The Decline of Blacks in Baseball…Here We Go Again

The Decline of Blacks in Baseball…Here We Go Again
by: Kelli Stewart, L.E.A.D. Co-founder/Executive Director

“Here we go again in circles…I think I heard it all. We’ve been here before, but we need something more.” – Lecrae, Nuthin’

I pen this message with a heavy, offended and angry heart.

Let me be clear: I am an advocate for children. In addition to my two biological children, The Lord has given me charge to speak for hundreds of young, Black boys in the City of Atlanta through my organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) where I serve as the executive director.

LEAD is not just another non-profit, it was birthed in my family’s home and is our third child. The boys we serve, our boys, know our names and are counting on us to be there to guide them and protect their dreams. Their families’ have invited us to join their teams because they see an opportunity that no one else is offering their sons. My husband, C.J. Stewart, and I consider it a privilege to be chosen for such an endeavor – to be the voice for children who are often counted out and misrepresented. He was once that child until others in his community became advocates for him and his dreams.

This is why it is especially disturbing and extremely offensive to me that every year, without fail, like clockwork, around the start of baseball season (and even more intense near and on Jackie Robinson Day) the sports industry starts churning with articles about the decline of blacks in baseball.  Mind you, I endure this madness all while we serve over 200 Black boys each year and could serve more with the right partnerships and funding. And by the way, we have a waiting list of schools and school districts who want our programs in their communities. To hear “black kids aren’t interested” and “baseball doesn’t resonate with the black community” year after year when my paradigm here in Atlanta is the exact opposite, is very irritating.

Some folks just pretend like they’re trying to help.

Sometime, folks just pretend like they’re trying to help. When someone is pretending like they want to help you, they host “summits” and “roundtables” and “workshops”. These tactics have their place, but at some point you have to stop talking and start doing. When someone really wants to help you, they do site visits, meet with your leadership, evaluate your program and, if you’re worthy, make multi-year commitments to community based programs that nurture sustainability and growth. I specifically say “community based programs” because it is not Major League Baseball’s job to run programming in our communities. It is up to leadership within the community to establish programs that organizations like MLB can get behind and support. (The previous statement is another blog all by itself, but I digress.)

Here in Atlanta, Black boys are winning through LEAD and we have the stats to prove it. To date, 100% of the young men who complete our program graduate from high school, 95% enroll into college and 92% receive scholarship money to help pay for college. One statistic we don’t track is how many of our program graduates play Major League Baseball – because that’s not our focus. Who cares how many Black men are playing Major League Baseball when Black boys aren’t even graduating from high school in respectable numbers? In Atlanta, about 60% of Black boys do not graduate from high school at all or on time. What’s even more depressing is that 80% of Georgia’s prison population is made up of youth from three Atlanta zip codes: 30310, 30315 and 30318. And you want me to use baseball to increase the number of Jason Heywards and Andrew McCutchens as I stare down the barrel of these miserable statistics and the detrimental outcomes that they breed?

LEAD Ambassador Austin Evans, Governor Nathan Deal, C.J. Stewart (LEAD Co-founder/CEO)

Forgive me if I want to use baseball for a more pressing concern. I am much more concerned about Black boys progressing through and graduating from high school on time, pursuing advanced education options, becoming gainfully employed, becoming actively engaged community leaders, husbands and fathers. And by being concerned about these things, one of the ancillary effects could be that you have more Black families with more disposable income who can afford the price tag that goes along with being in love with baseball.

So forgive me if I’m just a bit perturbed by this annual round of rhetoric; I’ve heard it before. All talk and very little action. Most importantly, our boys have heard it before and they know who’s genuinely trying to help them and who’s just posturing.

Meanwhile in Atlanta through LEAD, we’re getting it done.

Join us.