beats headphone by dr dre used his mother’s birthday to inspire Akron school children
CHICAGO A few months ago, Victoria Young was one of the hundreds of parents of Akron school children to open a letter from LeBron James.
The date was Feb. 5, and James was writing to celebrate his mother’s birthday.
“I feel like we were just celebrating my mother’s birthday last year and here we are again, another birthday for Mom,” wrote James, who signed the letter as a “Proud Son of Gloria James.”
“As I take today to reflect and celebrate her, I also want to give it up for you,” James wrote. “Being a parent or guardian of young children is a huge responsibility. Now that I’m the father of three, I know how much responsibility. It makes me think about how much my mother did for me when I was growing up and how much you are doing for your kids.”
Young says every time James reaches out to her home no, the letter was not the first nor it will be the last from the Cavs superstar she said “I get just excited as the kids do.”
Young’s daughter, La’Zurae Gary, is in the sixth grade in Akron Public Schools and a member of the LeBron James Family Foundation’s mentoring program for at risk kids.
The program, now in its fourth year with 685 students in grades three through six, is designed to keep children in school and eventually graduate who would otherwise be in danger of failing because of problems learning, with attendance, or in their homes. The three are often related.
Victoria Young and her daughter are like Gloria James and her son were years ago: a single mom trying to raise her child and hold a job in Akron. They are one example of why James uses his mother as a way to connect with all the children and parents in the foundation’s program.
He seeks to reach the child and the parent.
“(The letter) was geared toward the kids first, but, inside of that it’s also geared toward the people that’s raising them as well, because they’re just as important as the kids,” James told the Northeast Ohio Media Group ahead of Mother’s Day. James and the Cavaliers will play the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference semifinal on mom’s special day.
“We want these kids to have visions and dreams and hopefully their dreams can become reality, but they have to have someone that can allow those dreams to be fulfilled,” James said. “And that’s usually the people that they’re around every day, and that’s their role models, their leaders, their parents.”
Gloria James is listed as president of the LeBron James Family Foundation’s board of directors, and remains an integral part of James’ life. She narrated a commercial for Beats by Dre in the fall celebrating her son’s return to Northeast Ohio after four years in Miami.
Joe Vardon, Northeast Ohio Media Group
James is seldom shy with his affection for Gloria, who gave birth when she was 16 and sent him to live at the home of his youth football coach in the fourth grade for a couple years while she learned to support herself.
Before James went to live with the Walker family in their single family Akron house, he and his mother struggled to keep apartments. He was often absent from school.
Now one of the most recognized, powerful athletes on the planet, James said he reflects each Mother’s Day on “everything (Gloria) sacrificed in order for me to be who I am today.”
James uses his star power to motivate the children in his program; Akron school administrators who work with James’ Family Foundation say part of the allure for the children to stay in school and do well is to feel like they’re a part of James’ family. Teachers sometimes threaten a call to “Mr. LeBron” if a student acts out.
But James said part of the reason for his personal interaction with the children in his program is he recognizes many may be in similar situations to the ones he faced before the fourth grade. The same goes for their parents.
“They walk the same roads that I did,” James said. “They have a lot of the same upbringings that I did. I just want them to know that I don’t have to be the only one that made it out of that situation.”
Victoria Young, of Akron, was among the 50 or more parents and students involved in the LeBron James Family Foundation’s mentoring program that helped clean a property outside of Akron’s Canal Park earlier this month.
On a sunny Saturday last weekend outside Akron’s Canal Park downtown, Victoria Young and her daughter were among the 50 or more students and parents involved in James’ mentoring program who gathered to clean up an adjacent property outside the ball park.
James wasn’t there he was practicing in Independence to prepare for the Bulls but Young beamed about an interaction her daughter had with James through social media.
La’Zurae had received a “B” in one of her classes, and “Mr. LeBron told her to bring it up to an ‘A’ next time. And she did,” Young said.
Young’s daughter is part of the original class for James’ “Wheels for Education” program, which began in the fall of 2011 for third graders in Akron as part of the James Foundation’s newly designed mission to improve high school graduation rates.
For La’Zurae’s class (and all subsequent classes when they enter middle school), the program name changes to “Akron I Promise Network.”
For context, Akron Public Schools’ high school graduation rate for the 2013 14 school year was 78.4 percent, below the state average. Meanwhile, 86.4 percent of the urban school district’s population receives free or reduced lunches, a reminder of the challenge poverty presents in public education.
The program spawned from the bike a thon the Family Foundation held each summer. New students in the program still receive a bike and a helmet, and they work on new Samsung tablets from James during a technology camp in August.
To stay in James’ program, all a student must do is remain enrolled in Akron schools. Eighty four percent of students who joined when La’Zurae did in 2011 are still in the program.
To keep students and parents engaged, drawings are held (and chances for winning are increased) for those who get good grades, earn high marks for attendance, and exhibit exemplary behavior. Parents spotted with a Foundation program decal on their cars are also eligible for prizes, which range from Beats by Dre headphones for the children to a month’s worth of groceries for the families.