History

John Littleford was the first to bring The Young Leaders' Academy concept to Baton Rouge. Littleford served as headmaster of a private school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he saw first-hand how members of the Youth Leadership Academy were involved in leadership training. The Youth Leadership Academy was an outgrowth of Inroads, Inc. The mission of INROADS was to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.

Starting in 1993, Littleford tirelessly met with any business leader who would listen to the concept. The business community grew enamored of the idea and brought the public school system and the community foundation to the table as partners. This strategic partnership created the Young Leaders' Academy of Baton Rouge, Inc.

Littleford brought the philanthropic, business, and educational communities together. Along with Littleford, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation under the leadership of Mr. John Davies, the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System under the direction of Superintendent Bernard Weiss, and the Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of Jimmy Lyles are also founding partners.

Kirt Bennett was hired as the first executive director and became an evangelist for the Academy by building financial support from within the business sector and community support within the schools, churches and homes. Bennett hired three educators and recruited 45 third grade boys from six public schools in the heart of the inner-city to start the first class of the YLA in June 1994. Tonya Robertson took the mantle as executive director and has overseen a revitalization of the effort.

Overwhelmingly, Baton Rouge business leaders state that they invest heavily in the YLA because they have an obligation to invest in their future workforce. As one local CEO put it clearly, "We see no shortage of young black males in the courtrooms being adjudicated; we now need to work to prepare as many as possible for the boardrooms. The YLA affords us that opportunity."