It’s a powerful experiment that bucks the charter school–heavy trend of public education, radically proposing to give more to the students who have the least—as his “uncle” has noticed.“When you can change a kid’s life for the better, you’re accomplishing something great,” says Buffett, a well-known cheerleader for public schools.Along with a team of certified mentors and counselors, she will begin working with sixteen high school girls at Buchtel, her alma mater, offering one-on-one support. Savannah remembers her own mother doing anything she could to help young people in need. .”In Akron, you see a side of Le Bron that the rest of the world doesn’t. And most people understand that he is a budding player in Hollywood, executive-producing his own television series (.“When I was growing up, my mom took in three or four kids just because they needed a place to go and be safe, to eat,” she says. “These are my friends; these are my cousins,” says Savannah. Even Le Bron James the businessman, with multiple endorsement deals, is no big news—not, for instance, to Warren Buffett.(Food insecurity is common among Akron’s mostly impoverished community.) The goal: to increase graduation rates.
And in 2015, Le Bron announced free tuition to the University of Akron for anyone who stays in the James family’s program through high school (and meets particular requirements regarding schoolwork and community service); parents who came to the announcement wept.
“These are people who I was extremely close to and still am now; these are the kids of neighborhood kids who we saw every day at school. The investment guru said by phone that he thinks of Le Bron as not just warmhearted and funny—James nicknamed Buffett Uncle Warren—but sharp. ”It’s James’s work in Akron’s schools that, more than anything, makes him a true local hero.
“If I’d had that much success that young, I’d have had trouble, but he’s been able to just be sensible and keep his head on straight. The Le Bron James Family Foundation started in 2004 as a fairly typical celebrity charity, hosting bike giveaways and wrangling celebrities to help draw kids in, but soon the Jameses realized they weren’t putting points on the board.
“You have a sea of for Akron on the state report card,” laments Rob Fischer, the codirector of Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at nearby Case Western Reserve University.
“So just changing the myths about what we should expect from Akron students is powerful.”After months of meetings, the foundation agreed to help the school system at the point where especially minority kids (in the majority here) begin to fall off track: third grade.
There are bagels and coffee, and when I ask Le Bron if he can remember that night in 2002, he lights up and turns to his wife. Le Bron points out that he was also determined to impress her dad with an on-time post-date arrival. Now, fifteen years later, they’re stepping out together again, in Le Bron’s case to spotlight a side of him that the world beyond Akron doesn’t really see—much less get—and in Savannah’s to expand the support work for young women that she has committed to for the past five years, on top of the foundation’s other initiatives.