Michelle Obama and LeBron James are both advocates of education. In their quest to opening educational opportunities to this newest generation, they held a rally at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena. During the rally, the two spoke of the importance of higher education in the hopes of inspiring young people to commit to pursuing higher education or training.
During the rally, attendees were shown videos about the importance of education, and the two famous speakers gave inspirational speeches encouraging the young people to work hard and that if they do, they will be successful.
Obama, who is the daughter of a city pump operator from the South-side of Chicago, spoke of their own humble beginnings: “We don’t come from places where families had a lot of money or a lot of resources,” she said.
James, who never completed a college degree, was raised by a single mother.
And yet, both Obama and James achieved a considerable amount of success in their lives.
“If we can be here,” the first lady said as she addressed a crowd of school kids and their parents, “we know you can be here, too.”
Is it really that simple? No, it isn’t. Both should certainly be commended for their hard work and commitment. But luck played a role. Not everyone who works hard and is committed to success will achieve it. So I wanted to take a look at what hurdles young people face – especially those from working or lower class backgrounds – in achieving academic success. And I wanted to see if anything that Obama or James are doing is going to help.
Certainly, inspirational speeches and rallying cannot hurt. But does anyone doubt the value of an education? And certainly the encouragement is helpful as many young people fail because they cannot overcome the constant barrage of negative messages hurled at them on a near-constant basis.
LeBron James has actually given thousands of his earnings in scholarship money. He set up a foundation, Family Foundation (Michael Jordan didn’t setup any foundations for education or anything else for that matter), and an initiative designed to motivate and inspire kids to stay in school, “Wheels For Education.”
Each year the foundation sends a group of third grade students to be a part of the program that begins with a two-week technology camp and continues through graduation. According to his website, “Throughout the school year, the WFE students receive support, encouragement and incentives; these interventions will continue throughout their journeys to graduation.”
Obama’s Reach Higher public awareness campaign is supposed to encourage students to go to college. She expanded it this week by announcing the start of Better Make Room, a project to motivate youths from age 14 to 19 to complete their education past high school.
It seems that at least James and Obama understand that academic success requires much more than hard work and commitment on the part of the student – even though that might be enough in rare situations. It requires a wide net of support from teachers and mentors, as well as guidance to the parents and the whole community. Money helps, but it might not be enough. Time will tell if either of these efforts offer the kind of support necessary to help kids achieve academic success. And perhaps these programs will evolve over time as they learn what kind of support is needed and how to give it. But for now, it is a promising start.