The first time I voted was in 2008, at the age of 35. I will vote again this November 2 in the midterm elections.
Despite my career successes as a professional NBA player for 13 years, my college education and second career as a sports analyst on ESPN and ABC, no one had empowered me in our political process and I had not empowered myself.
Although I was not a registered or an active voter until 2008, I have always been civically minded, civically engaged, and have cared deeply about my community and our country. This is evident in my foundation work, community initiatives and scholarship programs. It is an unfortunate and all too common misconception that young people who do not vote do not care about their well-being or that of their community. The voting gap between young people who vote and those who do not is not a function of apathy. It is a function of lack of sufficient civic education in our schools, in our media, and in our society. The civic education gap is particularly stark between those with a college education and those without.
I am now a spokesperson for the Hip Hop Caucus on their 2010 Respect My Vote! campaign, which is educating young voters of color across the nation, and mobilizing them to go to the polls this November 2. The Respect My Vote! campaign is working in communities where young people may not have graduated from college, working with ex-offenders who are often unaware of their voting rights, and also working with our nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
I support the strategy the Hip Hop Caucus takes because our challenge is not a partisan one; it is not about one candidate or one political party. Our challenge is to raise the consciousness of our nation, especially of the disenfranchised young people who are our future.
Our education challenge is particularly complicated. The long-term solution to increasing political and civic engagement is to improve our education system so that all of our children and young adults receive robust civic education in school. Yet such improvements to our education system will require relentless and vocal outcry from the parents whose children suffer most from the current state of our poorest and lowest-performing schools.
Basically, we need to improve our schools to ensure that we have a politically empowered citizenry, but at the same time to achieve such education reforms we need a politically empowered citizenry. So we must invest our time in efforts that teach our young people the value of their vote and to use their vote to demand change on the issues that matter most to them.
We must simultaneously invest in building new educational models that can serve as roadmaps to effective education reform. As a native of Detroit, I see firsthand how common it is for students to get lost in the shuffle. Our high school graduation rate in Detroit is an appalling 59 percent.
Students want to learn but are not provided the opportunities, and schools are not equipped with the resources that manifest a quality education.
I refuse to sit and wait for others to bring about change. I challenged myself to come up with a way to help bring quality education to underserved communities in Detroit. For this reason, in 2011 I will be opening the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter high school at the forefront of an entire urban educational transformation. We will be a model by setting high standards and providing a support system for the students, as well as the community the school serves.
The Academy is committed to ensuring 100% of its students graduate from high school, 95% enroll in college, and 90% of those enrollees graduate from college. We want to create a model school of success that enhances the movement toward a different culture in Detroit where college is the rule, not an exception. In addition, we will provide real-world, project-based experiences organized around themes in leadership, sports and entertainment as well as career opportunities.
I recognize that not everyone is in a position to open a school to bring about change. Each of us, however, can use our vote to advocate for access to quality education for all children. By utilizing our vote, maintaining awareness on issues that are important to us, and holding our elected officials accountable, we can break the cycles of educational failure, and provide the structure and resources required to transform our schools into stepping stones for success.
Education truly is the key to success. Political empowerment is the key to changing our education system for the better. We must utilize our vote, our voices, and our most valuable asset, our time, to make fixing our schools this country's top mandate.
Join me at the polls on November 2. I will carry the message "Respect My Vote! for quality education." I urge you to carry a similar message, and organize your friends and family to do the same.