Earlier this month LeBron James made a stir in the news for his choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers. James is an Akron, Ohio, native but is not exclusively loyal to his home team. The basketball star left the Cleveland for the Miami Heat in 2010 and returned to the Cavs four years later.

Team-hopping aside, James is not quitting the Cavaliers without leaving a parting gift for his home state, and the present just might make his name known outside the realm of sports alone. Last Monday, in conjunction with his charity and the Akron Public School system, James officially opened a public school for at-risk children. The institute’s name is the I Promise School and is the fruition of James’ commitment to his community, education and dream for the youth of America.

“I’ve walked the same streets. I’ve rode the same bikes on the streets that they ride on. I went through the same emotions — the good, the bad, the adversity. Everything that these kids are going through — the drugs, the violence, the guns … I know,” James said in an Uninterrupted video. “For me to be in a position where I have the resources, I have the finance, I have the people, I have the structure, and I have the city around me … Why not? Why not continue to do great things?”

With the first class of 240 students, the school sets a standard for public education and for celebrity philanthropy. Many schools funded or supported by influential celebrities are private or charter schools, but the I Promise School is a public school funded by James’ $8 million donation.

The school is revolutionary in its opportunity for those in need, including free meals, free bicycles for students, fitness trainers, a chance for parents of students to finish their education and the incredible promise of free tuition to Akron University to graduates.

James has been co-creating this school with the public school system for 10 years, and his passion for educating high-risk youth comes from an understanding of what it’s like to grow up with financial need. He was raised by a single-mother, moved often and admitted on Twitter that he missed 83 days of fourth grade because of his inability to get a ride to school.

This is not the first time James has made contributions to the world of education. In 2015, he pledged to fund 1,000 Akron students’ college tuition for four years. One year tuition at Akron is over $9,000, so 1,000 students over a period of four years each roughly equates to two entire seasons of LeBron’s Cavaliers paycheck going to kids in need of financial assistance.

On Monday, when the I Promise School opened, James called it both “bittersweet” because of his departure to play for the Lakers and “one of the greatest moments (if not the greatest) of my life.” With a basketball record like his, its heartwarming that his off-court gift to Akron youth is more important of a moment than any game or winning-basket.

Regardless of your opinion of LeBron James as a basketball player, it’s undeniable that he has a heart invested in growing the minds of the future generation. He leaves the Cavaliers behind, but no matter what jersey he wears, he also leaves behind a life-changing legacy in his hometown of Akron and sets the model for public schools around the country.

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Jamie Lovley

University of Maine
Journalism and Psychology

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