(Photo: Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo)
What began as a bike giveaway two years ago is now a full education initiative…
After The Decision drew so much hatred, what wasn’t reported as thoroughly was how much the ESPN broadcast positively affected schools and education in Akron, Ohio (we touched on it after LeBron won his first NBA ring). Building renovations, computer rooms, bike drives and an overall morale boost amongst the city’s youth have become Akron fixtures since LeBron James and his foundation have consistently been a presence in the Miami Heat star’s hometown. This is why I never had a problem with The Decision because many of those kids will be inspired just by interaction with James, and Saturday during the I Promise Family Reunion event was just another opportunity for LeBron to give back and more importantly, keep a promise.
The two time NBA champion and four time MVP kept his promise of never forgetting from where he came from. He makes trips to Akron often to give kids an example of what could happen if the desire, support and commitment exists. Imagine the thoughts and dreams you would have if your town had a once in a generation talent — of any genre — and showed his/her face to excited and impressionable youth. How would that help you focus on a specific dream (and not necessarily sports related)? Dreams do come true and despite knowing full well very few will ever have the athletic ability of LeBron, his presence alone will give kids a charge, not as someone to deify, but more a as a physical example of successfully living as a role model and as a family man. Many think athletes are not role models, but LeBron James’ current philanthropy shows and proves different. This year he welcomed a new group of third grade students who will have to complete a two week camp during summer vacation and they’ll have incentives. About 700 kids are part of his I Promise foundation program and when completed the kids will receive bikes, helmets, school uniforms and Samsung tablets. Those kids will be equipped with tools to use as they mature mentally and physically. This is a start to inspiring a well rounded base for these kids to potentially flourish.
His foundation’s mission statement: “The LeBron James Family Foundation’s mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. We believe that an education and living an active, healthy lifestyle is pivotal to the development of children and young adults.”
It doesn’t stop at the little ones. LeBron spoke of returning to his high school to donate new Nike uniforms. Something he’s doing for all athletic teams at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s:
“It is awesome, man, to be able to go back,” James said. “I didn’t have a college. This is my college atmosphere. I have fun with all kids, and to be in a position to give back, it means everything.”
He’s also pledged 1 million dollars to renovate the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s gym. His initiative with the Akron I Promise Network is to encourage kids (beginning in third grade and throughout all levels of school) to make academic and health promises that will hopefully spur them to want and achieve goals they might not have sought. Because of who he is, what he has accomplished and perception, something like this will get media attention. What fans must realize is this is not an anomaly. Many athlete events are not publicized for whatever reason, but I’ve covered many and trust these events are something kids enjoy and need. Since kids in the inner-cities in particular are always seen as suspect, showing them in a positive light is almost therapeutic in a sense. We should be fortunate athletes like LeBron are stepping up and giving their time as they should.
I once asked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a Chris Webber charity event of athletes and a responsibility to give back and he responded:
“Well, it’s always their choice, but athletes should understand the position they are in and make sure the youth of our society see them in a positive light by making themselves available to not only the communities in which they play, but society in general.”
Nas told me at the same event why he does it: “This thing right here is all for the children. I made a record, I Can, and kids were singing that at graduation. That touched me. So anything for the children, I’m all for.”
LeBron’s teammate, Juwan Howard spoke of his responsibility when he and I talked after a Heat game: “During the 60’s athletes sacrificed during the era. They made a lot of sacrifices for my colleagues and I but more importantly, a lot of the Black youth that are growing up in the community today…including my kids.
I want to continue to be a positive role model and to be a good example for Black youth. Not just in this country but all across the world. I’ve taken trips to Africa. I wanted to see what it was like and how the culture raises their children. I’ve made great contributions, not only from a financial but also spiritual level, for our American youth but all across the world as well.”
Chris Webber gave me this response at his event: “I was inspired by many people to have this. Magic had his Midnight Summer Magic. Michael Jordan had his events. I just wanted to do the same thing. Truthfully, I have so many friends that have the resources and intentions to help and I like calling them out to come help me and I’ll do the same for them.
I’d rather be with kids than having a good time now. I can make fun of them for being a Lakers fan. You can tell them a stupid joke and they won’t laugh. If they aren’t a Pistons fan then they’ll tell you. You have to respect that. I really love working with children. My mother’s been a teacher. We’ve had everything from schools in our home, to vacation Bible schools and day cares in our home that my mother ran. She taught me in 6th and 7th grade–which wasn’t fun, but children are our focus.
Maybe the call is not for everyone, but hopefully we’ve all had good parents with a strong background to make it where you are and where we all are. Hopefully we can represent those values that got us here. Hopefully you have conviction and enough courage. It doesn’t have to be this. It could be taking to kids during summer to a camp that don’t have fathers or mothers. Just do what you can do.
I thank God that people appreciate my word. If I tell people they are going to have a good time, hopefully they are going to be accommodated 100% of their money goes to the foundation. I have no incentive to take, rob, steal. I just want people that are humble to help the community. If we have that, then we have everything that we need to do.”
Word. These stories are out there folks. All you have to do is search to find them. Athletes are just one part of society and should not be expected to “babysit” your children. What they should be expected to do is live their lives and give back when appropriate. The same should be said of owners of teams they play for and anyone else seen as a person of influence. If parental figures do not exist in the home, athletes are part of the equation to inspire kids to become successful adults. Community leaders and politicians should also do their part, as well as neighbors and other family members. This is not idealistic. This is realistic. There will be a kid somewhere down the line that will remember this experience and be much better off because of it. Isn’t that all we should ask for?
To the links…
Ken Griffey Jr. enshrined in the Mariners Hall of Fame (Seattle PI).
Cleveland native Jason Dufner wins PGA Championship for first major title (Cleveland.com)
Orioles Adam Jones says fan in San Francisco threw a banana at him from stands (Baltimore Sun).
Kyrie Irving deflects questions about his future with Cavs, insists he is happy right now (Ohio.com).
LeBron is mulling NBPA president bid (SI.com)
Mariano Rivera blows three consecutive saves for first time in his Hall of Fame career (Twitter).
Y’all’s boy Russell Westbrook is at it again (Twitter).
Holder to outline new drug offender sentencing proposal (Reuters).
Missouri State Fair crowd cheers as bull chases down rodeo clown wearing a Barack Obama mask (USA Today).
Tips for enjoying the Perseid meteor shower (National Geographic).
Elysium opens at a lower than expected 30.5 million (Hollywood Reporter).
Mars One project: More than 100,000 sign up for one-way ticket to red planet (Digital Trends).
Q and KDot…