Basketball megastar Lebron James put the jewel upon his crown this summer by opening the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Despite having won three NBA championships and four MVP titles, James insists that the opening of this school is, in fact, the greatest moment of his career. The education facility is aimed at at-risk students like James was himself. Having missed 83 days of school in fourth grade, being raised by a single mother with unstable accommodation, James knows the difficulties and disadvantages that some children, predominantly African-American children, experience in modern day America.
But is this charitable investment just a publicity stunt to build the basketball player’s brand? James’ investment in a school for underprivileged children follows a well-established trend of celebrities opening schools, for example, Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs and Elon Musk have both done so in recent years. However, unlike the former which are charter schools (the American equivalent of an academy i.e. independent from local authorities) and private school respectively, the I Promise School is a public school, run in association with Akron Public schools. The I Promise School, which has taken in 240 third and fourth graders, all of whom are at least 1 year behind their peers in terms of academic performance, plans to include all eight grades by 2022 and is committed to going above and beyond for its students. The school day is extended to eight hours and the school year goes from July to May with a 7 week summer camp which focusses on STEM subjects; students have a “support circle” after lunch to help refocus on work; parents are provided with GED courses and job placements; students will work on social-emotional learning every school day; nutrition is prioritised and students get free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks, as well as access to a fitness instructor. In addition, every pupil is provided with a free bicycle. Lastly, if they complete the school program and graduate from school, James will cover full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron, which costs $11,846 (£9005.74) for two semesters.
Although this investment could be interpreted as a publicity stunt, Lebron James’ choice to open such a school seems to come from a personal goal to improve the prospects of underprivileged children. Education is such an important part of social mobility, and it is estimated that each year of education leads to an 8-13% rise in earnings: the support this school offers both pupils and parents alike will have a huge effect on the academic success and emotional health of deprived Ohio families.
For this incredible feat, Lebron James is receiving praise from fellow NBA stars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry. Curry has previously won the 2013-2014 NBA Seasonlong Community Assist Award for his numerous charitable contributions. The award has been running since 2012 and the NBA and Kia donate $25,000 to a charity of the winning player’s choice. Numerous other awards act as incentives for professional athletes to contribute to their communities, including the Monthly Community Assist Award for which the winning player’s charity receives $10,000. Arguably these awards appeal to the competitive nature of professional players who are motivated to outshine their peers to raise more money for charitable causes. Whether these donations are selfless or are instead motivated by friendly rivalry is irrelevant; ultimately, those in need benefit from the support of fortunate celebrities with money to spare.