My public charter school is one of my greatest passions

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During a normal September, I’m obviously not covering the NBA Finals. I’m in Detroit welcoming students to a new school year at the public charter school that I founded: the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

Just an exit off the Lodge Parkway from where I grew up, the high school is one of my great passions. We converted an abandoned elementary school into JRLA and opened our doors officially in 2011 with 120 students. We graduated our first class in 2015 and now have 420 “scholars” enrolled. It’s been such a thrill to see it grow. Every September, I stand on the sidewalk and greet the kids and parents. This year, because of the pandemic, we’ve gone to a remote learning model, so there is no one to physically greet. The scholars are at home working on the school-provided laptops and home Wi-Fi.

The school’s four core values are family, respect, excellence and determination. I know our principal Wendie Lewis, a charter school vet, and our staff are working even harder this year to keep those values and JRLA glue in place.

Here are things that shouldn’t be political: voting and education. I went to a Detroit public school. My kids are fortunate enough to have attended private school. I’ve seen it from all sides, and it’s important for families to have a choice where they send their kids. Especially as many of the inner city kids are overlooked because unfortunately money and ZIP codes dictate so much when it comes to quality of education. JRLA has an open enrollment, and if the number of applicants goes over, we would go to an admission lottery for each grade level. We don’t admit students based on their test scores. We want scholars and families who align with our vision of success and our values.

When it came time to create the bones of JRLA, my co-founder, entrepreneur Michael Carter, and I wanted to create something unique in the space. So we went to a 9 to 16 model, which means we not only support our scholars while they are inside our building from grades nine to 12, but we also extend services and backing to them while they’re in college. Many top performing schools say goodbye and good luck to the kids when they leave the building. We stick by them, help get them internships, connect them with mentors and other programs. Most of these kids are first generation college students, and that kind of support helps them cross the finish line.

We have sports such as volleyball, cheerleading, cross-country and, of course, men’s and women’s basketball. When it comes to hoops, we don’t have a huge facility. It’s still a middle school gym, so we don’t play any home games. I like to joke that they are the Harlem Globetrotters, playing all their games on the road. Our kids have gone to tournaments in Las Vegas, and other basketball clinics including Chris Paul’s in North Carolina. We are constantly fund-raising to keep this a reality.

One of my favorite success stories is Chanelle Miles who was in our first graduating class, and she knows the entire journey. Two of her younger cousins have also graduated from JRLA and are now in college. After JRLA, she went to the University of Michigan on the Jalen Rose endowment, which meant she went for free. While there, she studied abroad three times, once in Lima, Peru, and also in Madrid and Seville, Spain. She even did a business program in New York City where she visited me at the ESPN studios. Now, 23, she is a behavioral technician working with autistic children.

“It’s just as much my school as it is Mr. Rose’s,” she said. When she graduated from Michigan in 2019 with a degree in psychology, five of her teachers from JRLA attended the commencement. I’m a little jealous because I didn’t even graduate from the University of Michigan (I ultimately got my degree from the University of Maryland), but I am so proud of her.

Those relationships are important to me. When I’m in the halls, I like to interact with the kids, high five and dap. Some of them are shy and some are bold. They’ll say things like, “Hey, Mr. Rose, do you know my uncle? He went to school with you,” or “What do you think about the Lions this season?” And while I am not the dean of discipline, sometimes I need to do a little “nurturing” and talk to the kids.

And yes there are some perks. A few years ago, I was at the University of Michigan Midnight Madness with a few alum and introduced them to DJ Khaled, who performed. Rapper Big Sean was at our first graduation and for last year’s remote ceremony, I was able to get Jamie Foxx, Kyle Kuzma and Mike Epps to deliver speeches.

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I’m not going to lie, I sometimes cry at the graduations. I get emotional when I am out in the community and see my graduates working and contributing. It’s education. It’s not going to be 100 percent perfect. Success is measured in many different ways. But to do this in my hometown has become a calling.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got to Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.

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