John Martin: When Leadership is a Calling

The Most Successful Black Corporate Leaders to Watch, 2022

John Martin, CEO and Co-founder of Young Black Leadership Alliance (YBLA), has one vision – to develop young Black men and women into positive leaders in their community now and in the future. This “Blessed” leader, as he describes himself, is on a mission to create young Black leaders who will be a force of change in the world.

The Visionary

John has an interesting story to describe his inspiration to start YBLA. While watching his favorite team play football, his wife Tammy asked him, “What are you passionate about?” The obvious answer at that moment was, “this game.” But the question bothered him immensely because he did not have an appropriate answer. After much prayer, he was inspired by a vision from God during a “Get Motivated” conference to start an organization to develop the next generation of Black leaders. His research in this area revealed that the education system was failing Black students on a large scale all over the country. He knew at that moment that it was his calling to do something, anything, to change that situation.

Thus began John’s journey. Early on, the couple had demanding full-time jobs and worked on the organization full-time as well. Their leadership team also worked full-time and volunteered for YBLA after work. Over time, they built momentum and with grit, perseverance, and generous corporate and individual investors, the business grew to support a paid staff of twelve.

No Pain, No Gain

John firmly maintains that the only way to get better is to challenge yourself. He says you must strain your muscles to make them stronger and that the same is true in other areas of life. Challenges make you stronger and are necessary to reach goals. “But you must seek challenges within reason and for a reason. Be intentional about where you are going. Overcoming your challenges should move you closer to your goals,” he advises.

The Transformational Approach

In his research, John discovered that the education system has not changed significantly since the early farming days and the system was failing many Black students.  He knew a change was overdue. Following his calling, YBLA was born. This innovative system identifies, educates, and empowers young Black leaders. YBLA provides college readiness support, life skills, and leadership training. They also provide training and support for the parents of their young leaders. Black students who show academic promise and grit are often overlooked by enrichment programs. YBLA identifies high-achieving students and works to help them succeed academically and to make a positive impact in their community. This work begins in high school, continues through college, and goes into their early professional careers. Their statistics show this process works. This method ensures long-term success and positive economic mobility. It also helps them become peer mentors, role models, and change agents within their communities and beyond.

The organization empowers its young leaders to become change agents who transform and impact their communities for the rest of their lives through local and international service. As these leaders become successful, they in turn train others to follow in their footsteps. This self-sustaining system is a transformational approach to improving the life outcomes of Black families and communities.

The Positive Impact

Innovation is the answer to disruption and the key to long-term success. John thinks about innovative ideas by constantly asking himself and his team, “How would Google or Amazon run our business?” John comprehends that these companies are on the cutting edge of innovation, and they consistently reinvent the way things are done. He then tries to reinvent the way they help their Black leaders become successful and significant; to use innovation to help a young person learn more efficiently and effectively.

The best recognition for John is watching young leaders from the YBLA program now leading, mentoring, and inspiring others. Hundreds have gone through the program. These leaders have launched more than twenty for-profit and non-profit businesses. Some have authored books or have created a scholarship program to give back to Black students. This is John’s reward!

Black Leadership Pipeline

John’s vision is to make YBLA the best leadership development program on the planet! They are creating a Black leadership pipeline that will produce successful, significant leaders. Eventually, these leaders will positively impact people around the world.

John’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to develop ten thousand young, Black leaders who positively impact one million people across the country over the next ten years. He is positive that this will have an immediate and tremendous impact on the Black community. He foresees a significant long-term result. These ten thousand leaders will go on to leave an even greater and positive imprint on the communities they serve during their lifetime.

As YBLA develops and expands its Black leadership pipeline around the nation, John and his team are connecting high-potential Black college students to internships and jobs with YBLA’s corporate partners. This program, called the YBLA Black Talent Pipeline, is an innovative approach to connect America’s leading companies with top Black talent from the YBLA pipeline. “This is a great opportunity to fill the diversity needs of our partners while connecting our young leaders to top companies.” John says.

Lead By Example

The CEO and President of YBLA shoulders a noble responsibility. John sets their vision, makes it plain and understandable, and communicates it widely and often. He recognizes that it is imperative to inspire the team, lead by example, and use his time and talents to ensure that all team members have an opportunity to succeed. As a non-profit leader, he is the main fundraiser and marketer. He works with the board of directors to ensure that they align with the mission and comply with laws and regulations that govern non-profit organizations.

John starts his day early with prayer and Bible study. He says this starts his day off right and keeps him spiritually grounded. Next, he checks his emails to identify areas that require immediate attention. If there are no fires, he focuses on things that demand the most creativity: strategic planning, grant writing, or program development. He devotes one or two hours to creativity. The team then has a mid-morning huddle to synchronize and energize. He then applies his time to a series of back-to-back virtual meetings with sponsors, partners, board members, or teammates. He treasures the opportunity to spend time with the young leaders, virtually or in person.

A Steppingstone to Significance

Success is making the most of your God-given gifts and talents. Success allows you to take care of yourself and your family, and to help others around you. For John, success is not enough. He strives to be significant every day. His goal is to live a life of significance, using his gifts and talents to bless others.

John works with his wife Tammy in YBLA. As co-founders, this couple has found the perfect work-life balance. They integrate the things they love into the business. Their passion is sharing their experiences with young people who lack opportunity. Their reward is working with young people and exposing them to transformational opportunities. Their motivation is their young leaders’ success. Young people from the YBLA program are now actors, authors, entrepreneurs, professionals, inventors, business leaders, and philanthropists.

John’s message to everyone is to get started today doing something that you love! He regrets not starting earlier. He reflects, “It is hard work, but finding what you love and are good at will get you out of bed every morning. Time will fly. I want to live with passion, love deeply, laugh every day, and strive to leave a legacy.”