It’s shirtless night on the bright court in Akron, Ohio, and the confined rectangle is packed with budding basketball players who dream of one day becoming famous and adored like their king, LeBron James.
James used to be exactly like these guys; he would run up and down the basketball courts, hungry to conquer the challenges that were presented to him as a result of his background.
One arrogant youngster reveals to Foreign Correspondent that his ultimate goal is to play for the NBA and “beat his record.”
“No disrespect (to James),” he says as an additional comment.
The same brilliant young man charges for the basket, but he can’t make his improvised shot, and then he grins at the camera. “Delete that,” he instructs me to do.
A lazy teenager grabs the ball in order to demonstrate a slam dunk to the group from Australia.
He tosses the ball into the stifling air and then dives after it, delivering a powerful strike that sends the ball crashing through the basket.
There isn’t much of a debate about who the greatest basketball player of all time is in this part of Cleveland, which is LeBron James’ hometown.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
The swish-puff of nets and the whistle-screech of shoes on concrete produce a chorus of youthful games that you can discover in any of the world’s pockets of poverty. The sounds of the court constitute a chorus of youthful games.
Indians play cricket on the sidewalks, while Mexicans box in overcrowded gyms. Brazilians play football in slums known as favelas.
But since this is Akron (don’t pronounce the o), where a local boy once grew up to become probably the greatest player of all time (take your Michael Jordan rant somewhere else), the sport that people play while dreaming about is basketball.
James’s climb from poverty to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and an entrepreneur worth a billion dollars has always been supported by his connection to this very modest city located approximately an hour’s drive from Cleveland.
LeBron James is contributing millions of dollars to a program that aims to keep children who are at risk of dropping out of school in school.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
Now, twenty years after he was selected into the professional ranks straight out of high school, he is putting his name on the line to reimagine the manner in which children who are similar to him are brought up.
It is an ambitious social experiment, and James and his charity foundation, The LeBron James Family Foundation, have high hopes that it will inspire celebrities, corporations, and cities all throughout the United States.
According to Jessica Poiner, a senior education analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Ohio, “the entire nation is watching this.”
“Do you agree that the stakes are rather high for him? This is his legacy; this is his [reputation]…. He has committed all of this time, effort, and financial resources. And this is where he calls home.
The ‘one who is selected’ makes a commitment.
Akron was previously known throughout the United States as “America’s Rubber City” because it was the location of the headquarters of the four largest tire manufacturers and the Goodyear airship.
However, by the time James was born in this location in 1984 and reared by his mother Gloria, the boom had already come to an end.
The first ten years of James’ life were spent traveling and mostly by himself. During the fourth grade, he was absent from school for 83 days.
A younger version of LeBron James, pictured here with his mother Gloria.(This information was provided by the LeBron James Family Foundation)
When he was nine years old, he was saved from a life of hopelessness when a local football coach named Frankie Walker and his family brought the youngster into their house and provided him with the consistency he so desperately desired.
This thoughtful act also provided his mother with additional time to look for long-term housing. It was an uphill battle, but with the Walkers’ assistance, the mother and son were eventually able to live together once more.
Just a few years later, Sports Illustrated referred to James as “The Chosen One” and the “Heir to Air Jordan” in their article about the basketball player.
While he was still in high school, LeBron James shot to fame and became a household name. At the age of 18, he signed with an NBA team.(This information was provided by the LeBron James Family Foundation)
After that, he signed a contract with Nike worth $90 million and was selected first overall in the 2003 NBA draft.
James has subsequently gone on to win two Olympic gold medals in addition to four NBA titles with a total of three different clubs.
At the age of 38, basketball retirement is not too far off, but his involvement with charitable organizations is growing.
His foundation’s “I Promise” programs, which include his one-of-a-kind elementary and middle school, take precedence over all other endeavors.
This is his most controversial endeavor, which also happens to be his most ambitious.
Since the beginning of his career, James has made it clear how much he values his relationship with his hometown. In 2004, he established his charitable organization.
Because he recalled how crucial it was to have wheels to go around the neighborhood, his charity began by holding bike-a-thons in Akron and distributing hundreds of bicycles. He did this because he recalled how important it was.
By 2010, James had established himself as the top player in the world, despite the fact that he was not yet the most popular player.
He shocked fans when he left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, a decision that not only altered the power dynamic between great sportsmen and team owners, but also drew allegations of betrayal from those who followed him in Cleveland before the move.
LeBron James’s move from Cleveland to Miami caused an uproar in his home state.(Reuters: Rhona Wise)
Cleveland, the location where James had placed the headquarters of his organization, was the most angry of any city.
“We couldn’t even walk to our cars without security,” remembers Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation.
“The entire year was a really challenging one for all of us and for everyone who was engaged. However, it turned out to be the most fortunate event in history.
While James was in Miami, the foundation relocated from Cleveland to Akron, shifted its focus to education, and came up with the “I Promise” motto.
I Promise is a reference to the promise that James made to aid children, and in return, the children promised that they would do their best to help themselves.
In the years that followed, James would go on to win two NBA championships, marry his high school sweetheart Savannah, and start a family with her. Together, they would have three children: Bronny, Bryce, and Zhuri.
LeBron James was able to find stability throughout his high school years as a result of the basketball culture.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
In 2014, he once again surprised the fans by coming back to Cleveland with the intention of leading the franchise to its first title.
Soon after, James made the announcement that he would be collaborating with the University of Akron to fund scholarships for students who would not be able to afford higher education otherwise.
Students from the I Promise program who are going on to receive college degrees include Mya Smiley and Matt Mason, among others.
They are on course to receive degrees in social work as well as computer information systems when they finish their studies.
Mason recalls how, when he was in the third grade, he had a poor reading score despite coming from a family with a modest budget. After that, he was extended an invitation to participate in the I Promise assistance program run by James.
“All I knew about him was that he plays basketball,” she said. Mason tells us, “You know, he’s pretty cool.” “Not only did they assist me in getting into college, but they also assisted me in determining what I wanted to do with my life.”
Both Mya Smiley and Matt Mason have been awarded college scholarships thanks to the I Promise support program that is run by LeBron James.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
Smiley claims that it was quite unlikely for her to attend college.
“I didn’t have the best upbringing,” she admits about her childhood. Due to the fact that my parents did not have much money, we moved around a lot and experienced a wide variety of crazy lifestyles.
She is not required to pay for her meals while she is on campus, which is a significant benefit because it means she does not have any additional costs. It makes positive adjustments to the way you live your life.
An educational experiment with children who are at danger
James delivered on his promise to the sports fans in Ohio in 2016 by guiding the Cavaliers to their first NBA title under his leadership.
The “Cleveland sports curse” was broken thanks to the young athlete from Akron.
Through various sporting contracts, endorsements, and other business dealings, he had amassed a considerable fortune by this point. According to Time magazine, James is one of the 100 people who have the most influence in the world.
At the level of the neighborhood, his foundation was increasing its involvement with low-income families. In 2017, discussions with Akron Public Schools on the opening of a new school were taking place.
LeBron James was coached by Dru Joyce, who was also his mentor when he was playing high school basketball.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
Dru Joyce, who coached James when he was in high school and later served as a mentor to him, argues that his most gifted charge was always more than a sportsman.
“(It) makes me so proud to see that he not only hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, but he’s recognising that the best thing you can do is to reach back and pull someone else along,” she said. “(It) makes me so proud to see that he is recognizing that the best thing you can do is to reach back and pull someone else along.”
In 2018, James made the decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Los Angeles Lakers, where he now plays.
A further significant announcement was made by him. After a year of preparation, he was going to launch his brainchild, which he called “I Promise School.” He anticipated that it would establish a new standard for public education in urban areas.
During that time, he made the following statement: “This is a huge moment not only in my life, not only in the life of my family, not only in the life of the foundation, but for these kids.” “And for the entirety of Akron,” she continued.
It was a supportive group that prevented him from “going the other way,” as he put it, despite the fact that he had spent his childhood in an inner-city area of Akron, where he was surrounded by gun violence and narcotics. “And the th”at’s what we want to create here at this school.”
I Promise School student LaRiyah (on the right) is pictured with her mother Ciara, who is employed by the foundation and works at one of its businesses.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
Although there have been instances of wealthy celebrities opening schools, James’s was exceptional.
I Promise School was not a private school or a charter school; rather, it was established within the Akron Public Schools district and began with two classes of students who were having difficulty in third and fourth grade.
Through the use of a lottery system, he and his charity chose students who had previously been identified as having among the city of Akron’s lowest academic achievement levels.
This was his most audacious maneuver, and it was already dangerous before COVID struck.
The students who joined the school as third graders are currently beginning their final year of elementary schooling before transferring to one of the city’s traditional high schools.
These youngsters, who entered the classrooms having fallen two or three years behind the academic benchmarks established for the state, started hitting their targets for improvement in reading and arithmetic after only one year of classroom instruction.
However, the most current figures are not quite as outstanding, which has led to significant concerns being voiced.
Keith Liechty-Clifford, the principal of I Promise School, admitted that the school’s performance was “discouraging.”(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
The school is celebrating its fifth anniversary by hosting a visit from Foreign Correspondent; it has expanded by one grade level of kids every year, even while it was in the thick of the pandemic, and it now has over 350 students enrolled.
The school has a sizable Family Resources Centre, which provides local families with supplemental items such as clothing and food.
The school receives a contribution of up to $1.4 million from James’s foundation each year, the majority of which is allocated to staff members who provide supplemental care to the students.
On July 24, the board of governance for Akron Public Schools held a public question and answer session with one of its own education executives, Keith Liechty-Clifford, regarding the unsatisfactory academic performance of I Promise.
When asked about one of her classes, Liechty-Clifford remarks, “This past year was challenging, with only 9 percent proficiency.” “Mathematics does not appear to be as appealing.”
“I’m looking at the students who are currently in the seventh grade, and so for the past three years, not a single kid has passed the state test in mathematics?” board member Valerie McKitrick makes the following statement.
“It’s discouraging,” Liechty-Clifford admitted after considering the situation.
COVID and staff turnover were two of the most obvious factors for kids’ poor academic performance.
Despite this, the head of the board, Dr. Derrick Hall, expressed concern. He had high hopes that the school would serve as a “incubator” for new ideas that could eventually be implemented throughout the entire school system.
He claims that the academic performance of some of the students at I Promise is deteriorating, and that this is concerning.
If my child attended I Promise beginning in the third grade when they were already two grade levels behind, and they remained there for the full five years, I would not expect them to graduate from eighth grade still two years behind, would I? And it seems like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
James’s foundation boss Campbell is dismayed by the criticism and unfavorable media coverage of the board meeting. Campbell asserts that pupils are still hitting “growth targets” notwithstanding what has been said about the meeting.
According to Michele Campbell, the most important thing is to retain children in school who might have left education otherwise.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
She tells Foreign Correspondent that the key to the success of their institution is “retaining our students and keeping them in school.”
I Promise will have a new leader at the helm beginning with the upcoming academic year thanks to an appointment made by Akron Public Schools. In addition to that, there is going to be an increased emphasis placed on instruction that is evidence-based.
Education analyst Poiner further highlights the fact that educating the pupils is not the responsibility of James or his organization but rather of the city.
“To the best of my knowledge, I can’t think of anything else that’s like this,” she says in reference to the educational experiment that James is conducting at I Promise. “I also know from experience of teaching kids who are behind, that it is a lot of extra hard work for teachers in classrooms where there are students who are behind.”
referred to as “the LeBron James effect.”
The I Promise school has been supplemented by a number of other significant projects in Akron, collectively referred to as “wraparound services” by James, his organization, and the army of volunteers under their command.
A brand new amenity is a community center and employment hub named House Three Thirty, after Akron’s area code. This hub gives parents of I Promise students access to a flexible workplace and bears the name of Akron’s area code.
The spacious community center known as House Three Thirty features a cafe as well as rooms that may be reserved for various events.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
This demonstrates James’s ability to network effectively inside the business world.
Companies like as Pepsi and Starbucks, among others, have not only contributed to the restoration of the ancient Tangier restaurant and music venue, but they have also agreed to collaborate on providing job training and employment opportunities for the parents.
A well-known financial institution has generously donated free backpacks and other items, which have attracted hundreds of families from all across the city to the location known as House Three Thirty.
Willie McGee, who was James’s teammate in basketball while they were in high school, is one of the key figures in this incident.
“Man, it’s time to head back to school, man,” McGee says. “This is such a wonderful time of the year. Day for everyone to get together, for the children to pick up some educational materials and get ready for the upcoming school year.
Since they were both nine years old, McGee has been friends with James, and he is thrilled to see James’s altruistic idea come to fruition.
Willie McGee is one of a handful of persons currently providing their support to the work being done by the foundation. These individuals are all connected to LeBron James in some way.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
“This is family here, man,” he tells me. “We have turnouts like this because of LeBron James. Anything for him. It is not just LeBron who is contributing to the community of Akron. It includes everyone who knew him and everyone who was in his immediate vicinity.
“I believe that he serves as a wonderful example for a lot of individuals in our community. The term that we use for it is “The LeBron James effect.”
Gloria, James’ mother, may usually be seen right in the midst of the crowd. She is able to look back and remember the days when she was the one having difficulty adjusting to the beginning of the school year.
“We’ve lived these lives,” she says. “We know what it’s like.” “And all I can say is that I really wish that something like this had happened to me. What it reveals to me and illustrates to me is that our goal of bringing together members of our community has been accomplished.
She is of the opinion that the successes that have been realized in Akron should serve as a “blueprint” for other American municipalities to follow.
As part of an effort to reduce the financial burden associated with sending children back to school, LeBron James’ mother Gloria James volunteers her time to assist students in collecting free bags.(Matt Roberts is our correspondent based overseas)
She says, “We are so willing to sit down and give it to them and help them to make their communities better.” “We are so willing to sit down and give it to them.” “It is certainly possible; all you need is the desire and the willpower to carry it out,” the speaker said.
Is it something that could be done in other places?
The Akron School Board is now considering modifying the admission requirements for the I Promise School in an effort to enhance the school’s test scores; however, no decision has been made as of yet.
Despite the lack of clarity regarding James’s potential future academic achievement, the social experiment at James is continuing to broaden its scope.
I Promise families were recently invited to move into one of the first apartment buildings in a complex that was created with both private and governmental funding. Families that are going through difficult times now have access to temporary housing options.
Jeanette and her two kids are living in I Promise Housing.(Foreign Correspondent: Matt Roberts)
A site for a new medical and dental centre has been chosen, and building will begin soon.
All these projects are within a short walk; James’s vision of a village within a city has become reality.
The effectiveness of James’s corporate partnerships in creating new projects is obvious.
One of biggest partners is the city itself.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan says James “hasn’t adopted Akron, he’s enveloped it into his care”. The mayor has hosted visitors from other states interested in the James experiment.
“I think all of the wraparound services for kids, all of those different things, when it comes to mental health, when it comes to housing, when it comes to food, when it comes to trauma care, that’s the replicable part of it,” he says.
Campbell agrees, and not just because Akron has LeBron James.
The students from the I Promise school are hosting a podcast, and LeBron James will be joining them.(This information was provided by the LeBron James Family Foundation)
We’d like to introduce ourselves as the Lebron James Family Foundation. “But he is just one person,” she points out.
And I believe more in people than I ever have before, as well as in our nation. And what is required for this is a tiny group of people who want to live beyond themselves because people want the flourishing of the communities in which they live.
“I live in Akron, and I want my community to thrive; after all, that’s where people take the most pride in themselves, no matter where they’re from, right?”
James has made it clear that he will not stop attempting to assist families in the Akron area once he retires from playing basketball; rather, he intends for his investment to continue throughout time.
When he was a guest on an I Promise School podcast, one of the children asked him, “What is your favorite part about giving back to our community?” When he said, “What is your favorite part about giving back to our community?”
He stated, “From a purely personal standpoint, I believe that it is only significant to you if you feel it.”
“A lot of people volunteer in their communities because they want other people to talk about it or because they want to get written up in a newspaper… There was never a news article or magazine cover that caught my attention. My main concern was for the children and their families who could benefit from our efforts.