Top athletes are retiring from sports arenas and excelling as educational entrepreneurs.
In 1991, Detroit native Jalen Rose achieved instant fame as a member of the “Fab Five,” the University of Michigan’s collection of the most highly recruited basketball players in the country.
Four of the five were prestigious McDonald’s High School All-Americans, and by the time they were midway through their first year at Michigan, all five were starting on the school’s varsity basketball team.
After leading the young Michigan phenoms to consecutive NCAA basketball championship games in 1992 and 1993, Rose began a successful, 13-year NBA career and a prominent run as a top ESPN sports analyst.
As a testament to his popularity, Rose’s new book, “Got to Give the People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions from Center Court,” quickly became a bestseller when it was released early in October.
One of the most outspoken and original voices in sports, Jalen Rose will always be recognized as a sports hero and legend. But his biggest contribution may ultimately be his commitment to providing equal-educational opportunities to kids, like the ones with whom he grew up in Detroit.
“Jalen is the real deal,” said Lisa Leslie, a recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who has worked closely with Jalen in advocating for school choice around the country. “He not only talks about giving kids better educational choices, but he is actually doing it.”
Leslie refers to the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy Charter School (JRLA) that Rose started in his old northwest Detroit neighborhood in 2011. JRLA is designed to offer a leadership-focused education that engages and inspires inner-city youth to achieve at the rigorous level necessary to complete college.
In other words, JRLA does not cut corners. Rose makes sure that each of the 400 high school students at JRLA understands the importance of discipline, responsibility and hard work.
“I started this school because I knew so many talented kids who grew up with me in this same neighborhood, but they never had a chance at college or a real future,” Rose said.
“They were never channeled in that direction. Through basketball, I learned the value of hard work, goal setting and being exposed to new things. I am determined to bring the same experience to those kids who, otherwise, would not have the opportunity. Scholars at JRLA build both the skill set and will necessary to be successful in high school and beyond. They are provided with authentic academic experiences and will receive extensive college exposure. We are on a mission. These kids will be successful,” said Rose.
Indeed, Rose’s steadfast determination is already taking hold. This past summer, JRLA held its first graduation ceremony. Former Detroit mayors Dennis Archer and Dave Bing attended. Detroit rapper Big Sean addressed the graduates. Former Detroit Piston and Basketball Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas, who has been a substantial donor to JRLA, also spoke.
At the commencement, Rose said that 100 percent of the graduating class of 92 students had gained admission to colleges, trade/technical schools or military institutions. This happened in a city in which only 23 percent of the black boys in high school graduate, according to the Schott Report.
But Rose is not resting on his laurels.
“We need to get more and more of these students into schools that are dedicated to serving their needs – all over the country,” Rose said. “And we can’t let the status quo stand in the way of us doing what is right for these kids. Traditional education works for some, but in our cities – cities like Detroit – these kids need more support. They need more individual attention and more encouragement. And I am going to do all I can to give it to them.”
Rose is not alone in his efforts. Rapper Pitbull founded the Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) charter school in Miami. Tennis great Andre Agassi started a successful charter school in Las Vegas. Boxer Oscar de la Hoya launched a charter school in his old East Los Angeles neighborhood.
Several years ago, former NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is married to education-reform advocate Michelle Rhee, converted his alma mater, Sacramento High, into a charter school.
For each, the work began when the ball stopped bouncing, the sweat stopped pouring and the fans stopped cheering. •