Thank you, Akron, for making today possible.
Today, we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the LeBron James Family Foundation launching Wheels for Education in partnership with the Akron Public Schools. As I close out this year and start preparing for the next, this is the perfect final step to an amazing 12 months.
One year ago, I met and talked with 342 third graders and in that conversation, together, we made a promise. We promised to stay committed to each other until their graduation in 2021. The word promise is an important word in my life; it can be a pledge and it can mean potential. I wear a bracelet that says I PROMISE, as a reminder to not let the kids down, on and off the court.
My favorite line is, “I promise to never give up, to always try my best.” To have promise or to make a promise is a pretty big motivator. I knew these kids needed encouragement and to be pushed as early as possible in their lives to make the commitment to always try their best.
Today, 313 (or 92 percent) of those students will graduate from the program and today, we will inaugurate the class of 2022 with 220 more kids.
The Akron Public Schools has a dropout rate of 24 percent. Wheels for Education takes Akron’s third graders, which is the age when kids start to give up on school, and provides them with the tutoring, support and mentoring they need to succeed. Each year, our goal is to take on new third graders and stay with them through their high school graduation.
Today, we go from 313 kids to 536, and I believe that ultimately, Wheels for Education is going to help transform Akron Public Schools.
Wheels for Education is so much more than a charitable activity. To me, it is an expression of my experience in Akron and what this community provided for me. I was no different than the Wheels for Education kids. These children are dealing with the same issues and obstacles I faced.
And they deserve the same support I was fortunate enough to get.
Here is the truth: Regardless of my physical talents, I would not be where I am today without the coaches, teachers, mentors and the entire community of Akron. They are the ones who ensured that I graduated from high school, stayed out of trouble and gave me the tools I needed to pursue my passion. And that’s what Wheels for Education is all about: providing the support and safety net kids need to realize their dreams.
Today, I want to thank Akron’s city leaders and the Akron Public Schools for all the support they have given to help this program become a success. It is crucial to our work, and it is crucial to the students who will benefit from our partnership.
I also want to take this opportunity to tell the people of Akron how much I appreciate all the love and support they have given me this year. After the 2011 NBA Finals, I came home to Akron. Being surrounded by friends, family and the people of this city helped me prepare for the season, strengthened me to become a better athlete and grow into a better leader. I am truly blessed to be a part of such an amazing community.
Thank you, Akron. We’ve got lots more work to do.
James plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat and won a gold medal in the London Olympics as a member of the men’s USA basketball team. He is a lifelong resident of Akron.