Bigger Than Sneakers // LeBron James Plans To Empower His Hometown Through Education

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words // Nick DePaula

Since the inception of the concept, signature sneakers have provided a connection for fans to the game’s biggest stars, the league’s most skilled players and a direct look into the lives of the sport’s iconic personalities.

As the game’s premier signature athlete today, LeBron James is looking to use the massive platform he’s attained over his decade-long career in the NBA for the betterment of those in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He’s looking to do that by extending increased educational opportunities to the city’s youth.

Through his LeBron James Family Foundation, which has more than 1,000 young students already enrolled in its elementary-aged “Wheels For Education” program and its 6th grade & up “I PROMISE” program, LeBron announced that he’s partnered with the University of Akron and JPMorgan Chase to provide free scholarships to qualifying students that meet academic, attendance and community service goals. The full-cost scholarships, worth $9,500 per year, will be paid for by the university, and will be awaiting some 200 7th graders in the Foundation’s graduating class of 2021.

This is bigger than basketball. Bigger than sneakers. He’s hoping the effect can be felt decades later, as several generations of young students can look to increased opportunities in their education to advance their lives.

“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,” James told reporters at a news conference announcing the dynamics of the scholarship program. “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.”

James, of course, had a $90 Million contract with Nike in hand and was the league’s #1 overall draft pick right out of high school, but that’s not reality for the average student from Akron. The city currently has a high school graduation of just 78.4%, below the state’s overall 82.2% rate.

Not only is LeBron and his foundation looking to make an impact on the elementary students that join his program, he also just announced this week that he’ll be looking out for their parents as well. In a new partnership with Project Learn dubbed “I PROMISE, Too,” the LeBron James Family Foundation will be offering courses to parents of existing children in the program to help them earn their GED. The foundation is equipping each parent with a laptop and a bus pass to attend classes, and they’re also covering testing fees. Parents will also be offered workshops to help with life skills and emotional support.

“A huge part of our foundation’s work (with children) centers around parent involvement,” says Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. “This is an opportunity to help our parents make strides in their own academic careers so they are better equipped to help our students keep their educational promises. We can’t reach our students without their parents’ support, so this program is monumental for our families and their futures.”

When he returned to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer as a free agent, most in the state were immediately excited about LeBron’s potential impact on the hardwood, as he hopes to eventually win what would be the very first NBA Championship in Cavs’ franchise history. With his Family Foundation’s most recent announcement, LeBron is hoping its his impact off the court that will also be felt generations later throughout Ohio.

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