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LeBron James’ revolutionary new school could do for public education what he did for basketball

Thank goodness he didn't shut up and dribble.

AKRON, OH - JULY 30: LeBron James addresses the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the I Promise School on July 30, 2018 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
AKRON, OH - JULY 30: LeBron James addresses the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the I Promise School on July 30, 2018 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

LeBron James upset a small group of people on Monday night when he told CNN’s Don Lemon that he would never sit across from Donald Trump, blaming him for using sports as a tool to divide Americans.

And right now, James doesn’t owe anyone — especially Trump — a word; his actions are speaking volumes.

On Monday, James opened the I Promise School, a school he founded through a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation and the Akron Public Schools system. The school — which, it must be stressed, is a public school, not a private or charter school — is designed for at-risk kids, particularly those who are one year or more behind their expected reading level.

This year, the school will teach 240 students: 120 third graders and 120 fourth graders. By 2022, the school plans to serve children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Since it’s public, it’s obviously free to attend. But it also provides free transportation for students who live more than two miles away; free bicycles and helmets for all attendees; free breakfast, lunch, and snacks; an extended 9am to 5pm school day and shorter summer vacations; and guaranteed tuition to the University of Akron for every student who graduates.

“Every one of these kids, maybe they don’t become LeBron James on the basketball court, but they become the LeBron James of their passion and dream in life,” said Michele Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, as reported by USA Today.

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The school also provides an unprecedented amount of support for a student’s entire family — their parents get access to a food pantry, and to GED and job-placement programs.

Good thing LeBron James didn’t take Laura Ingram’s advice and “shut up and dribble.”

Akron native Brandy Davis, a long-time member of the LeBron James Family Foundation and the first principal of the I Promise School, said the support system her school provides to the entire family will help set it apart from other public schools, and allow it to thrive.

“I think the missing link in public education is that family wraparound support,” Davis said, as reported by the Washington Post.

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“Because our students come to school, and they’re worried about things at home. It could be a wealth of issues going on at home. Just to know when I drop my child off at school I can go down the hallway to the family resource center and get the support I need, that just takes so much off of a parent, so much off of a child. And that’s what that trauma-informed support is all about. We want to create that safe, that secure and that caring and loving environment for our families and our students so that our kids can focus on education. And that’s what we’re all about.”

According to the Washington Post, the school was the result of a brainstorm session between Campbell and James himself that occurred a few years ago:

They were talking about making an even greater impact. In 2011, the foundation established its I Promise program, taking on a class of third graders and giving them the resources, incentives and support — academically and emotionally — to thrive. Campbell’s idea for a school was the extension of that concept. She thought she was just thinking out loud — couldn’t we help more kids and families with an entire school? — but James reacted seriously.

“Well, why aren’t you doing that then?” James said, according to Campbell.

James left the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, so he won’t be living in Ohio anymore. But the school guarantees the Akron native will continue to positively impact his community for decades — possibly even generations — to come. In fact, at the end of the day, the impact of his off-court philanthropy might far surpass his on-court legacy. This isn’t some kind of vanity project he’s simply lending his name to; he relied on his own experience as a wayward fourth grader — who missed 80 days of school and lacked any institutional support — to work together with some of the brightest minds in the community and the empower them to create a sustainable educational model that can be replicated elsewhere.

“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” Davis said. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”

And even though James won’t be sitting down with Trump any time soon, he has no plans to stop speaking out against Trump’s actions — or any injustice he comes across.

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“Well for me, I have a voice, I have a platform and I have so many kids, and not only kids, but also adults and everybody kind of looking for guidance. And looking for someone to kind of lead them in times where they feel like their voice isn’t powerful,” James told Rachel Nichols of ESPN.

“And when you see something that’s unjust or you see something that’s wrong or you see something that’s trying to divide us as a race or as a country, then I feel like my voice can be heard and speak volumes. Especially coming from a place of sports.”