Former MLB star fosters excellence in youth baseball

Where you start does not determine where you finish.

Former Chicago Cubs outfielder CJ Stewart - an Atlanta native - knows what it’s like to overcome crime, poverty and racism. Now, Stewart and his wife, Kelli, are giving back to their city by providing a path to success for Atlanta’s inner-city youth through their nonprofit, L.E.A.D. - Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct.

Based out of Booker T. Washington High School, the nonprofit finds inspiration from the educator it was named after to motivate at-risk youth. L.E.A.D.’s Pathway2Empowerment, a year-round program, uses baseball as the vehicle to help shift the student-athletes’ mindset enabling them to see themselves and others through a new lens.

Pathway2Empowerment is a six-year commitment beginning in sixth grade, and serves 350 young men helping to level the playing field.

“We’re often told by parents that our accountability is too strict for the youth we target; that we should cut them some slack because of the socioeconomic challenges they face,” Kelli said. “We know from experience quite the opposite is true. The world doesn’t care about their socioeconomic challenges and the bar will not be lowered for them in the ‘real world’. So, if we’re really, authentically trying to empower them to become the consequential leaders we need to right the ship of humanity, we can’t lower it (for them) either.”

These standards produce positive results. Partnering with Atlanta Public Schools, 100% of their students have graduated from high school; 90% have enrolled in college, with 93% earning athletic and/or academic scholarships; 7% have chosen military service or have entered the workforce, according to Stewart.

Though they primarily mentor boys, L.E.A.D. is partnering with Georgia’s Own and the Washington High School Girls Tennis Program to launch a pilot program for the 2019-2020 school year.

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