Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FROM SIMPLISTIC TO SIMPLE : HOW I LEAD WITH FOCUS and HOW YOU CAN LEAD WITH ME


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.

1. PRAY

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.



2. BE A PRESENT

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. .

3. BE PRESENT

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.

4. BE A PARTNER

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 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.” http://bible.com/59/rom.8.28.esv


###

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?

Home
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:

Values
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:

Philosophical
Methodical
Ethical
Accountable
Deliverable

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.

###

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I hear you talking but what are you saying?

Convolution is a word that I added to my vocabulary a year ago after reading a blog. It means to intentionally complicate something that is simple. Ironically, several days later I was at a Leadership Atlanta CEO Roundtable with AT&T's Ralph de la Vega and asked him this question.

How do you combat convolution?
He responded that you combat it by being clear, concise and consistent. I thought to myself, that's the solution that I'm looking for and then I realized that being clear, concise and consistent ain't easy to do.

Clarity + Conciseness + Consistency = Simplicity

Communication isn't just talking. It's about understanding. Poor communication can make you vulnerable and being

vulnerable around the wrong people can make you prey.

What does good communication feel like?
Good communication feels like breathing air. You can see it,
Jon Johnson is a senior at Westlake High School
but you suffer when it's not there.

Why do you need good communication in your life?
You need good communication in order to experience peace. Let your "yes" be your yes, and your "no" your no.

How do you maintain good communication?
You keep good communication going by asking SAQ's (Should Ask Questions) and not FAQ's (Frequently Asked Question). SAQ's forces people to go deep. Convolutors win when simplicity is not demanded. For example:

FAQ: How do you feel about the situation at the office?
SAQ: What are 1-3 things that trigger a negative response for you at the office when you hear it and see it?

How do we avoid convolution? By being unwaveringly committed to being clear, concise and consistent with our communication.


###

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Play ball – The truth about why more Blacks don't play baseball

As the co-founder of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), I spend every day trying to help at-risk young Black kids reach their fullest potential.


Our Atlanta based non-profit 501c3 partners with Atlanta Public Schools to help give these young men the tools and confidence to transform their city of Atlanta.

In doing so, we use our unique Pathway2Empowerment co-curricular programming to debunk six myths that speak against blacks playing baseball:

Myth No. 1
"Black kids don't play baseball because of football."

We serve over 250 Black males per year with six of our partner middle schools in the poorest parts of the inner city of Atlanta having up to 40 baseball players on each team.

Myth No. 2
"Black kids don't play baseball because they don't have father's in their lives."

Having a father at home is a "nice to have." A combination of five great role models and mentors (male and/or female is a "must have.)"

Myth No. 3

"Black kids don't play baseball because both football and basketball are faster pace."

Baseball requires discipline, patience, critical thinking and self-leadership. Black people can demonstrate all four of those at the same time.

Myth No. 4
"Black kids don't play baseball because they can't get a full baseball college scholarship."

Being poor with at least a 3.0 in Georgia means you can get full financial aid and the Georgia funded HOPE scholarship. That leaves about 3,000 to 5,000 for college fees per year that you can cover with loans if the baseball coach doesn't want to give it to you with athletic money.



Omar Minya, L.E.A.D. Ambassador Vernard Kennedy, CJ Stewart, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Hall Of Famer David Winfield

Myth No. 5
"Black kids don't play baseball because it's more expensive than football."

Consider the cost of essential items for baseball, including a good aluminum bat and glove for baseball. That's $250 each. A team only needs three bats of varying sizes tops.

Consider the cost for essential items for football, including a helmet and shoulder pads. That's $250 each.

Consider that kids in Georgia can have their own league and develop their skills without having to travel across the country to play tournaments. It worked for Jackie Robinson.

Consider that less than 55 percent of SEC football players are Black.

Myths No. 6
"Black kids don't play baseball because their aren't enough baseball fields in the inner city of Atlanta."

Inner city Atlanta has a surplus of baseball fields.

L.E.A.D.'s leadership is committed to being solution strategist. The decline of Blacks competing in baseball at the collegiate and professional levels in America is a problem and an opportunity for L.E.A.D. to be be solution.


###

Why you can compete at the highest level – and how it's done

It's February and that means that means three things.

1. Black History Month is celebrated in America.
2. Major League Baseball starts Spring Training.
3. The articles that question and state the decline of blacks in baseball begin.

The skill you need as a Black baseball player to compete at the collegiate and Major League Baseball level is self-confidence.

Why? Because it leads to success with speed:

1. Self-confidence
2. Self-discipline
3. Self-differentiation
4. Simple
5. Success
6. Speed

Self-confidence allows us to develop self-discipline that differentiates us from those that aren't Serious. Things get really simple when you have self-confidence, self-discipline and self-differentiation.

When things get simple, you can experience success and with speed. Significance is achieved by serving others with your success.




How do you develop it?

1. Do things that are really difficult to develop grit
The bridge between struggle and success is sustenance by grit. Grit is a mental muscle that's built when you fail at doing things that are really difficult. Walking for babies is difficult. But they fall and get back up.

Why? Because they want to walk. What keeps them getting back up? Grit.

2. Know only what you need to know
There is only so much a person can know. Nobody will ever know everything. Knowing what you must know allows you to do what you need to do. Don't waste your time trying to be a jack of all trades and master of none. If baseball is what you need to be doing, don't spend hundreds of hours learning to plant trees. Other people have been put on earth to do that, and they love it.

Great baseball players are great people and possess eight great things:

1. Conviction
2. Passion
3. Grit
4. Character
5. Habits
6. Knowledge
7. Skills
8. Resources

3. Asking a lot of great questions of great people to get great answers

Among many characteristics, great people are those who can speak with clarity, conciseness and consistency. It has nothing to do with how much money you have or your level of influence. Great people know themselves well and can tell their story well. They are shaped by their experiences and they know how to say, "I don't know."

Good people experience success, while great people share their success and are elevated to a difference title – significance. One of my favorite African Proverbs is, "To understand the road ahead, ask those coming back. Success leaves clues."

Great people are significant and come back so ask them great questions.

Jackie Robinson was a great man. Here's a good question and great question to ask him if you could:

Good question: How did it feel to play in your first Major League Baseball game as a Black man?

Great question: Where did you draw your mental and emotional strength to play in your first Major League Baseball game despite the hatred against you as a Black man?

6 myths you shouldn't believe
I'm the co-founder of L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct), an Atlanta based non-profit 501c3 that partners with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta.

We use our unique Pathway2Empowerment co-curricular programming to debunk six myths that speak against blacks playing baseball:

Myth No. 1
"Black kids don't play baseball because of football."

We serve over 250 Black males per year with six of our partner middle schools in the poorest parts of the inner city of Atlanta having up to 40 baseball players on each team.

Myth No. 2
"Black kids don't play baseball because they don't have father's in their lives."

Having a father at home is a "nice to have." A combination of five great role models and mentors (male and/or female is a "must have.)"

Myth No. 3

"Black kids don't play baseball because both football and basketball are faster pace."

Baseball requires discipline, patience, critical thinking and self-leadership. Black people can demonstrate all four of those at the same time.

Myth No. 4
"Black kids don't play baseball because they can't get a full baseball college scholarship."

Being poor with at least a 3.0 in Georgia means you can get full financial aid and the Georgia funded HOPE scholarship. That leaves about 3,000 to 5,000 for college fees per year that you can cover with loans if the baseball coach doesn't want to give it to you with athletic money.

Myth No. 5
"Black kids don't play baseball because it's more expensive than football."

Consider the cost of essential items for baseball, including a good aluminum bat and glove for baseball. That's $250 each. A team only needs three bats of varying sizes tops.

Consider the cost for essential items for football, including a helmet and shoulder pads. That's $250 each.

Consider that kids in Georgia can have their own league and develop their skills without having to travel across the country to play tournaments. It worked for Jackie Robinson.

Consider that less than 55 percent of SEC football players are Black.


D'Angelo Julio (S. Atlanta HS c/o 2017, signed with Savannah St. Univ.); CJ Stewart; Devon Shaw (B.E. Mays HS c/o 2017, signed with Tuskegee Univ.)

Myths No. 6
"Black kids don't play baseball because their aren't enough baseball fields in the inner city of Atlanta."

Inner city Atlanta has a surplus of baseball fields.


L.E.A.D.'s leadership is committed to being solution strategist. The decline of Blacks competing in baseball at the collegiate and professional levels in America is a problem and an opportunity for L.E.A.D. to be be solution.


###

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stupidity To Significance

Call someone stupid, and be ready for a fight. We all do stupid stuff daily. Stupid is defined as having or showing a lack of intelligence. Intelligence is acquiring and applying knowledge.

In my experience, stupid people:

  • don't know what to do and are unable to do it even if they knew, or
  • know what to do, yet won't do it. 
Intelligent people, on the other hand, know what to do and are able to do something with what they know. In addition, intelligent people can use what they already know and understand to develop solutions for unique situations.

When the Chicago Cubs released me two years into my professional baseball career, I hit one of the lowest points of my life. Playing Major League Baseball for the Chicago Cubs was my childhood dream; it was my only dream as far as a career was concerned. Many of my youth coaches helped me get my foot in the door. I was drafted by the Cubs – twice – and ended up signing a two-year contract, but my short-lived career was due to a lack of values and poor character.


Honestly, I made a lot stupid choices while playing for the Cubs: late nights in the clubs, playing video games to no end, a bad diet and the list goes on. When I returned home to my new wife, Kelli, I still had bad habits. I didn't want to work. I’d just watch Kelli go to work and school, and then stay home and play video games. I was acting stupid. My ability to think clearly was clouded by being depressed, combative and selfish. Here's what I've learned along my journey thus far. 



The Stupid Stage is the humbling process. This stage lasts as long as it takes for humility to be embraced. 

The Struggle Stage should be where you gather and manage all the resources you need to reach the top which is Significance. The Stupid Stage taught me that I need help from others, while the Struggle Stage is where I needed discernment and wisdom. These two must haves will help you ascertain the resources you need to engage and those you need to get rid of. I am a follower of Christ, so to receive and maintain discernment and wisdom, I have to keep my connection with The Lord.

The Success Stage should be viewed as the individual accolades you've experienced as a result of staying the course. Looking back over the Stupid and Struggle stages, identifying the "grit bits" that have sustained you, is vital to reaching significance. My grit bits helped me stay on course and decide who stays and who goes in my life. In life, our grit bits are the people and things that have kept us from quitting, or taking short cuts and enabled us to see hidden opportunities in defeat.

The Significance Stage should focus on leaving a positive pathway for generations to come. It’s about leaving a blueprint, an underground railroad if you will.

I changed because Kelli told me it was time. If I wanted to remain married to her, there were standards that I had to meet that weren't optional. At first, I struggled with this ultimatum, because I had to think of her more than me. I had to prioritize my marriage over losing my childhood dream, and that was hard. I'm glad I made that decision because now we're building a family legacy our children can be proud of and will prayerfully build upon with their families. While at the same time, God is also using us to partner with hundreds of families to help their children safely navigate their road to significance.

My struggle has became my story, and through my struggle I have developed grit - a relentless pursuit of my purpose. 

###