor be regarded as a person of significance at a Fortune 100 company like the CEO?

I believe so. Servant-leadership, among many things, is helping people answer these four questions:

1. What is your calling in life?
2. What world problem do you want to solve?
3. What is your earthly talent?
4. What is your spiritual gift?

Helping people answer these questions is a home run for me. When I get out of the bed every morning, I want to hit a home run. Sometimes I fall short and only hit singles.

Second Base

And then there are times when people are being convicted at second base in their life. I hit the ball in a way that allows them to move to third base and experience success based on a specific mission.

Don't be deceived. Not only have I not always been a servant-leader on purpose, I didn't want to be one. I saw people who were serving others as being weak at times. Giving of myself in exchange for money was my paradigm until 2007 when I was convicted.

I listened to myself speak to people in a way that caused me to pause and say, "You know what, C.J., you're selfish and arrogant. But you knew that all ready about yourself. The crime is that you aren't doing anything about it and it will be your downfall."

Looking back on that conversation with myself was a second base moment. The good 
news is that I arrived there after making a stop at first base, where I was pointing fingers and blaming everybody else for my failures.

Second base in our maturation process is where we become convicted by our hostile responses to things that legitimately and illegitimately cause us to get angry. You realize as a principle that anger only hurts you and not the person that caused it.

In fact, our body temperature rises when we are angry (up to 90 percent of our body is water). 
So, basically, we're cooking our organs when we're angry. Realizing this at second base allows us to become proactive to prevent ourselves from being angry more times than not.

Third Base
Success happens at third base when we're getting things done. I began to read a lot of John Maxwell books at third base. These books helped me become a better version of myself. It helped me seek accountability partners. It helped
Austin and I with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal
me to ask myself with boldness, "What do you want to do with your life C.J.? How are you made? What makes you unique?

This transformation doesn't happen in my life without my experiences at first and second base.

I developed a clear mission in life at third base to be significant by serving millions and bringing them into a relationship with Christ, starting with Kelli and our daughters, Mackenzi and Mackenna.

Simply fulfilling this mission was a success for me.

I then established a clear mission for my businesses and success was based on fulfilling it. Failure became feedback and taught me how to make adjustments that led to more success. I became very distinctive among many of my peers. I began to serve as a role model of excellence, which I define as meeting expectations.

What I enjoy the most about being at home plate is the ability to be predictive. Those who I serve need me to often times provide answers to questions they don't even know to ask.

As a philosophy, I seek God daily, so that I can be obedient to His commandments. This is great for me, because now I don't have to exist aimlessly in the world trying to figure out what to do, who to serve and how to serve them.

Baseball is like life in that we don't want to strike out or be stuck on a base. You can't score if you're striking out and stuck. We have to do things and/or have help from others to move around the bases.

The key to winning is to touch home plate a lot.

Your Guide

First Base
1. What are some of the most common things said to you that trigger an attitude of anger?
2. What are some of the most common things done to you that trigger an attitude of anger?
3. How does being angry make you feel?

Second Base
1. How does it feel when you are right?
2. How does it feel when you are wrong?
3. Who are the people that you trust enough to correct you when you are wrong?

Third Base
1. How do you define success?
2. How have you achieved success within the last 48 hours?
3. What do you have to give to the world?

1. Who's your role model and why?
2. Who's following you?
3. What will be said about you when cease to exist on Earth?


Monday, April 10, 2017

41 Life Events, Experiences and Decisions That Got Me Here

Our past helps to shape who we have become as well as impact who we may become. Our past is made up of personal experiences that we can turn into stories worth sharing.

Today I turn 41. I've enjoyed a blessed life filled with events, experiences and decisions that have shaped me. I want to share them with you so that you can come to know me better. This post lists 41 life events, experiences and decisions that have shaped my life.

If you have not taken the time to reflect on your life experiences, events and decisions that create your personal stories, I recommend that you do. I also recommend that you write your stories down. Commit them to paper and share them so others may learn a little more about you and themselves.

Finally, one thing I’ve confirmed about myself as I carried out this exercise it that I love people. Even though sometimes, I might not act like it, I love all people. I just do. Every day the first thing I do when I
Joseph McCrary by my side with LEAD Ambassadors
wake up is pray. I pray for my family, of course, but I also pray for you and others. Those I’ve met and those I have not. I believe in the power of prayer and ask that as you send up prayers every day, please pray for me as well.

I hope you learn something significant from reading the following. I look forward to hearing your story someday.

  1. Day One: I was born to Willie and Gail Stewart on April 10, 1976 at Grady Memorial Hospital. 
  2. Family: I become a big brotherI became a big brother to Nicole Stewart on February 16, 1979 and again to Erica Stewart on January 16, 1991. 
  3. Faith: When I was eight or so, Reverend James E. Hightower baptized me at Elizabeth Baptist Church (EBC); in my 30s I became a Deacon at First Rephidim Missionary Baptist Church; and, starting in January, 2016 I became, and now serve as, a Deacon EBC. 
  4. Elementary School: I was educated within Atlanta Public Schools - kindergarten through fifth grade and, in first grade, exposed to Herndon Home and, in second grade, flew on an airplane round trip. 
  5. First Fight: During Grove Park summer camp around 8 years of age. 
  6. Middle and High School: I was educated within Fulton County schools - 6th through 12th grade and, during my junior year at Westlake High School, visited Chick-fil-A headquarters as part of the curriculum. 
  7. Attended First Minor League Baseball Game: At 11, I visited Boardwalk and Baseball theme park in Haines City, Florida, and attended my first minor league baseball game as a spectator. 
  8. Youth Baseball: I played youth baseball at Cascade Youth Organization (CYO) and Old National Athletic Association (ONAA)
  9. Childhood Friends: Antwon Smith, Jeff Coleman, Eric Hayes family and Patrick Miller were childhood friends that inspired and encouraged me like no other. 
  10. Acting Out in High School: I was removed from Westlake High School team because of a bad attitude, got into a fight, and in 10th grade was arrested at Shannon Mall on MLK Day. 
  11. Professional Baseball: In 1994, my senior year of high school, I was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, and then in 1996, I was drafted again while attending DeKalb College, and released by Cubs within two years of being signed. 
  12. College: I failed out of Georgia State University in 1995, Dekalb College in 1996, and later, in 2003, attended Kennesaw State University where I maintained a B average. 
  13. Hank Aaron and Jury Duty: I served as a juror with Hank Aaron my rookie year of professional baseball. 
  14. Wedding Day: At 21, I married Kelli who was 19. 
  15. Marriage – The Early Years: Kelli and I moved into our first apartment and, during the off-season of professional baseball, I worked at ASIG fueling airplanes at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. 
  16. New Business after the Cubs: In 1998, I became a professional baseball hitting coach at Sports-A-Rama in Marietta, but quit after our first daughter, Mackenzi was born in May 2001 to start our family for profit Diamond Directors
  17. Daughters and Significant Early Milestones: When I became a father, in May 2001, at the birth of my daughter Mackenzi, and then again in June 2007 at the birth of my second daughter Mackenna, their first days of kindergarten, and the day they gave their life to Christ. 
  18. Special Thanksgiving Day Event: Thanksgiving dinner with Ken Griffey Jr. and his family 
  19. Scouting for the Reds: I became a Cincinnati Reds Scout in 2000. 
  20. Coaching East Cobb Baseball: I coached within the internationally renowned East Cobb Baseball program 2000-2006. 
  21. An Ah Ha Moment: In 2005, I attended the First Annual Birdies and Baseball benefiting Children's Healthcare, and spent several days with Atlanta’s influential men to discover that I was considered an up and coming leader in Atlanta. I learned that I was there because of the leadership and service I had demonstrated up to that point and future leadership potential. 
  22. First House and Community: Kelli and I purchased our first house and two years later I saved a young boy in the neighborhood from a pitbull attack. 
  23. Pro-Football on a Dare: I trained for a year to try out for the Falcons and Georgia Force after a dare from Kelli. 
  24. L.E.A.D. and McCrary: In 2007, our non-profit organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) was born; and a few years later, one of our first L.E.A.D Ambassadors, Joseph McCrary, graduated with honors from Savannah State University, became employed by our L.E.A.D. partner Mizuno and now serves on L.E.A.D.’s Executive Board. 
  25. Diamond Directors Expands: In 2007, we establish Diamond Directors Sports Management Group and represent several Top Round MLB Draft picks that later played in the Major Leagues. 
  26. Milestone for Diamond Directors’ Client Heyward: In 2010, I witnessed Diamond Directors’ training client Jason Heyward hit his MLB Opening Day, and first career, homerun on his first MLB at-bat. 
  27. C.J. Stewart Day in the ATL: Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond proclaimed November 20, 2010 C.J. Stewart Day. 
  28. Rotary Membership: I accepted Khaatim S. El’s invitation to join Rotary, and became a Rotary member. 
  29. Snowmageddon and Discovering a New Passion: I was stuck on Atlanta’s highways with my daughter Mackenzi during Snowmageddon 2014, downloaded the Audible app and discovered a new passion for game changing books, such as Building Atlanta by Herman Russell, Mental Game of Baseball and Talent Code
  30. Media Events: I was featured in a Georgia's Own Credit Union commercial, a Mizuno Baseball commercial, an Apple commercial with four L.E.A.D. Ambassadors (2.25 mark), debuted on Chrisley Knows Best and appeared in Tanner Tees video with Devon Shaw announcing its partnership with L.E.A.D. 
  31. Significant Outing Experiences: I experienced life in the mountains of Montana for several days with American Explorers, as well as insomnia at a 7-day USA Baseball event after just learning about what was thought to be a bad health report. 
  32. Leadercast Event: I attended my first Leadercast event in 2013. 
  33. Kelli and Significant Milestone: My wife, Kelli, became such an inspiration to me as I witnessed first-hand the grit required of her reach her goal to graduate with honors from Kennesaw State University. 
  34. Financial Education: John White became our family’s financial advisor and introduced me to my discipleship partner Mike Moye. 
  35. Life-Changing Kingdom Man: In 2013, I joined a life-changing church-wide study called Kingdom Man by Tony Evans, and now enjoy The Locker Room at Elizabeth Baptist Church.
  36. Benediction for Donald Green Inauguration: Donald Green, President of Georgia Highlands College, blessed me with the opportunity to give the benediction at his inauguration.
  37. Leadership Atlanta: In 2015, I completed my Leadership Atlanta cohort education where I became empowered to serve as a change agent in Atlanta. 
  38. My Dad’s Bypass Surgery: My dad had successful quadruple bypass surgery and his experience caused me to change my diet and exercise regimen.
  39. My Content Crew: I am blessed to have a great relationship with my "Content Crew" consisting of Mike Pallerino, Goebel Media, Rose Caplan, Brigitte Peck,
    and Dez Thornton...they help me bring my thoughts to you.
  40. My First Book: I was challenged by Gabriel Wallace to write a book Living To L.E.A.D. A Story of Passion, Purpose and Grit and took her up on it. 
  41. “Meeting” My Mom’s Dad: I never had a chance to meet my grandfather, Elester Moss, Sr. However, just recently, on April 5, 2017, while my mom was recovering from surgery, I saw a photo of him for the first time, and discovered how I resemble him. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

When to Give Up on Black Teenage Males, and Why?

“Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid.” - John Wayne

When you serve as a mentor or coach there may come a time when you have done all you can for a person. No matter how well-intentioned you are, or how able you may be, it is possible that your protégé stops listening to you and stops acting on your advice. The best thing to do at that point is to sever the relationship, and let the person go.

For me, I believe ultimately that God is in control. Aside from that, I can do what I know works to affect change in people but real change happens through personal experiences. I can offer a young man the framework for those experiences but unless he commits to the methodology and follows through I can’t help him change.

As the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of L.E.A.D., I coach and mentor at-risk young Black males to empower them to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. L.E.A.D.’s methodology is framed on the game of baseball. When a young man signs on with L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) they become a L.E.A.D. Ambassador and with that they make a commitment. In addition to joining L.E.A.D.’s baseball team, an Ambassador must commit to the ABC’S which is an acronym for:

  • Attendance
  • Behavior
  • Curriculum (academic achievement)
  • Service to others
Sounds simple enough, but follow through on the commitment is hard and oftentimes a struggle. If an Ambassador is not willing to commit to the ABC’S to have the experiences necessary to build the character he needs to become a leader in this ever-changing world, then I can’t help him and the relationship ends. That’s the “when”.

Sounds harsh? Here’s the “why”. I know he knows better, but he is just refusing to do better and that makes him stupid. I define stupidity as failing to do better even when you know better.

I understand what it is to be a young Black teenage male and what it is to be stupid. My Mom and Dad raised me in the church and I grew up knowing right from wrong. Even so, I did a lot of stupid things as a teen. In middle school, I skipped school. In
My elementary school days
high school, I stole my dad's truck and in college, I missed over 30% of my classes. I knew better, but failed to do what I knew to be the right thing. I was just plain stupid. A lot of time has gone by since then but I had the experiences of being stupid, and learned from them. I also learned that life is tougher when you're stupid.

Further, I understand commitment, struggle and grit. It is my legacy as a Black man. Through centuries, Black folks persevered despite the horrors and other obstacles they faced. For instance, a Black man looking at a White woman the wrong way led to a lynching. The Black community has also been denied opportunities to get an education. These are just a couple of examples of the terror and injustice endured by our Black community for hundreds of years. Through commitment, struggle and grit we have persisted and overcome much. Things are better today, but there is much left to do, which is why I serve at-risk young Black males in Atlanta through L.E.A.D.

A young Black male will not outgrow stupid if he doesn’t commit to the struggle to attain grit and build character. At L.E.A.D. we provide the
opportunities for the experiences necessary for a young Black male to be the best he can be. We recognize commitment as showing up, being respectful, and taking advantage of opportunities available to better oneself. Doing otherwise shows lack of commitment to L.E.A.D. I will welcome a L.E.A.D. Ambassador back when he is willing to recommit and enter the struggle to build character and learn to lead.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why commercialization doesn't help Black communities

Editor's Note: This is the final installment in our two-part series on why commercialization doesn't work for organizations like L.E.A.D.

In the first part of this series, we talked about how important it is to resist the temptation to water down the reality of growing up in Black communities so that our programs will be more palatable to those who may support us. I believe that when we do this, our organization reduces its value to make a profit.

We don’t need consumers. We need role models who can help younger boys learn and be inspired. Consumers come into the Black inner cities to make things easier. Don’t
Khalil Gilstrap is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassdor
get me wrong. I’m not turning my nose up at helping. Helping is great, as long as we agree on what helping actually means and what success actually looks like.

Helping is not enabling. Helping is empowering. According to Arthur Brooks’ book, Conservative Heart, poor people need three things, in this order:

A little bit of help
A lot of hope

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is founded on the values I lacked, because I know that is why I failed to graduate from college and be successful in the Major Leagues. I associated values with Church, not ballfields and classrooms. I did not apply what I learned in the pews to what I was doing in the batter’s box, and that is where I failed.

It’s not enough for children to only learn values in Church. We have an obligation to teach children values wherever they are – school, after school programs, and sports practice. If we don’t focus on values, we will fail to empower them to succeed.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just come in and offer some help. It makes things better for those in need; it makes the ones helping feel good, but it’s not sustainable. I wish non-profits would learn that there is a more to relationships with inner city Atlanta families than providing a lot of help that forces folks to be dependent on others. We need to empower, not enable. That is what gives people hope.

Hope comes from showing up even when the other person has let you down. Hope comes from knowing that someone else believes in you. Hope comes when you realize that you have as much to teach someone as you have to learn from them. Hope is why L.E.A.D. is committed to being true to itself.

L.E.A.D. is audacious, bold, and cautious. I know that seems in conflict, but it’s not.

Our mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. Our vision is to lead their City of Atlanta to lead the world. That’s audacious. Just ask some of our board members, who asked if that was realistic. Our very bold answer was YES!

Our standards are clear, our expectations are high, and our accountability is swift. L.E.A.D. is developing Atlanta's future leaders today. We will succeed. We are not scared to say that. We are working
D'Angelo Julio is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassador
toward the day when the need for L.E.A.D. will cease to exist.

To deliver on this bold agenda, we have to be cautious about what we do and with whom we do it. One of our six core values is stewardship, and that means we will protect our program from those who are looking to help in a way that makes them feel better, but does not empower our boys to make a better life.

Only in being true to ourselves can we help make young Black males true to themselves. There is no higher calling for me, and I am proud to L.E.A.D. the way.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why L.E.A.D. is a Nonprofit

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on why commercialization doesn't work for organizations like L.E.A.D.

Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is successful in empowering Black males to live a life of significance. I believe it is because our program is:


These are the same qualities I base my for-profit work on, but when we apply them to L.E.A.D. it is different. We aren’t trying to make a profit off of this work. We don’t worry about how potential consumers will respond when we make decisions about how best to serve there boys. I don’t think it would be good for the organization, and I know it would not be good for the youth we serve.

It would be great if all non-profits could be run like Fortune 100 companies. But a lack of funds often drives non-profits that serve Black males to tailor their programs so they have “commercial success.” Why? Because there are a lot of crime ridden American inner cities with low performing schools, which leads to a sense that we need to rapidly scale good non-profits that are serving Black males.

L.E.A.D. is a disruptor. It intentionally and strategically levels the playing field for Black males through America's Favorite Pastime – baseball. The boys in our program have to work hard to stay in our program, and so do we. That’s because the reality of

our boys’ lives is hard. Supporting them requires that people face up to tough issues – issues that may make people uncomfortable. If you hang around L.E.A.D., you will see that we have lots of conversations about racism. We have to, because racism is a cloud that hangs over the heads of Black males today.

For generations, racism has perpetuated poverty in Atlanta. Without racism, academic outcomes, housing, and health in Atlanta would be better. According to the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, if you are born into poverty in Atlanta, you have a 4% chance of making it out. Four percent.

Today, there are Black boys sitting in classrooms all across Atlanta who have the ability to do incredible things – cure cancer, build bridges, teach others. What they don’t have is the hope that they can be among that 4% who make it out of poverty to live up to their potential. We want to change that.

The idea that we can is not as farfetched as you might think. Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta and was educated in Atlanta public schools during segregation.

People often suggest to me that L.E.A.D. should stop talking about racism and poverty. Their reasoning is that it will make people who may support us feel more comfortable. Focus on the baseball, they tell me. But here's the deal – how do you realistically increase the number of Black males competing in sports – and in life - without talking about racism?

Today, fewer than
C.J. with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Turner Field
8% of players in Major League Baseball are Black. That seems surprising until you realize that 70% of the players drafted have played on the collegiate level and only 3% of NCAA Division I baseball players are Black. Changing this is going to take more than just talking baseball.

Building fields in inner cities and providing new baseball equipment is like building brand new schools and providing Apple laptops. You end up hoping that the students will figure out how to be educated.

We are doing more than hoping, which is why we won’t avoid the uncomfortable topics. If we want these Black males to succeed, we need to be more worried about their realities than we are about making other people comfortable. That may mean that it takes us a little longer to scale our program, but that’s ok, because I’ve learned patience.

Patience means more than waiting. Patience is waiting without anger. I'm a Black man who’s using baseball to provide hope and praying that by being true to our core values, we can L.E.A.D. the way without selling ourselves out.