By Tina Patterson
Long held as the key to success, education has been cast as the single most effective antidote to poverty. For generations, we’ve been told that a good education unlocks human potential and frees one from the manacles of economic misery. On the contrary, unequal distribution of resources and lack of investment in education, is a recipe for failure and only leads to more poverty.
That is why we must commend the decision of this generation’s preeminent athlete, LeBron James, to establish a school to guarantee access to an empowering education to thousands of children in his hometown, Akron.
LeBron James returns to northeast Ohio to open the school on Monday, July 30. And although his number 23 will be in the famous purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers rather than the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, his return promises to have a lasting impact beyond any NBA championships he could ever win for any team.
Instead of bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy to Akron, he will house an institution of learning to the city of Akron named the I PROMISE School. Notably, his school will not be a charter school or for-profit institution, but a traditional public school through a joint effort between his LeBron James Family Foundation and the Akron Public School System.
Most impressive is that his school will focus on educating students at risk of falling behind in Akron’s public schools, many of whom live in the inner city and face various socioeconomic barriers to learning. This bold and courageous action is in effect an anti-poverty solution to the challenges facing the children in inner city Akron.
To further nurture and enrich the academic and personal lives of these students, the school year will begin during the traditional summer vacation period and institute longer school days to foster productive experiences outside of the classroom.
The school has the potential to be a model of innovation in the public-school system, as well as a revolutionary and transformative example of educating marginalized populations by servicing their needs.
Furthermore, the school stands as a vision of exemplary leadership from an individual who cared about giving back to his community. Already the most globally recognized NBA player with three NBA championship rings under his belt, and a legacy that rivals all-time NBA great Michael Jordan, LeBron James could have simply continued racking up paychecks and statistics in his career on the court.
However, that was not enough for the premiere athlete of our generation. Channeling socially conscious and impactful athletes of the past such as the great Muhammed Ali, John Carlos, and Tommy Smith, LeBron James chose to use his platform to impact more than the game of basketball.
Aware of the power he possessed to make significant change in his community, James did not hesitate to act. He did not wait until public shaming forced him to act. Commendably, the Akron School Board did not deliver a litany of bureaucratic excuses as to why this could not be done, and instead unanimously approved the decision.
This extraordinary intervention was made possible when bold vision and determination met compassion and genuine care to improve the lives of children for generations to come. Public officials and celebrities in all realms should take note of what is transpiring in Akron and reassess what they should be doing for their own communities.
Tina Patterson is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.