Jalen Rose Leadership Academy: Bringing a Quality Education and Jobs to Detroit

What most of you remember from my days at Michigan happened on the basketball court. Very few realize that I was actually a good student who also made the Dean's List. Basketball was my spring board to college, but all inner-city kids aren't that fortunate.
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I grew up on the northwest side of Detroit. My mother, a factory worker for Chrysler, raised me to be the man I am today. Although there were times we went with no heat, I remember how hard she worked to provide for my brothers, sister and me. There seemed to be plenty of jobs back then in the Motor City. Times sure have changed.

What most of you remember from my days at Michigan happened on the basketball court. Very few realize that I was actually a good student who also made the Dean's List. Education was always important to me and that's why despite leaving college early for the NBA draft, I made it a priority to go back and earned my bachelor of science degree from the University of Maryland University College. Basketball was my spring board to college, but all inner-city kids aren't that fortunate.

I will always be proud to call Detroit my hometown. What I'm not proud of is the lack of high-performing schools for our kids and the lack of jobs for their parents. This is a national epidemic, but as most know, it is especially bad in Detroit. Education in Detroit must play a critical role in transforming the community into a more vibrant intellectual and economic landscape.

In 2011, Detroit Public Schools said its 2010 graduation rate increased to 62 percent and its dropout rate declined to 19 percent. These numbers, which are an improvement since 2009, are dismal. Detroit needs and deserves better schools to provide more opportunities for its children, and its workforce.

As a philanthropist who truly gives from the heart, I established the Jalen Rose Foundation in 2000 to create life-changing opportunities for underserved youth. Since its inception, I personally donated over $1.2 million, which included more than 40 college scholarships to Detroit Public School students. Over the years, I was disappointed in the quality of the scholarship applications and always wanted to do more to improve the educational landscape in my hometown. It wasn't fair these kids were being sent to college unprepared and in need of remediation.

That's why I founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA) in 2011. This new public charter high school not only provides Detroit's children a strong education and hope for a bright future, it also provides jobs to people in the community. My goal at JRLA is to provide a private school education in a public school setting so that a student's ZIP code doesn't dictate the education they receive. I am humbled by the opportunity to help further the education of our youth as well as be able to create jobs for my community.

Bringing high-quality education to Detroit's disenfranchised inner city isn't easy. Detroit charter schools receive less state aid than Detroit Public Schools, including roughly 85 percent of what nearby suburban schools receive. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not receive funding from their school districts to purchase, lease, or improve facilities. Often, this causes financial challenges that can limit the charter school's ability to provide appropriate accommodations. And boy, have we had our financial challenges. Traditional banks are reluctant to finance new public schools -- particularly innovative ones -- because of the perceived risk in investing in low-income communities. We have a non-profit partner, Operation Graduation, that was able to mortgage a former elementary school building; however, we needed to renovate the facility to bring it up to code and make it functional for the high school students we were recruiting. That's when we turned to NCB Capital Impact, a community lender with a long record of successfully financing projects in low-income communities.

A loan from NCB Capital Impact in the amount of $1.1 million allowed Operation Graduation to begin renovations on its facility that is occupied by the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, which served approximately 120 ninth graders in its first year, 88 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced price lunches. The loan allowed for renovations of the former elementary school to accommodate high school students; the school now serves more than 200 ninth and 10th graders and an additional freshman class will be added each year.

It has also helped create 17 new permanent jobs including administrators, teachers, and building maintenance positions for people in the community. And we plan to hire additional staff as the school expands.

We are currently working to expand our existing facility to accommodate the needs of our growing student body. Although we are situated in a stable neighborhood on the northwest side of Detroit, we find ourselves once again struggling to find a lender to finance the first phase of our expansion which will include additional classroom space. We are optimistic that NCB Capital will assist us again.

The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a success story that will one day bear replication; creating educational and professional opportunities in Detroit is important and necessary. And it's not, as some funders would have you believe, risky. In fact, it's risky not to.

And without the help of NCB Capital Impact, and Create Jobs for USA, none of this would have come about.

Create Jobs for USA is an initiative founded by Starbucks and Opportunity Finance Network, a network of community lenders, like NCB Capital Impact. It mobilizes donations that go to community lenders, and they lend it to community businesses, like Operation Graduation/JRLA, to create jobs. So far, it has created or retained more than 5,000 American jobs.

I urge you to help create more opportunities by donating to the Create Jobs for USA JobRaising campaign at http://www.crowdrise.com/OpportunityFinanceNetwork-jr. Every donation will go toward job creation in low-income communities across the U.S. helping provide opportunity, hope, and a better future for children, adults, and communities in need. You can also learn more or support the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy by visiting http://www.jrladetroit.com/.

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