When my wife Kelli and I decided to create L.E.A.D. to empower at risk youth living in Atlanta’s inner city, we knew it was a bold move and not without risk. We were a young family and had the responsibility of raising two very young children of our own. We also knew that starting an organization committed to providing opportunities to empower at risk youth was not going to be easy. Where would we find the time and resources to succeed and grow our own family and L.E.A.D.? We knew if we failed it would negatively impact our own children, and the at risk youth that we committed to empower to succeed. Our willingness to take the risk, however, outweighed the shame we knew we would have to live with if we didn’t proceed.
Kelli and I took the bold steps and accepted the risks to start L.E.A.D., and never looked back. Here’s why we are very happy we did:
• 80% of Atlanta Public Schools students live at or below the poverty level, but every year L.E.A.D. Ambassador College Graduates prove that change is coming.
|photo credit Audra Starr
• 60% of black males from Atlanta Public Schools won’t graduate on time or at all, but L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are helping to reverse that trend by graduating from high school on time and going to college.
• Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of the Georgia State Prison population, but L.E.A.D. has created a sustainable program and continues to work to empower at risk youth living in those areas. Now they dream of college instead of living in despair of what they continue to hear is their destiny – prison or death.
Over the years, Kelli and I found that mentorship is key to L.E.A.D.’s success. One of the rules we live by, that I learned from my own experiences is: humility is a must have and we should think more of others, but not to the detriment of thinking less of yourself. For example, when I was a teenager, I grew up playing baseball against my white counterparts, convincing myself that I was better at the game than they were. Deep down I had my doubts which stemmed from my lack of resources. I didn’t have the training or equipment they had. What I didn’t realize then, but do now, is that by thinking that way I was putting myself down. It is clear now that my conflicting thoughts kept me off balance. Thinking back, had I had the humility to acknowledge that my white counterparts were good, and maybe even better than me, due in part to their access to training and equipment, I might have concentrated more on ways to make myself a better ball player. Instead I focused on why I might not be as good – as I was trying to convince myself that I was – in spite of what I didn’t have. It was a crazy existence.
Humility is also among the core values we teach our Ambassadors. The key to learning these core values is understanding them and that is done through experience and practice. Some L.E.A.D. Ambassadors have an easier time of it than others because they have had core value training at home. Those who struggle have little to none. Sometimes, a young man lacking in core values is accepted into L.E.A.D. as an Ambassador even though he is known to have a bad temper, and is often times disrespectful. In spite of all of that, I believe event that young man can lead Atlanta. I am confident of this because we have mutual love and respect for each other. My Ambassadors know that I will give my life for them. If I’m not willing to do so, they will not wear the Ambassadors logo. I know that God has me on earth to serve and empower them – whatever it takes.
So as I continue to work to empower my young men to lead and transform their City of Atlanta, believe me when I say that I get tired. I get tired of Black boys being considered criminal by some simply because of the color of their skin. I get tired of media reports each year that show a decline of blacks at the Major League Baseball level and I get tired of the same media reports that say Black boys just don’t play baseball. As tired as I am of hearing all of this, and reading about it, I am equally energized by the knowledge that, for our Ambassadors, the MLB isn’t a microcosm of the world. They know there is so much more and they are willing to be bold and take the necessary risks to find it.
|photo credit Jay Boatwright