This is the eighteenth entry in the series Honoring Black History.
I’m the first to admit that I really don’t know much about sports. Sure, I know, generally, how most sports are played, but I only recognize a handful of “sports heroes,” mainly because I dabbled in collecting sports trading cards in my teens. When it comes to sports, I may live under a rock, but I know who LeBron James is. I also respect the hell out of him. Not because he’s a phenomenal basketball player (which I’m sure he is… I’ve never seen him play), but because of how he has channeled his power as a cultural icon into making a difference for the children of Akron, Ohio.
Back in 2011, LeBron James started a program in Akron he called “I Promise.” The idea was to reach at-risk students and help give them the support and opportunities they need to be successful. They were especially focused on reducing drop-out rates. James was familiar with the struggles of children in Akron because he had his own growing up—he missed 83 days of his fourth grade year—nearly half the school year—due to instability at home.
In 2015, James took things a step further and partnered with the University of Akron to offer a free college education to all I Promise kids who complete the program and meet attendance and grade requirements. Through his foundation, he pledged $41 million to make that happen.
Then, in 2018, he partnered with Akron Public Schools again to launch the I Promise School. It kicked off that fall with third and fourth graders and the school plans to expand to over 1,000 students in grades one through eight by 2022. And upon graduation, the school’s students will also be able to attend the University of Akron free of charge. It’s an ambitious move, but one that will have a lasting impact on the youth of Akron.
So yeah, LeBron James is likely to go down in basketball history as one of the greats… I don’t think that’s up for debate. But to me, James’ greatest legacy will be as a champion for education and the future promise of kids in Akron.
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