Just off the Parkway Lodge from where I grew up, high school is one of my great passions. We converted an abandoned elementary school into JRLA and we officially opened our doors in 2011 with 120 students. We graduated our first class in 2015 and now have 420 “scholars” enrolled. It was such an emotion to see him grow. Every September, I stand on the sidewalk and greet the children and parents. This year, because of the pandemic, we are going to a distance learning model, so there is no one to greet us physically. The students are at home working on the computers provided by the school and Wi-Fi at home.
The four core values of the school are family, respect, excellence and determination. I know our principal Wendie Lewis, a charter school veterinarian, and our staff is working even harder this year to keep those values and the JRLA team in place.
Here are some things that should not be political: voting and education. I went to a Detroit public school. My children are lucky enough to have attended private school. I see it from all sides, and it’s important for families to have a choice where they send their children. Especially since many of the kids in the inner city are neglected because unfortunately money and postal codes dictate so much when it comes to quality of education. JRLA has an open registration, and if the number of candidates passes, we will go to an admission lottery for each level. We do not admit students based on their test scores. We want scholars and families who align with our vision of success and our values.
When it came time to create the bones of JRLA, my co-founder, entrepreneur Michael Carter, and I wanted to create something unique in the space. So we went to a 9 to 16 model, which means we not only support our students while they are in our building from grades nine to 12, but we also extend the services and support them while they are in college. Many high-performing schools say goodbye and good luck to children when they leave the building. We follow them through, help them get internships, connect them with mentors and other programs. Most of these children are first-generation college students, and this type of support helps them cross the finish line.
We play sports like volleyball, cheerleading, cross-country and, of course, men’s and women’s basketball. When it comes to looking, we don’t have a huge facility. It’s still a middle school gym, so we don’t play games at home. I like to joke that they are the Harlem Globetrotters, who play all their street games. Our kids went to tournaments in Las Vegas, and to other basketball clinics that included Chris Paul in North Carolina. We are constantly raising funds to keep this a reality.
One of my favorite success stories is Chanelle Miles who was in our first graduate class, and knows the whole trip. Two of her younger cousins also graduated from JRLA and are now in college. After JRLA, she went to the University of Michigan on the Jalen Rose endowment, which meant she went free. While there, he studied abroad three times, once in Lima, Peru, and also in Madrid and Seville, Spain. He also did a business program in New York where he visited me in ESPN studios. Now 23, she is a behavioral technician working with autistic children.
“It’s as much my school as Mr. Rose’s,” he said. When she graduated from Michigan in 2019 with a degree in psychology, five of her JRLA professors attended the start. I’m a little jealous because I didn’t even graduate from the University of Michigan (I finally got my degree from the University of Maryland), but I’m so proud of it.
These relationships are important to me. When I’m in the hallways, I like to interact with kids, tall five and dap. Some of them are shy and some are bold. They will say things like “Hey, Mr. Rose, do you know my uncle? He went to school with you” or “What do you think of the Lions this season?” And while I’m not the dean of discipline, sometimes I need to to do a little “nutrition” and to talk to children.
And yes there are some advantages. A few years ago, I was at the University of Michigan Midnight Madness with a few alumni and I introduced them to DJ Khaled, who performed. Rapper Big Sean was at our first graduation and for last year’s remote ceremony, I was able to get Jamie Foxx, Kyle Kuzma and Mike Epps to give speeches.
Jalen Rose: Renaissance Man Podcast – Premiere Episode!
I don’t want to lie, sometimes I cry at graduations. I feel emotional when I am out in the community and I see my graduates working and contributing. It’s education. It won’t be perfect for percent. Success is measured in many different ways. But to do this in my hometown has become a calling.
Jalen Rose, a Detroit native, is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclast Fab Five, which rocked the world of college circles in the early 1990s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before to move to a media personality. Rose is an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He made “The Five Five” executive for ESPN’s “30 by 30” series, and is the author of the best-selling book. “We Need to Give People What They Want,” a fashion taster and co-founder of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.