Jalen Rose’s passion for the NBA is evident. When fans see the ESPN analyst on pre-game and halftime coverage on NBA Countdown — and Thursday when he’s on-set for ESPN’s exclusive coverage of the 2015 NBA Draft (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) — that love of all things NBA jumps off the screen. But there’s something Rose is equally passionate about — his hometown of Detroit.
Home is where the heart is and the 13-year NBA star and University of Michigan alum never forgot that. He started the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA), an open enrollment public charter high school, with hopes of giving back to the community where he grew up by providing educational and other opportunities to youth in Detroit.
Earlier this month, the first class of JRLA graduates earned their diplomas. Still beaming about his students’ successes, Rose shares with Front Row why this is only the beginning for them and JRLA.
What was the motivation behind starting the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy?
I always felt like if I had the opportunity I wanted to do something positive and create a major impact in my hometown. A lot of the stories that come out of Detroit have a negative overtone. We’ve earned a lot of that narrative, but I have faith in the youth and I believe our city is in a position to make a notable comeback.
Opening up the Academy was a graduation of that mission and we’re doing whatever we can to bridge the education gap — because the dirty secret in public education is that it’s defined by your zip code. I don’t think that’s fair so I try to do what I can to put young students in a position where they can be in a college classroom.
What is your relationship with the students?
Initially for some of the students it’s, ‘There goes Jalen Rose,’ but then it becomes like, ‘There goes Mr. Rose.’ It varies. I’m an active founder of the school and I take interest in every one of the students as well as our teachers and staff.
I do weekly calls with my staff, superintendent, principal, and have monthly board meetings. Plus, I’m present at the school so being as hands on as I am, I get to know the students and their families. It’s awesome to see their progress and success.
A lot of youth come into ninth grade and sometimes don’t know if they want to be leader or a follower or if being smart is cool. Ninety percent of our kids weren’t doing math at a ninth-grade level. Eighty-five percent weren’t reading at a ninth grade level. It wasn’t the best thing for our budget to stagger the enrollment but it was the best thing for the outcome in aiding our student development.
You made a strong push to incorporate sports and clubs that are not as familiar or popular as basketball or football. Why?
I’m all about being atypical. Normally when you approach inner-city youth, they see success as being an entertainer, basketball player or football player because that’s what’s notable to them. It’s our job to open up their heads and hearts to other things that they’re not typically exposed to — the chess team, debate club, playing lacrosse or rugby.
The real thing I appreciate about team sports is how to deal with success and failure — learning how to sacrifice, multi-task and even give all of yourself. When they learn those traits, they become life traits.
How do you define success to your students?
One of my favorite sayings, which I said at the graduation, is: Success is how you deal with failure after failure with no loss of enthusiasm because there’s always going to be turbulence in life.
You’re not going to get A’s on every test and you’ll have frustrating days, but how you deal with that is really what’s going to determine the outcome. We have families and students who are committed. We are shattering glass ceilings. This is an 11-month school so students are signing up to work harder and become more disciplined. They’re signing up for the extra mile.
Normally when people see hard work, they’re dressed in overalls so they miss it. We’re getting past that and it’s because of our school.