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An athlete devoted to a higher cause

I am sure we all know of well-known public figures who “devote” their lives to a cause greater than themselves. While these individuals are indeed doing worthy things, the motivation behind them oftentimes seems superficial, with many associating their name or face with a cause simply to gain publicity or boost their reputation.

I do not want to bash public figures or attempt to name-drop celebrities I believe lead with selfish intentions. Rather, I want to recognize one who is truly selfless, devoting his success to bettering the lives of those around him.

In 2011, basketball star LeBron James founded the I Promise nonprofit organization to tackle high school dropout rates in his hometown of Akron, OH. Four years later, the organization began funding full-tuition, four-year scholarships for students to the University of Akron.

But, James did not stop there. He began dreaming of a school unlike any other to help young students beyond academics. This past July, his dream became a reality.

On July 30, the I Promise School officially opened its doors in Akron, welcoming 240 third and fourth grade students to the beginning of a life-changing educational experience.

While one may not immediately understand the significance of this new school, it is important to understand that, for one, the I Promise School is public and not just another private school. It belongs to the district and targets students in impoverished areas of Akron.

“LeBron grew up as a public school kid,” Michelle Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, said. “And the reality is that, in a lot of our urban cities, the vast majority of kids are going to go to public schools.”

Secondly, the school has a strong five-year plan with the goal to be the best urban school system in the U.S.

The master plan states, “Classroom instruction and assignments are grounded in the health and prosperity of the City of Akron and local efforts to build inclusive, healthy and socially just neighborhoods for all its citizens and families in an increasingly global and multicultural world.”

I Promise has a variety of principles it implements into its educational structure: attendance incentives, outings to local businesses, mentorship programs, tutoring and video messages and handwritten notes from James.

Thirdly, the school is focused on the personal life of each student, and not just in their academic endeavors.

The plan emphasizes “social emotional supports and trauma-informed practices” and the curriculum is grounded in real-world issues the students may be facing.

By placing emphasis on every aspect of a student’s life, the school is also caring for the students’ families in the process. Family members of students are given access to barbershops and hair salons, financial literacy courses and a food pantry. By providing help for families, I Promise is able to relieve parental stress and reduce dysfunction in the home.

The school is also treating mental and physical health as a top priority for both students and faculty members. I Promise offers technology-free zones, yoga classes, personal training, a garden and mindfulness meetings.

James himself personally understands the struggle many of these young students face. Raised by a single mom who gave birth as a teenager, James encountered several obstacles throughout his schooling. In fourth grade, James even said he missed a total of 16 weeks of school.

The I Promise School includes pillars, or belief statements, drawn from James’s personal philosophies including: “Be Best: Constant pursuit of improvement,” “Family: If you fail, we fail,” and “Mindfulness: Drop baggage at the door.”

This is not just a publicity stunt or reputation boost. I, for one, do not believe James needs either of those things. It is evident he deeply cares for his home city and its youth. He truly wants to give back out of his success, and we need more public figures like him to do the same.

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