LeBron James Opens School for At-Risk Children, Gives Honest Interview -- the President Responds by Insulting His Intelligence

It’s been a busy week for NBA player and philanthropist LeBron James, President Donald Trump, and the state of Ohio.

On Sunday, James, who began his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, announced the opening of his I Promise School for underprivileged children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.


The school opened Monday and will begin with 240 third and fourth grade students. Next year, it will add kids in the second and fifth grades and will continue to add more grades until it hosts grades 1-8.

James understands the importance of education and the difference it can make in one’s life, and it is evident how much care and consideration went into the plans for the school. It will have an unusually long school day of eight hours (from 9am to 5pm) and an extended school year (from July to May), with only a seven-week summer break. The school will also offer free breakfast and lunch, as well as snacks and drinks.

Students will also receive a free bicycle because James personally knows the difference a bicycle can make for children who need transportation — and freedom.

“LeBron’s bike gave him the mobility he needed to get to safe places after school like basketball courts and community centers,” said Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, according to Bicycling. “Those two wheels gave him access to opportunities and resources he couldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

“It’s important to LeBron that his students receive bikes because he knows how much he needed his when he was growing up. His family didn’t have a car, so if he wanted to get anywhere, he had to ride,” Campbell said. “It allowed him to stay safe and out of harm’s way. That’s what LeBron hopes his kids will get out of these bikes.”


The school will also offer GED courses and job placement assistance for parents and guardians in an effort to create stability in the home, to improve families’ circumstances, and to keep parents engaged in education.

“Looking at reading data, we identified students who were a year, two years behind in reading,” said Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told the New York Times. “We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School?'”

Imagine being on the receiving end of those phone calls. Imagine how excited those children are — for school. Imagine what a difference this school will make in the lives and futures of those children — and their parents.

And the LeBron James Family Foundation has partnered with the University of Akron to fully sponsor scholarships for children who complete James’ I Promise program and meet the attendance and grade requirements.

So not only has LeBron James opened his own school for underprivileged children, LeBron James also plans to pay for more than 1,000 children to attend college. In 2015, SB Nation calculated the cost of four years tuition (then $9,500 tuition per year for four years) for 1,100 children to be $41.8 million. And that doesn’t even factor in the costs for the I Promise School’s staffing and maintenance, meals, bicycles, or programs to assist parents.


For all of you who cringe every time you watch the “Scott’s Tots” episode of The Office, here is a real-life hero making a promise with a plan for keeping it. LeBron James, 33, has won three NBA championships and has been named the NBA MVP four times, but this will surely be his greatest, and longest-lasting, accomplishment.

Laura Ingraham once told basketball players like James to “shut up and dribble.” I’m sure the at-risk children of his hometown are glad he didn’t listen to her demand that he stick to basketball.

The day after James’ announcement, James was interviewed on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, where he and Lemon discussed a variety of topics, including education, family, sports, politics, and race.

During the interview, James pointed out that school and sports allow children to “escape away from the drugs and the violence and the gunshots,” but he believes President Trump uses sports to divide the American people, rather than bring them together:

[President Donald Trump is] dividing us, and what I noticed over the last few months that he’s kind of used sports to kind of divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to. Because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. You know?

And I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends, and I was like, wow, this is all because of sports. And sports has never been something that divide people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.


Lemon and James also discussed how James’ home was vandalized last May, with a racial slur spray-painted onto the house. James revealed he felt “so many different emotions” and that it hurt to have to have a conversation with his children regarding the racial slur.

No matter how big you can become, no how successful you are, no matter what you do in your community, no matter what you do in your profession, you know, being African-American in America is always tough, and they always going to let you know that you are the n-word no matter who you are.

Lemon brought up recent cell phone footage showing people calling the police on black Americans, then asked James about racism. James answered, “I think it’s always been there. But I think the president in charge now has given people — they don’t care now. They throw it in your face now.”

CNN re-aired the interview last night, causing Trump to tweet about it shortly before midnight.

It is very disappointing that the president’s first response to such an honest interview — in which two black men are openly discussing racism and its effects — would be to insult the intelligence of the two men.

It is certainly possible to dislike LeBron James the basketball player and to disagree with what he said in his interview. But it is evident that race has affected James his entire life, despite his current status as a privileged black adult.


And even as a famous and wealthy professional athlete, he has been forced to handle racial slurs being thrown at him and spray-painted onto his home. He has had to hold difficult discussions with his children.

This interview called for a nuanced response, not insults — particularly from the President of the United States.

It’s especially galling that the president would insult James in such a manner after James put so much energy and money into improving the lives of underprivileged children, whereas Trump’s charitable contributions are questionable; Trump once arrived at the opening of a Manhattan nursery school for children with AIDS and took the seat of an actual donor, although he had never donated a single dollar to the school. He started Trump University, which promised vulnerable people large returns, then scammed them out of their life savings. And, though he frequently makes big promises to donate significant amounts of money, he, according to the Washington Post, frequently fails to follow through.

Furthermore, insulting LeBron James is a curious strategy, considering Ohio’s importance as a swing state and Trump’s own travel plans this weekend. Trump is traveling to Ohio today to campaign for Republican Troy Balderson, who is running for Ohio’s 12th congressional district.


Hopefully while he is in Ohio, Trump will have the opportunity to speak with the underprivileged children — and their parents — who are benefiting from James’ charitable acts.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.


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