Why Doing the Work Doesn’t Work

Noted psychologist thought leader Dr. Amos Wilson once said, “If you want to understand any problem in America, you need to focus on who profits from that problem, not who suffers from the problem.”

As the Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) of L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct, www.lead2legacy.org), my focus is on creating a picture of the preferred future for our Ambassadors and organization. I am the blueprint. I am proof that African-American boys born in Atlanta’s inner-city can use the sport of baseball to overcome the “three curveballs” that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism.

Unfortunately, these threats are big business. My birth city and home, Atlanta, ranks No. 1 in America for racial income inequality. To those outside of Atlanta, we are considered a world-class city—the “Black Mecca.” But if that were even close to being true, LEAD would not have to exist. Racism creates crime and poverty. Racism is a structure, not an event; and it is about power before it is about people. It is about affluence and influence.

Generationally disenfranchising African-American people from quality housing, education, employment and healthcare definitely causes crime because folks ain’t gon’ just not eat, starve to death, not be able to take care of their families, etc. It ain’t gon’ happen.

So why do I say doing the work doesn’t work?

Well, have you ever heard the phrase, “If you build it they will come?”

That has not been my experience on my journey in the non-profit sector . 

Like I said earlier, racism is about affluence and influence, and the key to getting your work recognized, sadly, isn’t about doing the best job or achieving the best results. 

Philanthropy has an elitist problem.

I believe that and Dr. King’s Letter From The Birmingham Jail states how freedom, equality and citizenship for Black people had an elitist problem, too. I define philanthropy as a way to serve and empower others with financial and in-kind donations. Our donor make-up includes more White donors than African-American donors. The low number of African-American donors hurts me because I know we want to bless people in tremendous ways. We as a people have an abundance of love and prayers and we are wise enough to know that love and prayers alone will not bring about the change we need in our communities. If that were the case, we would have made it to the Promised Land a long time ago.

It takes money to affect the change we need to see—and lots of it.

The truth is that African-Americans cannot give a lot because we don’t  have a lot. A close examination of wealth in the US shows staggering evidence of racial disparities. In 2016, the net worth of a typical White family was $171,000—nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family at $17,150. The city of Atlanta leads the nation in racial income inequality and lack of economic mobility. The median household income for a White family in the city is $83,722, compared to $28,105 for a Black family, according to a report from the AWBI. That’s nearly a 3-to-1 ratio.1 Gaps in wealth between Black and White households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. These gaps in wealth are not equated to the myth that Black people are inferior, lazy and dumb. Though some would like others to believe that. 

 2The Black-White wealth gap reflects a society that has not and does not afford equality of opportunity to all its citizens. This wealth gap, in fact, demonstrates levels of citizenship where Blacks are second class and Whites are first class, with those who are considered ‘not like those Black people’ and the ‘model minority’ being able to glean benefits from being acceptable and palatable to Whites. 

This economic disparity directly ties into the commoditization of crime, poverty and racism in cities like Atlanta:

3 “…the economic disparity, even among African-Americans in this region, is a result of underperforming schools, crime, and White and Black flight from neighborhoods still grappling with the effects of discriminatory housing policies.”

 What African-Americans do have often goes to our churches:

4 “Historically, the Black church has been a core institution for African-American philanthropy. The Black church does not only serve as a faith-based house of worship, but it facilitates organized philanthropic efforts including meeting spiritual, psychological, financial, educational, and basic humanitarian needs such as food, housing, and shelter. Black churches are also involved in organizing and providing volunteers to the community and in civil and human rights activism.”

I believe Black churches must do more to serve the African-American community.

My family’s church, Elizabeth Baptist Church (EBC), recently launched a Giving Sunday initiative that raised more than $600,000. Even before our pastor, Dr. Craig Oliver, Sr., created Giving Sunday, EBC has a long history of local missions. In fact, our church is a faithful, generous LEAD donor; providing access to funding, mentors and jobs. 

White supremacy is a real thing.

It is a social construct that positions White people at the top of the funnel and African-Americans at the bottom. Well-connected African-Americans in Atlanta play into this by serving as the gatekeepers. They often determine which non-profits will receive funding and which will not.

This is frustrating to me because I serve a lot of families who are constantly in crisis. And I do not have the luxury of playing golf, smoking cigars and sipping wine in order to marginally increase my chances of convincing someone that we are doing lifesaving work in a city that ranks near the top in crime, poverty and racism. My families live in a state of urgency, and so do I. 

For several weeks during the initial COVID-19 outbreak, we had to pivot from 90% direct service to youth and 10% outreach, to 90% outreach and 10% direct service to youth. Several of our families could not get help from the large organizations who specialize in food security and housing assistance because their doors were closed at the onset of the pandemic.

LEAD serves 350 African-American boys from Atlanta Public Schools in grades 6th-12th in addition to our alumni. The vast majority of them live in households that could not and cannot afford to shelter in place during a pandemic.

And then, when the medical pandemic clashed with the three social pandemics that Blacks folks have been dealing with forever in Atlanta – crime, poverty and racism – I was disheartened and angered to hear leaders who I respect yell at our neighbors to “go home”. I’m specifically speaking of the protests and riots that took place here after George Floyed was murdered. I stared at the news in disbelief and looked at my wife as she screamed back at the TV – ‘Go home where??!! To these deplorable, drug infested extended stays we’ve been delivering food to? Or to their cars where they’ve been sleeping for months, with their kids??!! The nerve!” What I shared with you was the clean version of what she actually said. 

For a city with leaders of such influence and affluence who quote Dr. King all the time, it surprised me that very few – especially Black people – took this moment during the “racial unrest” to stand up and be a voice for poor, Black people in our city. Dr. King did this when he said that rioting is the language of the unheard. Dr. King empathized with rioters because he too understood what it felt like to be unheard and just how very frustrating – maddening even – that can be. Like Dr. King, one of the reasons I do not have to riot and loot is because I have the affluence and influence not to. I believe a lot of the rioters and looters who were being yelled at during the turbulent summer of 2020 represent some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in our city. Hell, most of them didn’t have a home to go to in this ultra-gentrified city—one that has discarded them.

I believe grassroots is where the gold is.

 Roots of plants and trees are unseen, but essential. Unfortunately, most grassroots organizations are often obscure and not well-connected. As a result, we are not seen as credible. We often do not have the funds to hire staff to convert our visions to a reality like larger, more well-funded organizations.

The irony is that most big and well-funded organizations started out small. They probably grew because somebody said it was time to financially fuel their mission. And perhaps many of them were not fighting an uphill battle against a city rooted in racism and elitism or they were on the side of racism and elitism and enjoyed the funding that came along with taking that stance. 

 Grassroots organizations often are faced with the dilemma to change their mission to suit the needs of large donors. But does this demonstrate integrity?

 I define integrity as doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. It is only my faith in God that allows me not to compromise my character for a short-term gain.

Faith is a belief that things will happen according to the way God ordains it. Faith is very different from having a vision. Vision is what we believe will happen in the future as a result of us executing on our organization’s mission daily.

Our vision is crystal clear in our minds, but grassroots organizations typically lack the staff and/or funding to hire people to best tell and sell their stories to donors. 

If passion paid the bills, grassroots organizations would be the kings and queens of the hill.

So, what would I do with more funding for LEAD? I’m glad you asked. I would execute the work of LEAD according to our vision. Consider this: Today’s African-American youth in Atlanta are over-mentored and under-sponsored. I boldly made this statement on March 28, 2019 at the Commerce Club during Goodwill’s Prosperity For All: Closing Atlanta’s Wealth Gap” event. I made this statement before I asked a question to the panel which included Keith Parker, Mayor Bottoms, Raphael Bostic and Hala Moddelmog. This is the first time anyone has made this declaration, or at least that’s what I gathered from the “mmmms” and gasps from the room. Atlanta businesses must understand that mentorship is not the ceiling, it is the floor.

That is where LEAD comes in. LEAD stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, and Direct. It is a methodology. We scout the counted out – Black boys in Atlanta Public Schools from low-income households – and we coach them on how to win at the game of life by using baseball to teach them how to overcome crime, poverty and racism. 

While coaching is important, coaching without advocacy for disenfranchised youth in Atlanta is as ineffective as someone trying to drive a car that does not have an engine.

L.E.A.D measures success in the clearest and most simplest of terms: The number of boys and young men (designated as L.E.A.D Ambassadors) who are put on a path that will empower them to lead and transform their community, and overcome the three social pandemics of crime, poverty and racism. 

The all-in cost of creating that path—the programming and nurturing that deliver the outcome of an empowered young man—is approximately $5,000 per Ambassador.

 As LEAD receives funding, it is allocated to maintain or enhance the quality of its programming while also expanding the quantity of young men who can be included in the programs each year. As an investment in our community’s next generation, the donations LEAD receives provides a maximum positive return based on a clear performance indicator—the measurable success of our Ambassadors.

 LEAD Ambassador alums have achieved the following to date: 100% high school graduation rate, 93% college enrollment rate, a 90% college scholarship rate, 19% college graduation rate and about 14% enter the workforce, military or pursue entrepreneurship. 

 Because the Ambassadors reside in Atlanta communities in which young men have the highest possibility of incarceration, that $5,000 invested each year can be compared to the roughly $100,000 cost to the community to incarcerate a youth, as well as an unknown, but substantial opportunity cost of fewer productive young leaders in the community.

From a purely economic standpoint, this represents at least a 20:1 return on investment to the community and likely much higher.

 After over 14 years with both a strong business model and a new facility to operate from, LEAD is now poised to scale from its current 40 high school Ambassadors per year to 100 in the years to come. This initiative is known as Mission:100.

New funding will be directed toward program management resources, which will increase the program dosage at our Jr. Ambassador (middle school) level, and increase the opportunities at the Ambassador (high school) level so that more at-risk boys and young men can be included in our programs each year. And with more support, we’ll be starting our Lady Ambassadors program to include opportunities for girls and young women through tennis. I know ya’ll knew Kelli wasn’t going to leave our girls out of this empowerment movement. 

Each investment that LEAD receives means more Ambassadors, more future leaders who inspire those around them to strive and achieve for lives of significance. All of this translates to a direct positive impact upon our community and constitutes our authentic offering of doing what we can to indeed make Atlanta ‘a city too busy to hate’, ‘a city on a hill’, all of those phrases we claim to be, but are truly not – yet.

Photo Credit: India Albritton

1. BizJournals – Economic Disparities in the “Black Mecca”

2. Brookings – Examining the Black-white wealth gap

3. AJC – Atlanta and black wealth: Success for many, but not for all

4. Learning To Give – Philanthropy and the Black Church

Alumni Spotlight: Josepy McCrary, III – ’08 Alum

Alma Mater: Savannah State University

Major: Accounting

Scholarship: Academic & Athletic

Accomplishments: Scholar student-athlete, graduated Magna Cum Laude in 4 years, L.E.A.D.’s 1st Ambassador College Graduate

In Joseph’s Words: This program has opened a lot of doors for me, not only with baseball, but also with my career aspirations to become an Accountant. Seeing the Stewarts and their team be dedicated to serving others on a daily basis, has made me realize just how importance service is. Because of their concern for me, I have the privilege of working each day around two of the things I love most – accounting and sports

Employer: MizunoUSA

The James M. Cox Foundation Supports L.E.A.D.

Atlanta, GA, September 2013 – The James M. Cox Foundation awarded L.E.A.D. with a $15,000 grant to support the organization’s Middle School Character Development League Program. This program serves over 300 student-athletes across eight Atlanta Public Middle Schools:

  • B.E.S.T. Academy, 
  • Brown/Kennedy, 
  • Harper-Archer, 
  • King, 
  • Long, 
  • Price, 
  • Sylvan Hills and 
  • Young Middle Schools. 

L.E.A.D. guides its student-athletes on a year round Pathway To Empowerment that emphasizes excellence in academics, civic responsibility, commerce and athletics.  

C.J. Stewart Selected for 2015 Leadership Atlanta Class

CJ Headshot Seated CR

 L.E.A.D.’s Co-founder/CEO, C.J. Stewart, has been selected into the 2015 Class of Leadership Atlanta

“As a son of this City, I go to sleep and wake up every morning trying to create, develop solutions to the issues facing our youth in this great City. I am honored to have this opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest in Atlanta.” – C.J. Stewart


Dr. King’s Legacy Lives on in Atlanta: The Story of C.J. Stewart and L.E.A.D.

Eighty four years ago on a Tuesday afternoon, a reverend and his wife welcomed the birth of their second child — a son — at their family home at 501 Auburn Avenue N.E. in Atlanta, GA. That child would grow up to become one of the greatest leaders in world history, a man who promoted social change facilitated by education, community involvement and non-violence. That man was Martin Luther King, Jr.


Eight years and one week after King gave his final speech, where he proclaimed that he had “been to the mountaintop,” and told African-Americans that they would get to the “Promised Land,” C.J. Stewart was born in the Hollywood Courts project of Atlanta. As a child, Stewart excelled both academically and athletically. He graduated with honors from Westlake Magnet High School and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs organization. After his playing career ended, Stewart opened his own baseball hitting instruction company. Through his company, Diamond Directors Consulting, he has worked with MLB’s rising stars, including, Jason Heyward, Andruw Jones and Andrew McCutchen.


Stewart turned his baseball talent into a successful career. Yet, he is aware that if it weren’t for the assistance of others, he would have never achieved such success. Growing up in the projects, Stewart’s family’s finances only allowed the budding baseball talent to play at the high school level. For Stewart, there was no extra money lying around for the batting coaches, physical training sessions or participation in competitive teams necessary to make it to the major leagues. Luckily for him, an Atlanta police officer with a passion for baseball entered his life. T.J. Wilson’s love for baseball drove him to spend many days at Westlake High School’s baseball field. Aware of the young Stewart’s talent, Wilson took Stewart under his wing. He would pick Stewart up from school, make sure that he completed his homework and take him to and from a training facility 45 minutes away three days a week. Without the assistance, care and concern that Wilson showed Stewart, it’s possible that Stewart would never have made the major leagues.


Stewart is aware of the impact that public servants like King and Wilson had on his life. This awareness propelled him, along with his wife Kelli, to create an organization giving other young African-American men in Atlanta similar opportunities. Stewart’s non-profit organization, L.E.A.D. — which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct — exists to provide young inner-city men in Atlanta opportunities to not only play baseball, but also receive leadership training and networking opportunities, while engaging in service projects. Furthermore, Stewart works to ensure that every L.E.A.D. participant (called “ambassadors”) graduates from high school. This is no small feat, as a 2012 report found that Atlanta Public Schools’ graduation rate was a dismal 52 percent. 100 percent of the young men L.E.A.D. works with graduate from high school. 100 percent of them go on to college. 92 percent of those young men go to college on a scholarship.


Stewart’s reasoning for dedicating a hefty amount of his time to an endeavor that provides no immediate financial return is similar to King’s decision to become the face of the civil rights movement: He felt a burden in his heart to improve the lives of African-Americans. “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy exposes a lot of the problems that we still have in this society. Where there is a problem, there is an opportunity. I have an opportunity so long as I am alive to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. I want my own legacy,” Stewart explained.


When it comes to fulfilling King’s legacy, Stewart believes that there is still work to be done. “In the African-American community, there is so much division. There is no sense of coming together for the sake of making us better as a community. When I look at photos of King and see photos of him, I see behind him a community of believers. Right now, there is no community of believers. It’s almost like people are racing to be in charge, but unwilling to serve others. People find themselves blessed to be the best, but unwilling to serve the rest. That is what Dr. King did so well. He graduated early and went on to college so he could serve other people. He did not die rich. What he did, was pave the way for other people to be raised up.”


With L.E.A.D., Stewart is working to help other young men in Atlanta rise up from their life’s circumstances. “What we are doing first, is leading them from where they are. We provide consistent programming to help them get to where they need to be. For a lot of the youth we are serving, it is hard for them to set goals, because they don’t know where they need to be. We expose them to promise and hope by allowing them to see, touch and feel opportunities,” Stewart said. Stewart does this not only by introducing the young men to baseball, but by introducing them to leaders of the various Fortune 500 companies based in Atlanta. Furthermore, Stewart is a constant presence at the young mens’ schools, ensuring their progress towards a diploma and volunteering in their classrooms. Finally, he works to instill a burden in their hearts to give back by organizing community service projects for them to complete. “You aren’t a leader if you don’t serve. The service and exposure to what Atlanta has to offer gives them a sense of investment in and belonging to the city of Atlanta,” Stewart noted.


Forty five years after Dr. King’s life was taken on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, his dream lives on. His dream lives on because of the work of people like Stewart, who find enough burden in their heart to dedicate their lives to improving those of others.