NBA Star Jalen Rose: Athletes Must Step Up and Fight for Fair Education in Their Hometowns

By the time you finish this sentence, another student in America will have dropped out of high school. 

Every day, nearly 7,000 high school students across the country give up on the dream of a diploma, and by extension, a shot at a better life. A staggering number of these students are African-American and Latino, and come from low-income families.

Students drop out of school for a host of reasons, from family and social challenges, to poor instruction. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Students in our nation’s most economically deprived areas need help. No high school diploma means kids will have very limited opportunities for employment, forcing many of them into a life of crime or poverty—or both.

This narrative rings especially true in inner-city Detroit, where less than 30 percent of ninth-grade students will go on to complete high school. The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, located in Northwest Detroit, hopes to change this neighborhood’s narrative. 

Every day, students from this community attend the charter school, eager to receive a high-quality education. The focus of the Leadership Academy is to provide these students with the tools necessary to succeed in a safe and positive environment and ultimately graduate with a college degree.   

The Leadership Academy is just one example of how sports and entertainment celebrities can put their star power to good use. Many of our top athletes in the NBA and NFL come from some of the most academically and economically depressed neighborhoods in America. It’s time athletes and other national figures roll up their sleeves and spend time and energy giving back to the communities where they grew up. 

The greatest fan base for an athlete is their hometown. Isn’t it time to give those fans something more valuable than a championship—what’s going to truly help them succeed? 

Many kids growing up in these areas idolize the stars that have come out of their neighborhoods and make the nightly highlight reels on ESPN. Many of these children do not realize that it took more than athletic prowess to make it to the majors.  

Education is fundamental to achieving success, both on and off of the court. It is arguably the greatest determining factor for the outcome of a child’s life. The more educational options available to the student, the more likely they are to succeed. 

Joining forces with sports icons such as WNBA and Olympic Gold Medalist Lisa Leslie, NFL Pro Bowler Greg Jennings, and former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell, the American Federation for Children has launched an effort to engage athletes in education reform.  

Traveling the country in order to raise awareness for the need of educational options, these athletes understand it's important to use their notoriety for more than just signing autographs and selling merchandise.

These athletes have made the commitment to help the students in their communities and across America receive an education that gives them the opportunities that every child deserves.  

We can’t solve the issues that plague our inner city neighborhoods until we address the deficits in our education systems.

Our nation values our sports stars. From multimillion-dollar endorsement deals to the staggering number of tickets sold each year for sporting events, our sports leaders find much success channeling their fame into helping those in need. Joining this group provides sports stars with a platform to truly give back in a big way. 

With the ability to cross all barriers in terms of age, race, and political persuasions, sports stars are in a unique position to advocate for education.  

And now is the time to do it, as this week marks the third annual National School Choice Week, the largest celebration of education reform in American history. Until every student in America is given an equal opportunity for success—no matter where they live or how much money their family makes—we must make expanding educational options a national priority.  

We can’t solve the issues that plague our inner-city neighborhoods until we address the deficits in our education systems. By placing a greater emphasis on the need for education reform, we can get one step closer to achieving this goal.

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Is It Possible to Grade Teachers On How Much They Inspire?

• Op-Ed: For Homeless Kids, Caring Teachers Offer Hope

• Academy for Global Citizenship: A Green Charter School Sprouts in Chicago

Jalen Rose is a former NBA player, current ESPN/ABC analyst, and the founder of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. Kevin P. Chavous is a former Washington, D.C. City Councilman and the executive counsel of the American Federation for Children, the nation’s leading educational choice organization.