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.