Baseball coach, mentor, and father on guiding kids through life’s curveballs
This Father's Day, Renewal Awards winner LaVonté Stewart reflects on the mentors who guided him.
We’re re-sharing this essay, originally published in 2017, in honor of Father’s Day and to promote LaVonté’s current project, Beyond the Badge this Saturday at Chicago’s Rosenblum Park. The annual event brings together the community and police officers. “At the heart of it, this is about kids,” LaVonté told Chicago’s The Jam TV Show before last year’s event. “It’s about kids building relationships for generations to come with law enforcement so that we can break these cycles [of violence] that have existed in communities of color for decades.”
Come out and be a part of the solution this Saturday, see good community policing first hand! Thank you @AALegacyChicago #RosenblumPAC @Laureus_USA @ChicagoParks @ChicagoCAPS04 for supporting this important summer event! #safepeacefulchi #SportForGoodChicago #SBYD pic.twitter.com/bMGy5Sp4Q6
— LaVont'e Stewart Sr. (@LavontSr) June 10, 2019
Here’s to this year’s event being a success! Here’s to LaVonte and all the other fathers this weekend!
—Renewal Project editor Margaret Myers
Chicago has been in the news way too often the past couple of years for all of the wrong reasons. The mainstay of course has been the alarming rate of gun violence, especially among African American youth. As the world watches and shakes it’s head in disbelief, my team digs its heels in and fights the good fight. Often what you hear as the root cause of this crisis is the absence of fathers in homes. Yes, there are a lot of fathers who are AWOL, but there are many more who are present.
At Lost Boyz Inc., on Chicago’s South Side—home to the Obama Presidential Center—our goals are to reduce violence by providing recreation, education, and cultivation programming for vulnerable youth through sports-based youth development and trauma sensitive coaching. We provide mentorship utilizing the tools of organized baseball/softball, academic enrichment, cultural enrichment, civic engagement, and service learning, all built on relationships.
A marvelous observation of the game is watching our players in competition successfully deliver and strike out their opponents with the curve ball. A curveball is a breaking ball because of its breaking trajectory from high to suddenly low in its approach to the batter. It’s effective because the batter can’t immediately tell it’s a breaking ball; it cleverly deceives its recipient at the last minute.
Our pitchers are not born throwing perfect curveballs. Our coaches—who are parents, former players, and college players—take time to give instruction and training for kids to master the skill. It’s scientific, involving complex physics that dictates how and where the ball will move. From the grip to the mechanical delivery, to the speed and point of release, there is an astonishing amount of sequential muscle and motion memory required.
Life is a complex road of learning, hunger, trial and error, and it is ultimately mentorship that propels a person toward their desired destination; it's just like teaching the curveball.
Life is a complex road of learning, hunger, trial and error, and it is ultimately mentorship that propels a person toward their desired destination; it’s just like teaching the curveball. If guided the right ways, one avoids being thrown into a different trajectory from their desired destination.
I wasn’t always on trajectory for leadership, but with perseverance—and mentorship—I am now. I credit of the mentors that God put in my path, like the late Henry English, founder of the Black United Fund of Illinois; Edward L. “Buzz” Palmer, civil rights leader and Founder of the African-American Patrolmen’s League; his wife the honorable Dr. Alice Palmer, a former state senator; and the Palmer’s son, David Robinson, journalist and accomplished civil servant. When I met these folks I was a struggling father recently home from the Missouri Department of Corrections. They forever changed my life by teaching me how to throw the situations in my life a curveball.
And so it is with our youth and their development. They do not know on their own how to deal with violence, whether as the perpetrator or the victim. They will follow the path they see, the natural fastball. It is when we surround them with mentors and caring people, the life coaches and instructors that can methodically teach them the physics and mechanics, that we see our kids able to change trajectory of the ball midflight and have that pitch drop from 12 o’clock to 6.
Being a father does not always involve conceiving or adopting a child, but it most definitely involves providing the love, respect, and guidance to a child. It is in the small things, like teaching our children how to throw a curveball, that the bigger developments occur.
So as we go into this Father’s Day, let’s celebrate the men who have shown us how to throw, and take the time to teach another young man.