“As LBAA, our mission is to pursue positive change through community and leadership development and we do that primarily in a couple ways,” said LBAA Chair Rick Kollhoff. “First, we provide scholarships to youth and adults who want to go through the chamber’s leadership program, but just don’t have all the funds to do so. Then we also have events like this where we try to get community leaders together and talk about leadership and how we can make a positive change in the community and how we can make Bartow County a better place.”
After a brief career as an outfielder with the Chicago Cubs, Stewart founded Diamond Directors and built a successful player-development firm, with clients including Atlanta Braves Outfielder Jason Heyward, but in 2007 was challenged to mentor inner-city youth just as a stranger had done for him many years ago.
“What’s interesting about C.J. is he grew up in one of Atlanta’s most dangerous housing projects, Hollywood Courts, and his story is an example of the phrase, ‘Where you start doesn’t determine where you finish,’” said Leadership Consultant Tina Brush as she introduced Stewart, a colleague and friend. “C.J. and his wife, Kelli, who is the executive director of L.E.A.D., are doing what the people in C.J.’s community did for him when he was a child for hundreds of inner-city Atlanta young men who have the talent and desire, but don’t have the resources to do anything with that talent in baseball.”
The husband and wife team now operate L.E.A.D., which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise and Direct. Working with Atlanta’s youth, Stewart uses baseball as a foundation for crafting healthy young men and better citizens. With four more students poised to graduate the program next week, L.E.A.D. participants will then total 37, boasting a 100 percent high-school graduation rate and a 100 percent college acceptance rate with 90 percent being awarded scholarships.
The Stewarts spoke Tuesday to lessons learned during their time at the helm of a nonprofit, focusing on the issue of intentional leadership.
“Leading on purpose is crucial,” C.J. Stewart said. “I don’t feel like success is something that just happens. There are a lot of people that are putting in a lot of intentional time and a whole lot of prayers to make things happen.
“At L.E.A.D., we are Launching, Exposing, Advising and Directing. From a launch standpoint, we’re launching educational opportunities. For us, when it comes to baseball, this isn’t just baseball. Baseball and sportsmanship is good, but if 60 percent of [Atlanta] black males aren’t graduating high school, if what I’m doing with baseball isn’t helping them graduate — why am I doing it?”
During the presentation, Kelli Stewart outlined keys they found helpful in organizational success and in developing the potential of others — often by trial and error.
“When we first started L.E.A.D, we had to go through a crash course in leadership,” Kelli Stewart said. “One of the first things we have learned when it comes to leading on purpose is to know who you are. Once you know who you are, you have a firm foundation on which you can build a vision.”
After establishing an identity, Stewart emphasized the need for individuals and organizations to develop a mission and finally a methodology through which results can be replicated.
For more information about Leadership Bartow or the alumni association, contact Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government and Community Development Leslie McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-382-1466.