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Inside Philanthropy: Hoop Dreams: An NBA Veteran Talks About His School—and a New Generation of Athlete Givers

April 23, 2020

By  — Motor City native Jalen Rose, 47, had his greatest success in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, making three consecutive Eastern Conference finals, including a trip to the NBA finals in 2000, alongside Reggie Miller. Rose was a member of the legendary University of Michigan “Fab Five,” the first team in NCAA history to compete in the championship game with all-freshmen starters. Fellow Detroit native Chris Webber was also part of this high-flying team.

Since retiring from the NBA in 2007, Rose made a quick transition into broadcasting, working as an analyst for ABC/ESPN, hosting shows including “NBA Countdown,” “Get Up!” and “Jalen & Jacoby.” Rose brings a unique perspective as a former player who’s kept major ties to the NBA, and in our recent conversation, he was keen not only to share his own philanthropic story, but also talked about the next generation of NBA givers.

“A lot of it started at home, seeing the work ethic my mother had, working at Chrysler for more than 20 years, and also my uncles who worked at Ford and GM,” Rose explains to me. He says that his family in the Midwest and down south had a deep entrepreneurial spirit and a love for getting things done. Rose was a star at Southwestern High School in inner-city Detroit before playing on a pioneering Wolverine squad known for its skill and flash.

When Rose was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1994 and established himself in the NBA, he tells me he was always motivated to bring Detroit with him and make his city proud. And so while he was still in the league, he launched the Jalen Rose Charitable Fund, which aims to create life-changing opportunities for underserved youth through the development of unique programs and the distribution of grants to qualified nonprofit organizations. Unsurprisingly, the fund focuses strongly on the Motor City.

The Detroit Dream

Launched in 2000, the charity initially focused on scholarships, influencing a few Detroit public school students each year for nearly a decade. Rose himself was an honors student recruited by the University of Michigan. But while his family found success in a booming industry, he realizes that his city has changed. “Gone are the days where you can make a solid blue-collar living, make six figures like my family, who were really part of the Detroit dream. You need more than just a high school diploma,” Rose says.

Rose connected with fellow Detroit native Michael Carter, a businessman now based in Tennessee, and the two started thinking about a way not only to make sure kids in their community graduated high school, but persisted through college and beyond. Together, they launched the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA), an open-enrollment, tuition-free public charter high school on the northwest side of Detroit.  The Academy began its first academic year in September 2011, and currently serves over 400 ninth through 12th-grade scholars from metro Detroit.

JRLA operates on a 9-16 model, in which scholars are supported through college graduation. Overall, Rose, like other givers laser-focused on education, wants to make sure that the quality of learning isn’t determined by zip codes. Never reluctant to speak out on social issues, Rose even notes that the current COVID-19 pandemic is revealing just how unequal some things are. “Right now, there are some young people who are fortunate to be able to be homeschooled by their parents, and to be on their laptops with their teachers. But that’s not the dynamic I grew up in, and where we now serve. It’s way different,” he says, adding, “I want these young people who grew up in poverty to thrive.”

In just a few years, JRLA has emerged as one of the top-performing open-enrollment high schools in Detroit, with a 91% graduation rate and 100% college acceptance rate for its Class of 2019, according to its annual report and data available through ProPublica. JRLA raised more than $300,000 for scholarships in 2019. To raise funds, it hosts the annual JRLA Celebrity Golf Classic, which celebrates its 10th Anniversary in August.

Rose calls his work with JRLA tough, but is heartened by the progress they’ve made. “We have amazing staff and great parents who’ve really trusted that we’re going to educate their kids,” he tells me. The building operates 11 months of the year, with summer school in July for students who need extra help. These resources are especially critical in Michigan, where, as Rose noted last year, only 8.7% of undergraduates at universities in the state are black.

“Ask any adult where their dreams went awry, it usually happens during that eight-year window—high school and college,” Rose explains.

Rose is also a steady supporter of his alma mater University of Michigan. He endowed a scholarship at his school in 2004 for incoming freshmen. His Fab Five teammate Juan Howard, also a retired NBA player, currently coaches the Wolverines.

A New Generation of Athlete Givers

“For today’s player, I’ve been really excited to see a couple of them passionate about education—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry come to mind,” says Rose when I asked him what he thought about our new generation of athlete-philanthropists. (I’ve written about the giving of all three of these stars.)

Players like James and Durant have spoken out on social issues like Black Lives Matter and are providing leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve remarked before that athletes are pushing back against being defined by what they do on the court. Rose echoed this idea, and seems to think this nascent philanthropy is just beginning, particularly in the realm of education.

“I think that’s probably the lane I’m excited about most that these players chose to influence. There used to be some sort of jock undercurrent. If you weren’t the best student, or you didn’t necessarily graduate from college, your influence here wasn’t necessarily important. But I’m glad that that glass ceiling is shattering. And not just in the NBA, but the sports world as a whole,” he says.

Rose always wanted the sports world to get to this place, and he’s excited about players giving back their time and money in this lane. As for what’s next for JRLA, he believes that solving the education gap in inner-city Detroit also requires tackling a funding gap. His academy receives $8,000 in funding per student in state aid, whereas some suburban schools receive $12,000. “It’s been great to watch the resurgence of downtown and other parts of the city… but I want this support to come to the neighborhood, too,” he says.

Full article: bit.ly/2RIzIUx