Why L.E.A.D. is a Nonprofit

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

Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) is successful in empowering Black males to live a life of significance. I believe it is because our program is:


These are the same qualities I base my for-profit work on, but when we apply them to L.E.A.D. it is different. We aren’t trying to make a profit off of this work. We don’t worry about how potential consumers will respond when we make decisions about how best to serve there boys. I don’t think it would be good for the organization, and I know it would not be good for the youth we serve.

It would be great if all non-profits could be run like Fortune 100 companies. But a lack of funds often drives non-profits that serve Black males to tailor their programs so they have “commercial success.” Why? Because there are a lot of crime ridden American inner cities with low performing schools, which leads to a sense that we need to rapidly scale good non-profits that are serving Black males.

L.E.A.D. is a disruptor. It intentionally and strategically levels the playing field for Black males through America’s Favorite Pastime – baseball. The boys in our program have to work hard to stay in our program, and so do we. That’s because the reality of

our boys’ lives is hard. Supporting them requires that people face up to tough issues – issues that may make people uncomfortable. If you hang around L.E.A.D., you will see that we have lots of conversations about racism. We have to, because racism is a cloud that hangs over the heads of Black males today.

For generations, racism has perpetuated poverty in Atlanta. Without racism, academic outcomes, housing, and health in Atlanta would be better. According to the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, if you are born into poverty in Atlanta, you have a 4% chance of making it out. Four percent.

Today, there are Black boys sitting in classrooms all across Atlanta who have the ability to do incredible things – cure cancer, build bridges, teach others. What they don’t have is the hope that they can be among that 4% who make it out of poverty to live up to their potential. We want to change that.

The idea that we can is not as farfetched as you might think. Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta and was educated in Atlanta public schools during segregation.

People often suggest to me that L.E.A.D. should stop talking about racism and poverty. Their reasoning is that it will make people who may support us feel more comfortable. Focus on the baseball, they tell me. But here’s the deal – how do you realistically increase the number of Black males competing in sports – and in life – without talking about racism?

Today, fewer than

C.J. with the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors at Turner Field

8% of players in Major League Baseball are Black. That seems surprising until you realize that 70% of the players drafted have played on the collegiate level and only 3% of NCAA Division I baseball players are Black. Changing this is going to take more than just talking baseball.

Building fields in inner cities and providing new baseball equipment is like building brand new schools and providing Apple laptops. You end up hoping that the students will figure out how to be educated.

We are doing more than hoping, which is why we won’t avoid the uncomfortable topics. If we want these Black males to succeed, we need to be more worried about their realities than we are about making other people comfortable. That may mean that it takes us a little longer to scale our program, but that’s ok, because I’ve learned patience.

Patience means more than waiting. Patience is waiting without anger. I’m a Black man who’s using baseball to provide hope and praying that by being true to our core values, we can L.E.A.D. the way without selling ourselves out.