AKRON, Ohio — With Michelle Obama by his side, LeBron James championed higher education by supporting the first lady’s new “Make Better Room” campaign Wednesday.
James and Obama hosted an event at the University of Akron, where the approximately 2,500 students in attendance recited a pledge declaring a commitment to their schooling as a part of James’ “I Promise” initiative. John King, who will succeed Arne Duncan as the U.S. education secretary starting in December, was also present for the event.
In August, in conjunction with the University of Akron and his foundation, James announced a commitment to fund four-year college scholarships for potentially thousands of students that enroll in his program and qualify for the endowment in the coming years.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important than education,” Obama said during a private Q&A moderated by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon following the event. “It is the absolute best investment that young people can make in their futures. I just don’t think we talk about that enough. We don’t shine a light on that.”
When James chose to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent a little over a year ago, he said he factored in the impact he could have on his hometown community just as much as the basketball implications when leaving the Miami Heat.
“It was up there at the top,” James said of the consideration of how he could affect the commitment to education by the youth of Northeast Ohio. “If not first or second, as high as it could be. And just reading and seeing what my community was going through while I was away, it kind of hit home for me in understanding how big my influence is and how important my muscle is right now has nothing to do with the game of basketball.
“And so it was definitely in my thoughts and in my mind, and I can sit here today going on Year 2 since I’ve come back home and seeing I’ve set up something I can be proud of. And not proud because I’ve used my name, but proud of the fact that these kids have something to look forward to.”
Obama’s “Make Better Room” campaign seeks to have society shower the same adulation and respect upon successful students as it does to athletes, celebrities and others in the public spotlight. The campaign is counting on public figures such as James as well as social and progressive media platforms such as Vine, Mashable and Funny or Die to spread the message.
“I want to make sure that our kids in this country are achieving [their] goals and they have the resources they need for school regardless of their background,” she said. “So, we want to make room for your stories. We want to make sure you all are inspiring each other and that we’re rekindling that hunger for education in every single one of our kids.”
James admitted, however, that, if given a chance to do it all over again, he would still have jumped directly from high school to the pros.
“I think my situation is different,” James said. “Personally, what I was going through as a 17-year old kid, what my mother was going through and what my family was going through at the time financially, I had to make the right decision for my family right then and there.”
James said he hopes the efforts of his LeBron James Family Foundation will help alleviate some of the pressures a child can feel from financial stress limiting his or her outlook.
“Just to piggyback on what Mrs. Obama said, there are so many kids that have so many dreams, and those dreams get shut off because of so many different reasons,” James said. “It could be a family situation or it could be just they don’t believe that their dreams can become reality. With this education program that we’re setting up, it allows that dream to become real.”