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I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I remember watching the Hawks back in the day on TBS when Dominique Wilkins was our star player and, for a moment, I believed that I could play in the NBA.
I would hang his posters on my wall and close a wire hanger at the top of my bedroom door and work on dunks all night using a sock as a basketball.
He earned the nickname “The Human Highlight Reel” because of his powerful dunks. Make no mistake about it, he was a legit scorer, but he never had enough skilled players around him to get us to the Conference Finals. He did, however, lead us to the Conference Semi-Finals four times.
If the Hawks win tonight against the 76ers, we will advance to the 2021 NBA Conference Finals. I watched the Hawks’ first four games this season and swore on my life that we would go deep in the playoffs. Then they lost game five, and like a fair-weather fan, I bailed on them.
Once they got on a roll mid-March, I was wearing my Hawks gear again, along with my brand new Trae Young x Top Ten High ‘Ice Trae’s.’
Since then, they finished 5th in the Eastern Conference, and they have taught me how to F.I.G.H.T.
Coaches ask their players to focus all the time, but it’s not something that you can just do. You have to be trained to focus. Focus is a skill, and a skill is something that you do well repeatedly without thought while under stress.
Motivation is internal, and inspiration is external. The Hawks inspire each other to believe in their own personal skills and trust each other to perform as a team.
The Urban Dictionary has a great definition of grind. For me, only convicted people can grind. Being convicted moves you to act in a spiritual/soulful way. It’s beyond “putting your mind to it” and “blood, sweat, and tears.”
Hustle is the fuel for the grind. To hustle is the ability to make things happen when things are not going your way. It cannot be taught, but it can be caught.
Talk less. Fight more.
Talk is cheap, and everybody can afford it.
My wife, Kelli, and I are the co-founders of L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). L.E.A.D. is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization operating in Atlanta, Georgia. Through our year-round Pathway2Empowerment, sport-based youth development (SBYD) programming, we inspire and equip Black males with the empowerment they need to live sustainable lives of significance.
Our mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta by using the sport of baseball to teach Black boys how to overcome three curveballs that threaten their success: crime, poverty, and racism.
Our vision is to develop Black boys into Ambassadors who will lead their City of Atlanta to lead the world.
As the Chief Visionary Officer, my job is to be the face of the organization. I cast a vision for us that is so crazy and possibly improbable that people want to join us to help make it become a reality for the betterment of Atlanta, our state, our country, and the world.
Whether the Hawks make it to the Eastern Finals or beyond this year, they have modeled for me the right way to F.I.G.H.T.
Now, if they win it all, I’m going to be decked out in Hawks gear and say that at the beginning of the season, I said a resounding “This Is Our Year!” in my house. 😀
Go Hawks, F.I.G.H.T.✊🏿
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the importance of giving today’s inner city kids the tools they need to be ready for college, career and life.
To teach is to provide someone information. To preach is to challenge someone to do something with what they’ve learned, so that the information becomes knowledge-based on experience. To empower is to give someone responsibility and authority.
Our competitive advantage at L.E.A.D. is our ability to empower the Black boys we serve. While there is value in tutoring students in afterschool programs, there is also value in teaching students what’s not being taught in school and providing a safe space to talk about shared issues such as truancy and behavior. L.E.A.D. partners with tAtlanta Public Schools (APS) to recruit our Ambassadors APS has educators, nice buildings and state of the art technology to enhance the educational experience of its students. APS educators are also under tremendous pressure to teach based on what student need to know for standardized tests instead of what students need to know for life. Students need programming that will increase their proficiency in social emotional learning (SEL) skils. As a partner, we feel it’s our responsibility to fill this gap. As leaders who have shared experiences with our Ambassadors, we understand the many personal, social, familial and academic challenges they face every day. Academic rigor is not the answer; fortifying their SEL capacities is.
SEL capacities operate like the engine of a vehicle. They determine how we act. Years ago, SEL was known as “soft skills,” but the capacities that makeup SEL are far from soft. Possessing SEL capacities is not like breathing air. You can live without having many—or even any of them, I suppose. What I know is that it will be hard to live a productive life without a suitable dosage of all of them. After all, being alive and living are two different things.
At L.E.A.D., we recognized the need for SEL development in the Atlanta Public Schools system, and we believe that to partner is to provide what someone needs but does not have. Through our funding partner, Laureus USA, we were able to access a research based SEL tool that helps us develop and measure SEL in the students-athletes we serve..
As I stated earlier, APS has a lot of great educational resources. What it does not have is the time to teach SEL capacities to its students at the level they need it. APS serves approximately 51,000 students, and 80% of them live at or below the poverty level. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, if you’re born in the city of Atlanta, you have about a 4% chance of making it out of poverty in your lifetime. Atlanta is also the No. 1 city in America for racial income inequality.
Understanding these issues and needs, L.E.A.D. spends a lot of time teaching and preaching SEL development to our Ambassadors and empowering them to live out what they are learning. We do this so they can graduate from high school ready for college, career and life.
In my next blog, I will examine some of the innovative ways we develop SEL in our sports-based youth development (SBYD) programming.
Photo credit: Steve West
Read the full story from Shoutout Atlanta
A Coach is someone who moves others. In fact, before the word coach was used in the context of sports, it was reserved strictly for transportation. A coach moved you to where you were supposed to be. Today, oftentimes because of the fear of accountability, not so much.
This morning, I found out that Coach Mike Hurst passed after a long battle with cancer. Coach Hurst was a white man and I am a Black man. To some, race doesn’t matter, but to me, it did when I met him at age 16. He was recruiting me to play baseball for him at Georgia State University (GSU). At the time, I was living in the Bankhead community in the inner-city of Atlanta and was one of the best players in the state.
I love Atlanta, and at that time in my life, I couldn’t see myself leaving the city to attend college. I was also very immature. In a lot of ways, I needed the support of family and the familiarity of my city.
I was being recruited by several predominantly white institutions (PWIs) across the country and all of the top historically black colleges and universities (HBCU)s. Ultimately, I chose GSU because of Coach Hurst—a move that upset a lot of HBCU coaches.
When I reflect on why I chose Coach Hurst, the answer is in his last name:
H – Help
Help is what you offer people when they are weak. As a teenager, I lacked the social-emotional learning capacities that I teach young men today. I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be in the areas of self-identity, social connections and social skills. Subsequently, and to the disappointment of Coach Hurst, I failed out of GSU at the end of my freshman year. Yet he still continued to help me—even through adulthood.
Prior to Coach Hurst, as an African-American young man, I had only a couple of meaningful relationships with White men. The vast majority of the people I knew were Black. Most of what I knew about White people, I learned from watching television. And a lot of that was negative. Coach Hurst helped me to see that race relations is not the problem—white supremacy is.
U – Uncompromising
Coach Hurst was uncompromising on values like being punctual, prepared, making promises and keeping promises. Being a college student-athlete was hard for me. I learned a lot from my failures, and as an adult, he constantly reminded me that even though I didn’t get my degree from GSU, I was not a failure. Today, I am a “consequential, uncompromising on values” type of coach just like he was.
R – Respect
Respect is earned. The respect that Coach Hurst showed me when I became a coach was truly meaningful. Since the first day we met, he became my friend, confidant and advocate.
S – Servant
Coach Hurst was a great coach because he was a servant first. He made so many sacrifices with his time, energy and expertise. His beautiful wife, Carol, can attest to the late nights coming home from games and practices. He probably mentioned my name several times in some late-night rants trying to figure out how to motivate me to meet expectations in the classroom and on the field.
GSU didn’t have a large financial budget, but we had a really nice field, located several miles away from campus in Decatur, Georgia. He cut the grass and painted dugouts. You name it; he did it. He also brought good people together to become members of the GSU Panthers family.
Values are what you believe and virtues are what you do. Coach Hurst was a servant.
T – Tough
Coach Hurst was tough to play for. He knew what you were capable of doing and he designed practices for you to become your best. Then he’d put you on the field to do your best. When I didn’t do my best, he was relentlessly tough on me. If I did something wrong in private, we dealt with it in private. But if I did it in public, rest assured he would deal with it publicly. Toughness develops character.
To Ms. Carol, may God continue to bless you. You are an amazing woman. You were there for Coach until he took his final breath. I am inspired by your love and commitment to him.
To my fellow GSU teammates, GSU alumni and current GSU student-athletes, let’s continue daily to become the best versions of ourselves. Our struggles will lead to success, so let us use our success to serve others. That’s what significance is all about—using our success to serve others.
My friend and fellow GSU alum Rusty Bennett told me this morning about a conversation he had with Coach Hurst last year. Coach told him he wasn’t afraid of dying. He was dealing the most with the fact that he would miss all of us. We miss you too, Coach.
Rest in peace, my friend, my advocate, my Coach.