Why commercialization doesn’t help Black communities

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in our two-part series on why commercialization doesn’t work for organizations like L.E.A.D.

In the first part of this series, we talked about how important it is to resist the temptation to water down the reality of growing up in Black communities so that our programs will be more palatable to those who may support us. I believe that when we do this, our organization reduces its value to make a profit.

We don’t need consumers. We need role models who can help younger boys learn and be inspired. Consumers come into the Black inner cities to make things easier. Don’t

Khalil Gilstrap is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassdor

get me wrong. I’m not turning my nose up at helping. Helping is great, as long as we agree on what helping actually means and what success actually looks like.

Helping is not enabling. Helping is empowering. According to Arthur Brooks’ book, Conservative Heart, poor people need three things, in this order:

A little bit of help
A lot of hope

L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is founded on the values I lacked, because I know that is why I failed to graduate from college and be successful in the Major Leagues. I associated values with Church, not ballfields and classrooms. I did not apply what I learned in the pews to what I was doing in the batter’s box, and that is where I failed.

It’s not enough for children to only learn values in Church. We have an obligation to teach children values wherever they are – school, after school programs, and sports practice. If we don’t focus on values, we will fail to empower them to succeed.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just come in and offer some help. It makes things better for those in need; it makes the ones helping feel good, but it’s not sustainable. I wish non-profits would learn that there is a more to relationships with inner city Atlanta families than providing a lot of help that forces folks to be dependent on others. We need to empower, not enable. That is what gives people hope.

Hope comes from showing up even when the other person has let you down. Hope comes from knowing that someone else believes in you. Hope comes when you realize that you have as much to teach someone as you have to learn from them. Hope is why L.E.A.D. is committed to being true to itself.

L.E.A.D. is audacious, bold, and cautious. I know that seems in conflict, but it’s not.

Our mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. Our vision is to lead their City of Atlanta to lead the world. That’s audacious. Just ask some of our board members, who asked if that was realistic. Our very bold answer was YES!

Our standards are clear, our expectations are high, and our accountability is swift. L.E.A.D. is developing Atlanta’s future leaders today. We will succeed. We are not scared to say that. We are working

D’Angelo Julio is a senior L.E.A.D. Ambassador

toward the day when the need for L.E.A.D. will cease to exist.

To deliver on this bold agenda, we have to be cautious about what we do and with whom we do it. One of our six core values is stewardship, and that means we will protect our program from those who are looking to help in a way that makes them feel better, but does not empower our boys to make a better life.

Only in being true to ourselves can we help make young Black males true to themselves. There is no higher calling for me, and I am proud to L.E.A.D. the way.