The great basketball player Lebron James has just committed a magnanimous offer of a free four year college education to at least 1,100 poor minority children. At an average cost of approximately $40,000 (Akron University) per student, this amounts to at least $41,000,000 million dollars. The first graduation class is scheduled for 2021.
Although we can all agree that this is a great gesture and will undoubtedly improve the lives of over a thousand people, retired police captain Ray Lewis made a very valid point about the use of the funds:
Is this the best use of his money for the black community? Do we have the time for the black community to benefit from such incremental steps, with a maturation date, in the far future? Does this truly empower black people as a whole?
JUST A SUGGESTION: That amount of money could invigorate, and establish a voter drive that could literally get millions of black people, not only registered to vote, but also enthused to vote. Can you imagine the effect Labron could have by financially supporting “Labron – Get Out And Vote” buses to thousands of inner cities. These buses would have a paid staff of previously unemployed black people, to help adults fill out voter registration forms, absentee ballots, and explain educational sample voting ballots, along with hand outs highlighting the political nominee’s voting records. These buses would also be responsible for establishing a local network of residents who would be willing to offer rides to the voting centers, for people who needed one.
One of the most disempowered segments of our society, is black youth. Can you imagine the invigorating effect it would have on them, if Labron HIMSELF, would accompany one of his buses to major inner cities? Think of the press and publicity he would receive, and how this would tenfold increase the number of new young black voters. All of a sudden, voting would be “cool,” with Labron setting the example.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, this voter registration campaign would allow millions of new black voters to now wield power in their local town, city, county, and state elections, for the remainder of their lives. In addition, when black adult members of a family vote, it greatly enhances the chance of the children in that family becoming voters. There is incredible untapped potential here.
Let me put this in perspective. According to the 2010 Census, Ferguson Missouri, had a population of 64.7% Black, and 29.3% White. Do you really think that Ferguson would have had the racist white Police Chief Thomas Wilson if the elected Mayor and majority of Town Council members had been black?
I think is important when reading this suggestion that it nowhere criticizes or dismisses the importance of what Lebron is doing. The fact that he is willing to put so much of his money on the line to help individuals in need is admirable, especially when compare to the lacking philanthropy of others like Jay Z. The question is simply if wider community based, instead of individual based, initiatives might do more to enact long term change and improvement.
College is no longer the great equalizer, and it doesn’t guarentee a job or societal standing. The cost of higher education in the US is significantly higher than in other first world nations: for instance I get to study for about $300 a semester here in Germany, and we should be collectively shaken to realize that $41 million can only pay to put a little over 1000 kids in college.
Meanwhile, the disenfranchisement of black voters remains a systemic problem. Overall, less than 50% of the eligible US citizens votes (actually, 36% is closer). Supporting legitimate and community oriented candidates, as well as empowering citizens in said communities to impact the vote, could lead to the creation of institutions and programs able to help far more than 1100 people.
It is defintiely worth suggesting that money go to help organize voters and candidates in minority communities to help them regain control of their own neighborhoods. Sending 1000 or 2000 people to college is great, but putting that money into creating meaningful and sustainable political change can do a lot more.
No one is disrespecting what Lebron is doing, but it is worth discussing whether he could use it more strategically to create long lasting change that would probably put even more kids through college and also significantly reduce oppression of minorities, and the poor, in their own communities.