Jalen Rose forged a path in professional basketball while just a freshman at the University of Michigan as a part of the infamous Fab Five. his balling career evolved as a first round draft pick for the Denver Nuggets, then excelled on several NBA teams, including the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and ending with the Phoenix Suns. It was during his time as an NBA player that Rose developed a philanthropic dedication to educating at risk youth. in 2011, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy [JRLA] opened its doors to over 100 9th graders on the west side of Detroit in an effort to give back to his neighborhood. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the ESPN/ABC sports analyst to speak about his recent partnership with Jeep to accomplish his goal of empowering the youth of tomorrow through education.
What does it take to start and run a school in Detroit?It takes a lot of time, energy, money and care. Last September (2011) we opened the doors to the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy with 120 students and we all had the same agenda; to take at risk 9th graders—most of which fall victim to their neighborhoods—and make them leaders.
How were the students that were enrolled in the academy selected? Why was it limited to 9th graders?We’re going after a specific demo, because 90% of our students aren’t reading at their grade level and 85% get free or reduced lunch. Why 9th graders? Because we feel that 9th grade is the age when you have to make some tough decisions that will affect the rest of your life; to be cool or smart, to lead or follow. So we wanted to catch a specific kind of student at a crucial time in their development.
Have you seen changes since the beginning of the school year?I’m very proud of my students. They’re running up to me to show their report cards; they’re taking pride in their appearance; sitting up straight, pulling up their baggy pants. I believe we are off to a great start.
Why was it so important for you to open the leadership academy in your hometown of Detroit?What was most important to me was to affect the same zip code that I grew up in. these days, [the kids’] innocence is gone. They’re being introduced to sex, drugs, violence, gangs and bullying in social media, all much earlier than high school. I’m loyal to my soil, though. This was the best way that I know to fulfill my duty and obligation to my neighborhood. It’s really my duty to uplift my community. We’ve lost so many jobs in Detroit and we really need all hands on deck.
What’s the mission of the academy?First, to shatter the myth that we want to be stupid and gangbangers. we have longer school days, longer school semesters and six super Saturdays in the JRLA because we believe our students want to learn.
How has Detroit changed since you grew up here in the ’80s?It’s tough right now for Detroit. We’re still essentially a blue-collar town; we know how to roll up our sleeves and go to work. But our parents worked at the plant for 40 hours a week, or were educated with professional jobs. they were able to set aside nest eggs and put their kids through college. Now, it’s tough on adults who have the skills but not the education. they have nothing to fall back on. we wanted to make a difference in those specific eight years of a kid’s life—four years of high school and four years of college—when their decisions are so important to the rest of their lives.
Who were your inspirations during those eight years of your life?I had a strong mother and strong uncles and, of course, my coaches were all strong people. Back in the day, there was a part of street life that kept kids like me away from it. There were more morals and rules where people that were a part of the street life didn’t want kids with potential to be in it. Now, it’s the wild wild west with the exposure to things on TV, the radio and Internet. There is constant and continued support of buffoonery. There’s no balance. I had strong people in my life, even though we grew up in a poor neighborhood. There’s no balance now.
Jeep just recently came on as a sponsor for the academy. How did that come about?Jeep cares and they give back in a big way. They’re rolling up their sleeves and providing real support to the academy. Our team reached out to Jeep while we were still in the planning stages and periodically kept them abreast of the progress. the partnership just made a lot of sense to me. I had a God–fearing mother who worked at Chrysler for many years. It wasn’t a forced sponsorship. they were looking for ways to make real differences in the community and it made for a great partnership.
Obviously, it takes a lot of partnerships to make a school work. Talk about those partnerships in JRLA?First and foremost, there’s Mike Carter whose the co-founder of the JRLA. when we first started to talk about our involvement together, we came with the same goal to give back. There’s the University of Detroit Mercy, which allows our students to experience their campus with liberal arts classes that let them understand college life. Isiah Thomas stepped up and donated one of the classrooms to his late mother. and, of course, our board members, who don’t necessarily have kids in the Detroit public school system but understand that it takes time and energy to give back.
Your philanthropic efforts don’t begin and end with the academy. what are some of the other things that the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy Foundation has supported?We established an endowment at the University of Michigan. we have influenced high school and college school students providing 40 kids education scholarships.
How can people help in your educational efforts?Donate at http://www.jrladetroit.com/. We’re raising between $5 million and $7 million to build a start of the art facility. People with money send their kids to better schools that have more state of the art facilities. Our demo of students don’t have that option; so why shouldn’t they have the same learning environment? Why should I continue to support a system that continues to support poor performing schools, students and teachers? when I was growing up in Detroit, I felt like we were better than Chicago, better than Los Angeles; that was until I went to Chicago and LA and I saw five-star hotels and international chair restaurants. then I realized that Detroit was lacking in more areas than we realized. I’m trying to influence how Detroit kids see their hometown.