Everyday Legend

Kelli Stewart

On Thursday August 19, 2021 we will be announcing our Agenda To Transform Youth Sports, a platform we hope creates an opportunity for more collaboration with leaders like Kelli to make sport, healing for all youth everywhere. Join us by signing up to learn more in a city near you.   

Kelli Stewart didn’t grow up playing many youth sports, but she knows first hand that, sometimes, all it takes for a child to not be overtaken by trauma is one positive adult relationship. 

“Even though I had to deal with a parent that was addicted to crack cocaine and I had to deal with a parent that abandoned me,” Stewart said, “I had relationships, starting with my grandmother and different teachers at school, that really helped me not get taken under by all of the issues and the trauma that I faced as a child.”

The Georgia native was introduced to the world of sports-based youth development through her husband CJ, a former professional baseball player. In 2017, they launched L.E.A.D., an acronym that stands for launch, expose, advise and direct. 

L.E.A.D. is a nonprofit organization based out of Atlanta, that uses baseball to teach Black boys how to overcome three major curveballs that can threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish and the development and transformation of our boys in our programs has been truly amazing,” Stewart said. “To see them take hold of the opportunities we provide and take them further and own them and really achieve amazing things in their life…things that society says young black boys need not worry about because they’ll all end up in prison or dead before 18 or 21. But our boys in our program, who we call ambassadors, are thriving and the journey has just been unbelievable; more than I could have ever asked for.”

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot of things from a lot of people and compounded the traumas that many children face, Stewart said it has given one beautiful thing to the city of Atlanta and the participants of L.E.A.D’s programming: a 5,500 square foot facility that they can call their own.

“The school system had to shut down due to the pandemic,” Stewart said, “and we really were homeless as an organization. We reached out to some friends and donors of ours to send out an S.O.S and say, ‘We need a space!’ and the community answered. We were able to take possession of the L.E.A.D Center for Youth back in August of 2020. We outfitted it probably in 60 days…or less, and it’s our new home.”

For Stewart, being legendary is about how you show up in the world: for yourself, for your family and for your community—and she said the most legendary person in her life is without a doubt her grandmother, Amy Lou Faust, who stepped up as a guardian when her parents could no longer care for her.

“She was born in 1918 or 1919,” Stewart said. “The birth certificate is kind of fuzzy because of the way African Americans were treated at that time during sharecropping as chattel. For her to have to go through what she did as a child, being born during those times and to survive and thrive and be alive to step in and take care of me when I needed her so badly, I’m just in awe of who she is and what she overcame and who she became to me.”

Stewart said society has already seen what can happen when we are bought into sport as an economic booster, and she believes that same thing can be true of sport as a mechanism for healing, once society-at-large gets on board.

“Just take that same energy that you have about the economic benefit of sports and put it over into healing and justice,” Stewart said, “and let the people who know how to do the work do the work.”