LeBron James show how athletes use their platforms to help others, opens school for disadvantaged children


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LeBron James speaking at the grand opening of I Promise School.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest LeBron James fan. As a former diehard Doc Rivers-era Boston Celtics fan, I still recall my fan-crazed rage when James sported either number 23 or 6 as a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat against my Celtics in too many Eastern Conference NBA playoffs to count. From the showboating to flip-flopping between Cleveland, Miami and now Los Angeles, I’ve admittedly always been on the attack when it came to James.

I’d like to think I’ve grown up a bit since the Celtics vs Cavs 2008 NBA playoffs, and I now recognize James’s maturity and unmatched talent in basketball– even though I’ll always find a reason to talk trash. But one thing I can definitely give the Akron-native high praises for is his eight-million-dollar I Promise School.

In late July, James opened I Promise School in his hometown in Akron, Ohio, for at-risk students. In its pilot year, the school holds 240 third- and fourth-grade students. The school was born from a collaboration of James’s philanthropic foundation and Akron Public Schools. I Promise School offers an eight-hour school day, a “support circle” for students after lunch, GED courses and job placement for parents and much more.

James knew the life of being a low-income student in Akron, and so the 33-year-old NBA star was motivated to start the school– making it, as he said to ESPN, the greatest moment of his career.

“Walking these hallways and seeing, when I was driving here, just the streets that I walked, some of the stores are still up when I was growing up,” James told ESPN. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget — and hopefully the kids, starting with the 240 kids that we have going in here right now starting today, will never forget it, either.”

I Promise has high ambitions in its five-year plan. To achieve this, the school is implementing attendance incentives, mentorship programming, a STEM focus, resources pointed towards mental health and more. And James has his hands all over this master plan.

While others are skeptical of the plan, others like Democratic US Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are setting aside big bucks for federal competitive grants to replicate James’s ideas in their communities.

I can definitely admire what James is setting out to do; the straight-out-of-high-school star is putting his money where his mouth is. He isn’t blanketly pushing dollars toward education or low-income communities. He is using his platform to make a tangible action that helps a community that James is well-educated on as he’s fought a similar battle.

A mass donation has its place, for sure. But there’s a lot to be said about a targeted effort and it’s direct impact on a community.

And James’s impact is huge.

Unlike other celebrities and athletes’ use of education philanthropy, James is passing the reins to a district, not a private or charter school.

James has something good going here. I just hope that the ambitions of the five-year plan come to fruition unlike the goals of other athletes like Deion Sanders or Magic Johnson, where the vision for their schools either failed or fell out of their hands.

But if it does work, James will have created a monumental and lasting impact for students who struggled like him. That’s something worth acknowledging and keeping an eye on.