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.
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.
Cut to the Le Bron James Family Foundation back-to-school orientation for at-risk students (as identified by the public schools), where teachers bring students’ skills up and begin to build support for the upcoming year. Says Keith Liechty, the coordinator of school improvement for Akron Public Schools, “Before the James foundation, it was a struggle to get parents involved.”What started with 232 students five years ago has now grown to more than 1,200, whom Le Bron, Savannah, and the foundation staff meet with regularly to communicate goals and needs.
At all their meetings the students renew their promise to finish school.
“He literally brings our friend back, like something out of an episode of ,” Union says. ” says Savannah, laughing.“No book that can tell you about parenthood,” Le Bron continues.
“Because he’s that guy, and when you see that, you know he is not going to leave these at-risk kids behind or an NBA player snorkeling. “Even your mom, your dad, your grandparents—they can give you pointers, but you have to go along that path on your own because every kid is different; every situation is different.(Food insecurity is common among Akron’s mostly impoverished community.) The goal: to increase graduation rates.The target group: low-income families with low standardized-test scores, left behind in the kinds of schools that are stripped by charter schools of the students who test the best.Through all this, Le Bron pops in for appearances, hosts meals, robo-calls kids around test times, writes notes of encouragement, and wears a wristband that, when he’s on TV, the kids in his program can recognize as theirs.This year, the Jameses announced the radical step of establishing an entire new public elementary school for students identified as at-risk.’ ” In 2011, the foundation decided to work more intensely with the city’s educators.