Nothing But Net

LeBron James’ $42 million college scholarship pledge a potential game changer for America’s forgotten youth

For nearly eight years, I was on the public relations staff at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. In that time, one of the most disturbing things I experienced – next to the loss of a child – was the lack of hope many of the young people in New Orleans feel about their future. Too many young New Orleanians don’t believe they’ll make it past their teenage years. As a result, they’re living a freewheeling life like there will, literally, be no tomorrow.

I have a hunch that this feeling isn’t isolated to kids in New Orleans. Because they don’t believe they’ll escape their teens, too many American youth, especially in our urban areas, don’t see the importance of investing in their future by bettering themselves through education. If they do make it, they are often not adequately prepared to positively contribute to the community.

But last week, a hero to many youth around the globe made a $41 million pledge to try to change the askew view of teens in his hometown.

LeBron James didn’t go to college, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand the importance of a university education.

“King” James, the undisputed best active basketball player in the world – who went straight from high school to the NBA – announced last week that his LeBron James Family Foundation would partner with the University of Akron in Ohio to provide underprivileged students four-year scholarships to the school. Akron kids who complete the foundation’s “I Promise” program, which requires they graduate from an Akron public high school, meet standardized testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation will earn the scholarship, which will cover tuition and the university's general service fee – currently about $10,000 per year.

“These students have big dreams, and I'm happy to do everything I can to help them get there,” James said at the program’s announcement last week. “They're going to have to earn it, but I'm excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.

“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don't really think past high school. You don't really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school and then you never think past that because either it's not possible or your family's not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”

Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, said the four-time NBA MVP, grew up in a single-parent home and became emotional when discussing the impact the program will have on the kids, their families, and community.

“Not everybody can be an NBA superstar, so to be able to provide the framework to make your dreams come true is overpowering,” Campbell said.

The first class eligible for the scholarships will graduate in 2021. JPMorgan Chase is providing a program to track participating students’ progress.

James received a lot of acrimony a few years ago when he decided to “take his talents to South Beach,” leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat with the announcement that he would win “five, six, seven” NBA championships in south Florida only to win two and return to northeast Ohio. It should no longer be held against him. Where he once appeared pompous and self-centered, he now appears community-minded, determined to positively change the future of Akron and its children.

New Orleans is home to many, many successful professional athletes. It is my hope that those native New Orleanians who have reached their field of dreams and have the economic capability to make an impact will follow James’ lead and offer local underprivileged children the opportunity to make a positive impact on their future. It's time for our city’s saints to march in and create a legacy that will have a much more meaningful impact than any exploits they may achieve on the field, court or diamond.  


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