Who were your inspirations during those eight years of your life?
I had a strong mother and strong uncles and, of course, my coaches were all strong people. Back in the day, there was a part of street life that kept kids like me away from it. There were more morals and rules where people that were a part of the street life didn’t want kids with potential to be in it. Now, it’s the wild wild west with the exposure to things on TV, the radio and Internet. There is constant and continued support of buffoonery. There’s no balance. I had strong people in my life, even though we grew up in a poor neighborhood. There’s no balance now.
Jeep just recently came on as a sponsor for the academy. How did that come about?
Jeep cares and they give back in a big way. They’re rolling up their sleeves and providing real support to the academy. Our team reached out to Jeep while we were still in the planning stages and periodically kept them abreast of the progress. The partnership just made a lot of sense to me. I had a God–fearing mother who worked at Chrysler for many years. It wasn’t a forced sponsorship. They were looking for ways to make real differences in the community and it made for a great partnership.
Obviously, it takes a lot of partnerships to make a school work. Talk about those partnerships in JRLA?
First and foremost, there’s Mike Carter whose the co-founder of the JRLA. When we first started to talk about our involvement together, we came with the same goal to give back. There’s the University of Detroit Mercy, which allows our students to experience their campus with liberal arts classes that let them understand college life. Isiah Thomas stepped up and donated one of the classrooms to his late mother. And, of course, our board members, who don’t necessarily have kids in the Detroit public school system but understand that it takes time and energy to give back.
We established an endowment at the University of Michigan. We have influenced high school and college school students providing 40 kids education scholarships.
How can people help in your educational efforts?
Donate to JRLADetroit.com. We’re raising between $5 million and $7 million to build a start of the art facility. People with money send their kids to better schools that have more state of the art facilities. Our demo of students don’t have that option; so why shouldn’t they have the same learning environment? Why should I continue to support a system that continues to support poor performing schools, students and teachers? When I was growing up in Detroit, I felt like we were better than Chicago, better than Los Angeles; that was until I went to Chicago and LA and I saw five-star hotels and international chair restaurants. Then I realized that Detroit was lacking in more areas than we realized. I’m trying to influence how Detroit kids see their hometown.