Q&A: LeBron James

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Thursday, October 30, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Joe Vardon

Question: Some of the students in your program saw improvements in their reading scorers 37 percent higher in some cases than children not in the program. What's your reaction to the data?

LeBron James: "The initial reaction is like, wow. But at the same time, for me, I don't do it to get results or satisfaction from numbers, I do it because I feel like it's my responsibility to continue to empower the youth in my neighborhood, the youth in my city, and give them something where they can better themselves long term. And that's very important for me."

Q: The first class in your program won't graduate until 2021. Is this project an example of your desire to make a long-term impact on society?

LJ: "That's part of my whole plan. From the beginning, when I started to do my foundation work, I wanted to do something that would be sustainable, and not just do 'one-offs.' You do something one summer and then it's over and done with. I wanted to do something that they would be empowered by, that was going to be sustainable, something that would last for generations. And to this point we've done such a great job.

"Michele Campbell, she's unbelievable. Desiree (Bolden), who's part of Akron Public Schools, Akron University, for them lending their hand to us, man, and everyone that has something to do with it. With tackling these kids, getting these kids to understand how important education is, and for me I just try to continue to empower them and be the role model I can to them and just use the power that I have."

Q: Your program is rich in education policy, produced through advisory boards of education professionals working with the foundation. Why did you decide to seek outside counsel?

LJ: "For us to have the board that we have and the reason I wanted to do it that way is so many people have great input and I wanted, even though my name carries a lot of weight, I wanted to get people who really knew and really knew how to dig down and deep, and had not only the personality but the education side of the whole system. What's the graduation rate for these kids? What grade should you start at? Is it second grade, is it third grade, is it fourth grade? Where kids start? Or if they finish school that year do they get to college? We've got the smartest people, the people that we could trust to run it, and it's been unbelievable and hopefully we could continue it."

Q: If your program continues to show success, would you consider expanding it to other parts of Ohio?

LJ: "If this thing is sustainable, which we believe it is, we believe this is a long-term thing for us. We always talk about it at the end of our year, the class of 2022, the class of 2023, if it's sustainable, if the opportunity presents itself to do it in other places besides Akron, we would love to. Obviously this is our staple, but if there is an opportunity, we would love to.
"Because the kids here, there are kids in other places who need the same coverage, the same activity, to understand how important education is, understand how important role models are just to cover them and look after them. It's very important."

Q: There are state education initiatives similar in some ways to what you're doing. One is the third-grade reading guarantee, which requires students to pass a reading test before promotion to the fourth grade. Your program seems to have different incentives.

LJ: "It's more of giving these kids a responsibility. We read our 'I Promise' initiative every year, and when kids feel like 'I can be responsible' and 'I can be rewarded at the end of something,' if they have something to shoot for, it makes it even more gratifying for those kids. Listening to your teachers and being on time and helping your classmate in need of help, and being socially active, and being in great shape. And at the end of the year you'll have a big graduation and you'll receive things, and when kids can have something to strive for, adults aren't the only ones who thrive off of having goals. Kids do as well, almost more than us because they love gifts and they feel like they've accomplished something, so it means a lot."

Q: You created a technology camp to coincide with Akron Public Schools' summer intervention program. In addition, your corporate partner Samsung donated tablets for the camp. Why did you create the camp and get Samsung involved?

LJ: "It's totally different than the way we grew up being educated. It was all school books. It was all school books and knowledge from the teacher. In today's society, being able to surf the web and being educated on how to surf the web is very, very important. So with my partnership from the beginning with Samsung, I thought it would be a huge thing if they could not only collab (sic) with me doing things for them, kind of a partnership, but also bring in my foundation."

Q: Will your foundation ever expand its focus beyond student mentoring and improving the likelihood of graduation?

LJ: "The evolution for us is to continue to stay on the kids. Tackle the issues. Because it's more than just going to school. It's understanding what these kids go through on a day-to-day basis, when they're back home or while they're at school. Understanding these kids, and more importantly, what their needs are. We want to continue to grow, but before growth we want something that's sustainable. We want to sustain something year after year after year, then I believe growth will come with that."