The post below is a guest post from my friend, CJ Stewart. CJ and his wife, Kelli, are the founders of L.E.A.D., which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise and Direct. L.E.A.D. works to empower at-risk Atlanta male youth to lead and empower their city.
“Today you are the primary celebrities out here…”
That is the message that Kelli Stewart will deliver to hundreds of at-risk Atlanta Public School students anxiously awaiting in the stands early morning November 20th at Turner Field. They will be there to participate in L.E.A.D.’s 9th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic. For the past 8 years in our capacity as L.E.A.D. co-founders, Kelli and I have counted on this message to get the attention of the young people attending our annual baseball clinic. We know from years of experience that if the message gets through and we can get our young people excited about the game of baseball, then we will have a better chance to plant seeds of success in those young fertile minds. Consequently, this will allow us to set much needed expectations regarding how much we need them to not become successful, but most importantly significant.
The proof is in the pudding as this year’s clinic will be facilitated by past participants who have gotten the message and have gone on to become L.E.A.D. Ambassadors. They are now becoming celebrities in their communities, as more and more Atlantans become familiar with L.E.A.D. and our work. The Ambassadors’ celebrity is valuable because it creates credibility with the new clinic participants. Credibility is key for the Ambassadors to pull off an unforgettable experience for their young charges.
Through L.E.A.D., we currently serve 31 high school Ambassadors – the program runs from November through July of the next year. These are 31 young black males who attend Atlanta Public Schools and who are being groomed to lead Atlanta and the world. By 2020, L.E.A.D. hopes to serve 100 Ambassadors annually. The goal has always been to have L.E.A.D. Ambassadors set a good example for, and lead, their peers within APS high schools. They are being specifically trained to be influencers within their schools and inner city Atlanta communities, and for good reasons – the Ambassadors know their schools and communities better than any adult mentor could. With 100 Ambassadors, L.E.A.D. will be able to provide peer leadership in 11 APS high schools, and continue to assist APS to realize its mission of creating “… a caring culture of trust and collaboration, [where] every student will graduate ready for college and career.”
Not only are the young black males that L.E.A.D. serves being positioned as leaders in their communities, they are being groomed to be career ready when they graduate from college. They will need three things along the way from their Atlanta community to guarantee their success in this regard:
- Access to other influencers and decision makers;
- Constant encouragement (time and prayers); and
- Financial investment
They will also need:
- Internships and shadow opportunities while they are in high school and college;
- Interview opportunities for open, and newly created, positions upon graduating from college; and
- A yes after the interview. If L.E.A.D. does its job right, and the Ambassadors do what they are charged with, a “yes” will be inevitable.
Access to these necessities for success should be a no brainer, and L.E.A.D. should not have a difficult time finding opportunities for its Ambassadors. After all, Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS and Chick-fil-A. Additionally, the world’s newest athletic venue is being built in Atlanta and will bear the name of Atlanta’s newest corporate resident, Mercedes Benz. Porsche has recently acquired an Atlanta address for its North American headquarters connecting its proximity to the world’s busiest passenger airport – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
But . . . here’s why you must help:
- ON THE DOWNSIDE:Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of Georgia’s State Prison population. About 60% of black males either will not graduate on time or at all from Atlanta Public Schools while the state of Georgia ranks 31st in education in America. It takes an investment of $3,500 per young man annually for L.E.A.D. to develop an Ambassador, and it costs Georgia tax payers $100,000 per year to incarcerate one of them. Do the math! And if the numbers don’t motivate you, maybe your sense of humanity will. Did you know that Georgia is number one in America in incarceration and America leads the world in incarceration?
- ON THE UPSIDE: According to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), if xx% of blacks graduate from college, there will be a $xxx economic return to the city of Atlanta. Additionally, it follows that the higher the graduation and employment rate, the lower the incarceration rate.
It stands to reason that if we don’t participate in the lives of young black males and empower them to live a sustainable life of significance, then Atlanta will never truly become a world class city. I recently stated this very sentiment to several of my Leadership Atlanta 2015 classmates at a CEO Roundtable discussion. Woodruff Foundation chairman, Russ Harden, was there and he agreed with me.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Ceasar Mitchell, Courtney English, Byron Amos, Vernon Jones, Herman Russell and Andre Dickens all achieved a high level of celebrity in their own right. We have every reason to believe that given the right opportunities our young black men can hold similar careers, with the potential for even greater successes. We fully expect by 2020, our Ambassadors will lead in positions such as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, Atlanta Police Chief, Atlanta Fire Chief, Georgia College and University Deans and Director of Athletics, Atlanta Mayor, Atlanta based Fortune 500 Company Executives, L.E.A.D. CEO, Clergymen and Atlanta Public Schools Teachers and Principals, to name a few; and, we believe that it all starts with Kelli’s message to the eager young baseball clinic participants each year.
With that said, let’s raise the profile of over 50,000 Atlanta Public School students to celebrity status by sharing this blog, and come out on Friday, November 20 to Turner Field between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, to meet L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and join in the excitement with 300 new young celebrities. You are also welcome to worship with the Ambassadors on Sunday, November 22nd at 12:00 PM at Elizabeth Baptist Church , 4245 Cascade Rd SW, Atlanta, GA 30331-7245 ElizabethBaptist.org.