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A former Chicago Cubs player with Atlanta roots is being recognized for helping underprivileged kids in his hometown become high achievers.

C.J. Stewart grew up in a housing project on Atlanta’s Westside. As a kid, he loved watching baseball games with his grandfather.

“After watching game after game, I would go outside to practice with a stick hitting rocks,” said Stewart.

He credits much of his success to strangers in his community whose support allowed him to play competitive baseball throughout high school.

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He said for him, baseball was a way to transcend his circumstances and become a leader in his community. With the help of his wife, Kelli Stewart, he created L.E.A.D., a non-profit focused on helping young men in Atlanta through baseball.

“L.E.A.D. is a vehicle to allow black males to win at the game of life. We’re using baseball to get them to the next level,” Stewart said.

The program teaches young men to be community leaders.

“We have four pillars,” said Kelli Stewart. “Athletics, which is baseball, academics, civic engagement and commerce. We believe that those four pillars create what we call an ‘ambassador,’ which is a young man who is equipped to lead and transform his city, not when they get older, but right now.”

So far, all program ambassadors have gone on to graduate high school and enroll in college. Most of them also received college baseball scholarships.

This year, C.J. Stewart and L.E.A.D. were recognized by Mercedes-Benz USA for their impact on Atlanta. They were featured as an unsung hero in its Greatness Lives Here initiative. They were also awarded a grant presented by Mercedes-Benz USA and Laureus Sport for Good.

Stewart said he’s proud that his organization is making a positive impact.

“I’m just blessed and fortunate with the support of my wife to be a consequential leader and literally be a good steward for so all the great things that Atlanta has to offer. It’s my reason for living.”