As the country is making what many believe to be a major shift in terms of how transparent we’re collectively willing to be about racism, it can be easy to sit on the sidelines and remain silent or complacent. My daughter, Mackenzi, has done the exact opposite. Her empowerment movement, Know Your Truth?, sparks honest conversations about the people, places, and ideas that have been conveniently and intentionally left out of our standard curriculum. I choose to stand with those like Mackenzi and Kevin Donovan, a dear friend of mine that serves on the L.E.A.D., Inc. of Board of Directors with me, who take responsibility for the injustices within their community and use their strengths to make the world more like the Beloved Community that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. I hope that you are ready to read how Mackenzi, Kevin and I hit these three pitches out of the park.
Do you consider yourself as part of the community to the extent that you believe you have a responsibility to address issues of race in partnership with other members of the community? (Clarity/Are you accountable?)
Most definitely. Even though I have been made to feel like, because of my race, I’m not apart of certain communities within Atlanta and the country in general, I still believe I have partial responsibility to address issues of race. Particularly in partnership with white members of the community as they have the privilege and power (whether they realize it or not) to help create the change necessary to make everyone, regardless of their race, skin tone, sexual orientation, gender, religion, economic status, etc.
Yes, I feel that I am a part of the community to the extent that I believe I have a responsibility to address issues of race in partnership with other members of the community. I want to unpack my affirmation beginning with my interpretation of these words.
To be a Part of a community is to be accountable for playing a role in its destiny. Planet earth as a whole is controlled by the community of humanity. I was uniquely made by God and I have a unique assignment to fulfill on earth as an African-American man and as part of the community of humanity. My personal mission in life is to be significant by serving millions and bringing them into a relationship with Christ starting with my wife, Kelli, and our daughters Mackenzi and Mackenna.
Community is a group of people living in the same place, and the size of that community is dependent on the context of the affirmation. I live in Cobb County. My household is a community. My neighborhood is a community. My county is my community. My state of Georgia, my country and my world – planet earth – is my community.
Responsibility refers to the obligation we have to something or someone and the means by which we fulfill it. Those means and methods are unique to each of us because we are all unique. For me, my spiritual gifts are prophesy, discernment, hospitality and leadership. My earthly talent is coaching. I am unique. The blessing of these gifts for me entails a responsibility upon me to share them with others; they are a calling to me to be a consequential and aspirational leader. Being aspirational is my proven (if imperfect) ability to inspire people to go higher in their social position or standard of living.
Race is the root word for racism. According to Dr. Claud Anderson, “R-A-C-E, means to be in competition, in a contest or in a match for a prize or other group benefits.” Tragically, this “race” of races has been designed by one race in its own interest and at the expense of all others. The result: Black people are near or at the bottom in nearly every meaningful measure of success on planet earth. For one race in particular, racism is working and it is continually being perfected.
Planet earth needs me to use my spiritual gifts and earthly talent to make it a better place for me and everyone else for generations to come. I’m committed to that and I’m not going to die an early death fulfilling the assignments of other people. I will enlist them in my conviction and inspire them to win at the game of life.
Yes. I believe there is a tension between our varying definitions of community and our collective ability to achieve progress. Many people define their community based on their immediate neighborhood, their “gated” community, their segregated church or some other circle of people around which they define their identity. This implies that their actions, beliefs and behaviors have no impact beyond those with whom they regularly interact, most notably people of color. This is a fallacy – a barrier that must be torn down if we, the broader community, are to succeed.
The coronavirus provides an ideal example of how our behaviors can directly affect others outside of our personal experience. Racism is no different, and just as we have a responsibility to our community to wear a mask and social distance to protect those around us, we have a responsibility to acknowledge systemic racism, and commit to doing everything in our power to protect the rights and privileges of all others in that community.
To fully appreciate the most expansive definition of community, and understand that no one truly lives in isolation, consider this: As I write, there are people demonstrating in countries all around the world on behalf of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, countries throughout Europe, but also as far away as New Zealand, and as embroiled in their own struggle as Syria. Syria!
This is a testament to the faith that the world has in the values of America and the worldwide distress that it causes when we fall so tragically short of living up to them. The indifference that perpetuated the “institution” of racism is finally being called to account, as people awaken to the reality that we are all responsible, not just for our past, but for our future.
If people in New Zealand can embrace their responsibility to act, so can all of us.
Do you feel empowered to act to the extent that you believe you can positively impact issues of race in partnership with other members of the community? (Conviction/are you empowered?)
Yes. My parents, C.J. and Kelli Stewart, have raised me to be way more aware of racism, the different ways it takes form (from systemic racism to “micro-aggressions”), and how I can use both our family network and my own voice to amplify the voices of those that are intentionally neglected within our community.
Yes. Let me unpack this by defining empowerment and partnership.
I define empowerment as giving and receiving responsibility, and combining it with the authority to act upon it. If I don’t have both, I’m not empowered. God has empowered me with my spiritual gifts and earthly talent to positively impact issues of race in partnership with other members of the community. I can’t quote a lot of bible verses but I have my life testimony. The Latin definition of passion is “to suffer.” My sufferings have helped me to identify my life purpose. And my life is sustained by my grit – the relentless pursuit of purpose.
Partnership. Now that’s a word that gets folks into a lot of trouble when problems are trying to be solved. For me, everything starts with conviction. All my relationships must start with conviction to forge a strong and lasting connection. But conviction can be painful. I don’t want to make folks feel guilty about their shortcomings with regards to racism because guilt paralyzes people and ultimately leads to their disengagement.
In contrast, conviction allows me to look into your soul and feel the words you are saying as opposed to just hearing them come out of your mouth. Your belief in the endeavor – your conviction toward it leads to connection and connection leads to a consensus between us. This is the foundation of your promises and commitments; if you aren’t making promises, any partnership with me is unsustainable.
After consensus comes collaboration – the point at which we bring all of our resources to the table. As part of our collaboration, I’m going to hold you accountable immediately when you breach our consensus and I expect the same in return. And as we go forward together, our bond – fortified by the practices and principles of conviction, connection, consensus and collaboration – ultimately will lead to change.
Solving this problem requires a collaborative effort that begins with the conviction that CJ is talking about. We can’t address systemic racism unless we first accept that it exists. We can’t appreciate the importance of addressing it until we establish the connections that validate our role in the community.
I personally believe everything succeeds or fails based on the connections that we can make, and as someone with many years of social equity (a network of connections), I have an obligation to ease the way, to the extent I can, for others to connect, just as those who preceded me did for me. It is clear to me that indifference is our greatest foe, and connections are our greatest weapon. Connections extinguish indifference but establishing them often requires us to push ourselves out of our comfort level – to reach out to people who, on the surface, are unlike us. More often than not, our similarities far outweigh our differences, and that ends our indifference.
Connections are also a “force multiplier”; each positive connection leads to more of them, and the cumulative result is like a super-power that just becomes stronger over time. Ultimately, we become empowered in the community to reach out to and ask for what we need.
Do you care about your community to the extent that you are motivated to address issues of race in partnership with other members of the community? (Care/Do you feel a personal stake?)
For sure. Because of the intersectionality of my identities (I am a dark-skinned, black woman), I have been subject to various levels of racism. The fact that I’ve attended both private and public school is important to who I am and my potential impact as an aspiring education reformist and advocate for Black youth. I am very much so personally invested in the process of addressing issues of race in partnership with other members of the community.
Yes. To care about something is to give it the attention and action that it requires for positive growth and success. On a relative basis, most everything has some importance and value, but I don’t care about taking action for everything just because it is important. For me, the importance of combating racism rises to the level of justifying my conviction. I care enough to fight against it.
I was born and raised in the inner-city of Atlanta in poverty to two hard-working parents. Atlanta is the home of the Civil Rights Movement, the Atlanta Braves, which was the first major league sports team to ever exist in the Jim Crow South, the CDC, CNN, Coca-Cola, Delta and so on. These are inspiring achievements, and yet, Atlanta will never become the truly world-class city that it claims to be until hundreds of thousands of black males are living a sustainable life of significance.
Baseball was my ticket out of poverty to prosperity, not because I became a major league baseball player, but because baseball taught me the values, the interpersonal skills and the executive functioning that I needed to live a purpose-driven life. I made a lot of mistakes in my youth and I still make a lot of them today at age 44; however, my mistakes have given me opportunities to learn lessons that only mistakes can provide. And with that comes an opportunity for others to learn from my mistakes, just as I did from others before me. I made it out of poverty and, with the additional support of hope and prayer, I can share with others the strategic path I followed from poverty to prosperity.
Since 2007, I have served as the Chief Empowerment Officer for L.E.A.D. which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct. L.E.A.D. is an Atlanta based 501c3 organization whose mission is to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. Through a program of year-round, sports-leadership (baseball), we empower 350 black boys from 6th-12th grades in Atlanta Public Schools to overcome three curve balls that threaten their success in life: crime, poverty and racism. We Scout The Counted Out – boys that are struggling with grades, attendance and behavior.
L.E.A.D. needs the type of partners that can engage the larger community in a way that inspires and sustains the conviction of others to understand, value, care about, and intentionally support what we do. Our city of Atlanta often feels like it is a city that is too busy to care, and our country is now being confronted with the cost of pretending that systemic racism either doesn’t exist or is not their problem. As a community – whether it’s our neighborhood, our city or our country – racism is a problem for which we are all responsible and empowered to care much more about than we have in the past.
It all begins with conviction.
Yes. I have a deep love for the community of Atlanta and I care about its future. As with the symbol of the city – the phoenix rising from the flames – Atlanta is a place of resurrection of the human spirit. The world is looking to our country to set the standard as the best example of human and civil right, and I believe the country looks to Atlanta for the same reason. We are a country that so much of the world aspires to emulate, and we can be the city that the country aspires to emulate. We still have a long way to go, but I believe we are further along than others.
I also believe that racism is our nation’s biggest problem for the simple reason that we can’t address every other problem we are facing until we eliminate the barriers that are preventing all people – and especially our next generation – from achieving their full potential. Just as with any investment, if we invest our care, time and attention in helping people achieve their potential, the return on that investment is one that will benefit our entire community, no matter how it is defined.
Racism isn’t going to magically disappear on its own. In the same way that intentional decisions and actions have been made and taken to create and maintain it, intentional decisions and actions will have to be made and taken to dismantle it. We all have a role to play and making this happen. Whether or not you decide to step up to the plate and accept it is your choice.
Kevin Donovan and Family (Photo Credit: iSmooth)
CJ Stewart (Photo Credit: iSmooth)
Mackenzi Stewart (Photo Credit: iSmooth)