by Moxye Staff
Michele Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, considered the alternative outcome had James decided to “just shut up and dribble,” as suggested last week by a political pundit.
“Without LeBron James outside of basketball, I’m going to tell you we would have had children who dropped out of school,” she said. “We have 1,200 kids who are behind in school, but because of LeBron James they are catching up and believe they belong on a college campus and believe they can be educated. They believe they can be anything.
“If it was just basketball for him, what a waste that would be.”
There wouldn’t be his foundation which works to “positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives.”
There wouldn’t be an I Promise program for 1,200 at-risk Akron students in grades 3-9 this year.
There wouldn’t be nine parents who received GEDs through the I Promise Too program – with three dozen parents enrolled today.
There wouldn’t be $41 million earmarked for full-ride scholarships at the University of Akron for Akron public school students who go through the foundation’s I Promise program.
There wouldn’t be an I Promise Institute in the works on Akron’s campus to give further assistance to those students on scholarships.
There wouldn’t be an I Promise public school opening in the fall for 120 third-graders and 120 fourth-graders. By 2022, the school will be open to students grades one through eight.
There wouldn’t be 23 high school students called 330 Ambassadors who mentor younger students in James’ program.
The ambassadors traveled from Akron to Los Angeles for All-Star Weekend. They also had a day of community service, working with TreePeople to rebuild and repair areas damaged by fires. They met with Hollywood executives from WME Entertainment and took a tour of the University of Southern California campus. And took in All-Star festivities.
“For them to be in the communities giving back to Los Angeles and make a difference, it means everything,” James stated. I want them to experience this with me. My foundation is a part of my journey.”
The ambassador volunteer program requires students to apply and interview for a position. Abigail Zupancic, 18, is a senior at Akron’s STEM school. She plans to study pre-med at Kent State, plays volleyball year-around, works at Panera and volunteers.
“We meet with the kids at town hall meetings and different events throughout the year,” she said. “I work with some on an individual level. If they’re struggling with school, they can reach out and get paired up with one of us. We love being leaders. We love giving back. It’s awesome to be around a group that that’s the main focus.”
Jackson Tankersley, 18, also attends the STEM school and likely will go to Colorado State. A third-year foundation volunteer, he is the president of his youth church group and has been volunteering at his church for eight years.
“I enjoy service work,” said Tankersley who was part of refurbishing homes in New Orleans at last year’s All-Star Weekend. “The work is at the forefront of the foundation, and I align with that.”
Those are the kids inspiring younger students.
James’ charity started with modest roots in 2005: a bike-a-thon to get more kids involved in school. As James grew – and understood the impact he can make – his foundation matured.
“Did I ever envision it would get to this point? No, I didn’t,” James said. “But we never had a ceiling. We don’t have a roof now. There’s too many kids, too many places that need our help. We’re not going to be able to hit them all. We know that. It’s impossible. But we’re going to hit as many as we can. We’re going to continue to do innovative things. That’s what it’s about.”
On Saturday, James answered questions about Fox News TV commentator Laura Ingraham’s comments that he, and other basketball players, should just “shut up and dribble.”
“We will definitely not shut up and dribble,” James said.
James isn’t interested in negativity.
“I’m just trying to shed a greater light and a positive light on the bad aura or the energy that some of the people are trying to give to the people of America and to the world,” he said.
Campbell, who is the chief operating officer of LRMR Ventures which is the business and entertainment arm of James’ operation, is also part of the family foundation’s full-time unpaid staff.
James’ efforts have inspired her, and her efforts have inspired a team. This isn’t a fly-by-night charitable organization run by James’ friends. The leaders are educators, including university presidents, and business executives.
Data – high school graduation rates and college admissions – will tell the story, and Campbell and her staff have seen improved academic reports. The anecdotal evidence is compelling, too.
The parents of 240 students who were going to become the I Promise School’s first classmates were invited to an introductory meeting to learn about the school and decide if they wanted their child to be a part of it. Without knowing the location of the school, who would be the principal or even who would teach their children, Campbell received 240 commitments.
“That tells you the impact,” she said. “They’re willing to sign up because we give them hope.”
James is a three-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP, four-time MVP and will finish his career as a top-five all-time scorer and assist leader. He is a future Hall of Famer – one of the five greatest to ever play the game. And none of that has the impact of his charitable work.
“I knew early on that this was going to be bigger than me,” he said. “My foundation, they’re going to carry this on longer than I can. That’s why I do what I do.”
“We don’t know what’s in the future,” James said. “But we will come up with a great plan.”
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