Feb. 28, 2011
By Andrew Heller
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
~ Nelson Mandela
The way Jalen Rose (1992-94) sees it, you either ignore your roots or you do something to make those roots stronger.
Rose -- the former Fab Fiver who helped the Wolverines to NCAA championship games in 1992 and 1993 -- long ago chose the latter.
Headline, Nov. 18, 2010: "Ex-NBA star builds charter school"
The idea for the school -- which will open this fall in a former elementary school, not far from where Rose starred at Detroit Southwestern two decades ago -- came from other headlines, all of them describing the recent turmoil in the city's educational system.
"Any time you talk about your hometown and the stories are all horror stories," Rose says, "there definitely has to be some change. I'm just trying to be one person to help, influencing in a positive way."
He's been doing it a long time, even before his 13-year NBA career ended. His foundation, formed midway through his career, has made more than $1.2 million in donations since 2000, most of them focused on inner city youth.
There are the Jalen Rose college scholarships, which in eight years have helped more than 40 Detroit kids pay for college. There's his endowed full-ride scholarship, which gives additional kids a full ride to Michigan.
There's his "Rose Garden" -- the seating section Rose sponsors at U-M home games -- which has given more than 5,500 youth a chance to see big-time college basketball. There's AAU Team Michigan, the youth tournament team he sponsors.
And then there's the school, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, one of four new public charter high schools in Detroit supported in part by Michigan Future, Inc.
That's his dream, and it looks like this: top-notch facilities, including laptops for all students; a college-prep curriculum centered on themes and career opportunities in leadership, sports management and entertainment; an on-site health clinic; a student-operated credit union with financial seminars; legal support and entertainment opportunities for school families.
The expectation is that 100 percent of the academy's students will graduate, with the vast majority going on to college.
"It's going to be a break the mold education, man," he says, his voice rising. "We're going to go 232 days instead of 171. We're going to get into life skills, urban issues, etiquette, leadership. We're going to establish criteria of excellence and motivation. Nowadays these kids are faced with a lot. You gotta have that diploma.
"Detroit Southwestern, they did well by me," he continues. "But at the same time, there are state-of-the-art schools in Michigan that have the best of everything that help kids enrich their lives, and I want to do that for the inner city kids."
Asked what could possibly motivate a former athlete to get involved and stay involved with kids when so many others don't bother, U-M men's basketball head coach John Beilein says simply, "The word is gratitude."
"He has a great appreciation of the opportunities that have been provided to him in high school and at U-M and he wants to give those same opportunities to others. To give back is one of the best things anyone can do when they leave the program. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen (as often as you'd like)."
Dr. Charles P. Muncatchy, the former Mount Clemens Community Schools superintendent who was chosen to develop and lead the academy, said Rose's involvement with the project comes down to unfinished business.
"He had his wonderful career at U-M, a wonderful professional athletic career. And right now he has a wonderful career as an analyst (for ESPN). But in his heart of hearts, he wants to make a difference for kids in the heart of Detroit. He simply wants to do his part. He's an atypical kind of man. A lot of people say this and say that, but Jalen Rose is a man of action, and he wants something very special to happen. I wish there were thousands of people who have done well in life who want to give back like he has."
For Rose, the academy, which will begin with 120 students, and add a like number for the next three years, might be just the start.
"My dream is for the school to go to scale -- more than one school, with feeder schools and eventually K-8 (kindergarten through eighth grade). We're trying to influence as many as we can in a positive way. That's the goal."
As for the inevitable question about whether a high school named after a star athlete in a hoops-crazy city like Detroit will turn out to be nothing more than a basketball mill, well, there's this.
"I was pretty shocked when I got it because I didn't really know who he was," says Chris Atkins, a 20-year-old University of Michigan computer science sophomore from Detroit who won a scholarship from Rose's foundation in 2009.
"I got to take a picture with him and I posted it on Facebook and people went nuts. So that's how I learned he's kind of a big deal."
Says Rose, an honor roll student in high school and a dean's lister at U-M: "I'm more concerned about their GPA than their points per game."
Jalen Rose, 38, played three seasons with the Wolverines, amassing 1,788 points, 478 rebounds, 401 assists and 119 steals. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1994 NBA draft and played for 13 seasons for six teams. He is currently a studio analyst for ESPN.