How L.E.A.D. is getting Black boys ready for life’s challenges

CJ Stewart

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the importance of giving today’s inner city kids the tools they need to be ready for college, career and life.

To teach is to provide someone information. To preach is to challenge someone to do something with what they’ve learned, so that the information becomes knowledge-based on experience. To empower is to give someone responsibility and authority.

Our competitive advantage at L.E.A.D. is our ability to empower the Black boys we serve. While there is value in tutoring students in afterschool programs, there is also value in teaching students what’s not being taught in school and providing a safe space to talk about shared issues such as truancy and behavior. L.E.A.D. partners with tAtlanta Public Schools (APS) to recruit our Ambassadors APS has educators, nice buildings and state of the art technology to enhance the educational experience of its students. APS educators are also under tremendous pressure to teach based on what student need to know for standardized tests instead of what students need to know for life. Students need programming that will increase their proficiency in social emotional learning (SEL) skils. As a partner, we feel it’s our responsibility to fill this gap. As leaders who have shared experiences with our Ambassadors, we understand the many personal, social, familial and academic challenges they face every day. Academic rigor is not the answer; fortifying their SEL capacities is.

SEL capacities operate like the engine of a vehicle. They determine how we act. Years ago, SEL was known as “soft skills,” but the capacities that makeup SEL are far from soft. Possessing SEL capacities is not like breathing air. You can live without having many—or even any of them, I suppose. What I know is that it will be hard to live a productive life without a suitable dosage of all of them. After all, being alive and living are two different things.

At L.E.A.D., we recognized the need for SEL development in the Atlanta Public Schools system, and we believe that to partner is to provide what someone needs but does not have. Through our funding partner, Laureus USA, we were able to access a research based SEL tool that helps us develop and measure SEL in the students-athletes we serve..

As I stated earlier, APS has a lot of great educational resources. What it does not have is the time to teach SEL capacities to its students at the level they need it. APS serves approximately 51,000 students, and 80% of them live at or below the poverty level. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, if you’re born in the city of Atlanta, you have about a 4% chance of making it out of poverty in your lifetime. Atlanta is also the No. 1 city in America for racial income inequality.

Understanding these issues and needs, L.E.A.D. spends a lot of time teaching and preaching SEL development to our Ambassadors and empowering them to live out what they are learning. We do this so they can graduate from high school ready for college, career and life.

In my next blog, I will examine some of the innovative ways we develop SEL in our sports-based youth development (SBYD) programming.

Photo credit: Steve West