LeBron James and John Legend are two men in the entertainment space who are continuously working on major new endeavors. The I Promise School founder and newly-minted EGOT, respectively, are putting their talents together to bring a fan favorite to the TV screen. According to Deadline, James and Legend will be working with writer Wendy Calhoun for a women-led CW adaptation of the biographical film, Lean on Me.
The potential series—which will bear the same name as 1989 original—follows Amarie Baldwin, a young black principal in Akron, Ohio, with hopes of resuscitating a struggling urban school. Naturally, as she overcomes daily hurdles within the walls of her workplace, she is also facing challenges at home on the love life and family front. Baldwin is subbing in for beloved lead Lean on Me character Mr. Clark, who was famously played by Morgan Freeman.
As he drove to the school he was helping open in his hometown, LeBron James’ emotions brought him back to when he was the same age as the kids who were starting school there Monday.
He remembered school meaning nothing to him. He remembered it being too far away for him to get there, especially when his mother didn’t have a car. He missed 83 days of school in fourth grade. “It was a surprise to me when I woke up and I was actually going to school,” James said.
As he got older he learned about the value of an education, and how important that was to break poverty cycles. That’s why Monday mattered so much to James, the NBA’s biggest star who recently left Cleveland for the Lakers.
At 8 a.m., 240 at-risk third- and fourth-graders started at the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio. It is a public, non-charter school, just like the ones James attended as a child, but it seeks to offer all the things kids growing up like James did need to succeed. The LeBron James Family Foundation is the top donor and worked with Akron Public Schools to meet all its standards and regulations. And here, the staff attends to not just the children’s education, but also the outside factors that might interfere with that education.
The kids received high-fives from the staff. They begged their teachers to know if “Mr. LeBron” was going to visit their classrooms. Some parents who’d lost jobs asked if the school could help them find new ones. A homeless family asked if they could get help, too. The answers were yes, yes and yes.
“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” said Brandi Davis, the principal. “We are letting people know that it is about true wraparound support. True family integration, true compassion.”
It began as an idea inside a monthly brainstorming session between James and Michele Campbell, the executive director of James’ foundation.
Sometimes her job is to manage the expectations of a man who believes, on and off the court, that he can accomplish anything. In this case, she let slip an idea he latched on to right away. Maybe their reach would improve if they created a school, she mused. “Well, why aren’t you doing that?” James asked.
She told him the foundation wasn’t ready for that kind of project. He told her to get started anyway. “There’s nothing that she can’t do,” James said. “If I tell her to go build a rocket and take it to outer space, Michele can make it happen.”
Like the early days of space travel, this was uncharted territory. The school district worked with the foundation. They brought together 120 stakeholders — parents, corporate sponsors, students, teachers, administrators and volunteers — to find out what students in their district really needed. Akron public schools are some of the lowest-performing in Ohio.
They settled on a program that helped teach the skills children need to handle trauma they see in their daily lives, combined with a hard math and science curriculum that would help further their education.
The school’s “wraparound” services help reduce stress kids might feel when their parents are struggling financially. That includes job and family services, a GED program, a food pantry from which they can shop and choose their meals, and help with housing if needed. They have a seven-week summer camp program to help avoid the trouble that comes with too much free time.
Every student gets a bicycle because when James was growing up, he used one to get away from the more dangerous parts of his community. The students also get a Chromebook to complete their homework. “I wanted to keep it as consistent and as authentic to when I was a kid,” James said, while adding generous touches and technology.
The children were randomly selected from a pool of Akron students whose reading levels were a year or two behind where they should be.
“And then we got to make these awesome phone calls to parents to say, ‘Hi, would you like to be a part of something new, something different? The I Promise School,’” said Keith Liechty-Clifford, the coordinator of school improvement for Akron Public Schools.
This renovated, stately brick building sits between a McDonald’s and a convenience store. Inspirational quotes wallpaper the interior and the entrance is decorated with James’ game-worn shoes, which will be sold as a fundraiser. Some walls are painted with murals of such figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson.
To truly provide emotional and psychological services for at-risk children and their families requires well-trained and supported teachers. The I Promise School gives teachers access to psychological services. Every Wednesday afternoon will be reserved for career development. James even hired a personal trainer to work with teachers who want a guided workout.
All their supplies also are provided by the school. That was a pleasant surprise for Angela Whorton, an intervention specialist at the I Promise School. She’s been a teacher for 10 years and almost always had to spend her own money to properly stock the classroom.
She’s spent her own money here, too, but for personal touches. She bought a black rug that functions like a red carpet and put stars on it so the students feel special walking into the room. The writing utensils in her room are topped with white artificial flowers.
From her classroom on the second floor, Whorton pointed out of a window to a neighboring home’s modest backyard. She moved to Akron when she was in eighth grade.
“Through those trees was my backyard,” Whorton said. “And I used to dream big. At the time my mom was struggling as a single parent. She promised us that if we had an education we could be and do anything we needed to be.”
When they didn’t have electricity, Whorton’s mom lit candles so she and her brother could do their homework. When the plant where she worked shut down, Whorton’s mom went back to school and took two jobs to care for her children. She’d stand in line at the food bank to make sure she had something to feed her kids.
Whorton knows just how valuable the school she works in can be in this community. Sunday afternoon her family got a closer look at the school and she couldn’t stop her tears.
“The family wraparound approach is going to help the community,” Whorton said. “Right from my window. Looking at my backyard where I used to dream. There’s nothing more electric than that.”
A two-hour ceremony followed the end of the first day of school. At its conclusion, James spoke to the crowd. He laughed at someone who shouted “wee wee,” his mother’s nickname growing up. He paused for a moment when a man in the back of the audience shouted, “We love you!”
It’s official: Octavia Spencer and LeBron James’ limited series about entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker has landed at Netflix. The streaming outlet made the announcement at its Television Critics Assn. press tour session Sunday.
The project is executive produced by Spencer and James. Spencer will star in the eight-episode series, which is based on the book “On Our Own Ground” by A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, who will also serve as a consultant.
The series will recount the untold story of how Walker, a black hair care pioneer and mogul, overcame hostile turn-of-the-century America, epic rivalries, tumultuous marriages and some trifling family to become America’s first black, self-made female millionaire.
Walker, the daughter of slaves, was orphaned at age seven, married at 14, and widowed at 20. She spent two decades laboring as a washerwoman, earning $1.50 a week. Everything changed, though, following Walker’s discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women. By the time she died in 1919, she had built a beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women.
“Black Nativity” directory Kasi Lemmons will direct the pilot and also executive produce, and Nicole Asher will write. Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson will also serve as executive producers, along with SpringHill’s Maverick Carter, and Zero Gravity’s Mark Holder and Christine Holder.
The Holders optioned the book from Bundles in early 2016, and Spencer pursued the part aggressively once she learned of it. With the Oscar winner attached, William Morris Endeavor Agency pitched the series to James as his production company’s entryway into prestige TV.
“It’s so exciting for all of us to keep building SpringHill, see it mature, and continue to find its voice. We are really focused on growing with authenticity and substance,” Carter said. “For us, this is totally about great stories and great partners. Partnering with Octavia to tell the story of Madam C.J. Walker is the ideal first project for SpringHill to take an important step into scripted drama.”
On the heels of launching the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the largest preservation campaign ever undertaken on behalf of African-American history, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a preservation easement on Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, Villa Lewaro. A powerful preservation tool, the easement prevents current and future owners from making adverse changes to or demolishing the estate’s historic, cultural and architectural features.
Madam C.J. Walker (December 23, 1867–May 25, 1919), America’s first self-made female millionaire, commissioned Villa Lewaro, her “Dream of Dreams,” at the height of her wealth and prominence as inventor and entrepreneur of haircare products for African-American women. Constructed in 1918, alongside the Hudson River in Irvington, New York, Madam Walker’s elegant residence was built to inspire African-Americans to reach their highest potential.
Designed by Vertner Tandy—the first African-American registered architect in the state of New York and one of the seven founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.—the 34-room mansion served as the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.
“On the 150th anniversary of her birth, we are delighted to have played a lead role in the lasting protection of Madam C.J. Walker’s tangible legacy,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “The legal protection of irreplaceable historic sites like Villa Lewaro, one of the most significant places in women’s history, is essential in telling the full American story and inspiring future generations.”
Since designating the site as a National Treasure in 2014, the National Trust has worked with Villa Lewaro’s current owners and exceptional stewards, Ambassador and Mrs. Harold E. Doley, Jr., to recognize its architectural and historical significance and secure long-term protections before the property changes hands. The easement marks a successful culmination of those efforts.
Villa Lewaro stands as a living monument to Madam Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit and remains central to understanding her unprecedented achievement during an era when neither women nor African Americans were considered full citizens. Soon to be portrayed by award-winning actress Octavia Spencer in a series produced by LeBron James, Madam Walker’s story of persistence continues to inspire a growing number of African-American women taking leadership roles in business, politics, philanthropy, and other industries.
NBA star LeBron James is using his platform to advocate for education. Through his organization—The LeBron James Family Foundation—he will open up a public school in his hometown Akron, Ohio, USA Todayreported.
The educational institution—dubbed the “I Promise” school—was recently approved by the city’s board, the news outlet writes. It’s specifically designed for students who have faced obstacles and setbacks when it comes to excelling in school. In efforts to get students who have fallen behind in their studies on the right track, the new school will have extended school days and start classes during the summer season to ensure that learning and education becomes a priority in the lives of its students. The school is an extension of his foundation’s “I Promise” program that was created to prevent kids from dropping out of school. According to the news outlet, the school is slated to accept third and fourth graders next fall and other grades will subsequently be added in the coming years.
James said that his experiences while coming of age in Akron inspired him to open the school. Through his organization’s initiatives, he wants to provide the youth in his hometown with a sense of hope. “I walked those streets, and it was just like there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of this situation. I just thought about that every day. I had dreams and I had mentors, and they allowed my dreams to become who I am today,” said James, according to the source. “The basketball thing, I love it and I enjoy it, but to give back and open up a school, that’s something that will last way beyond my years.”
USA Today reports that James’ company SpringHill Entertainment and the production company Warrior Poets will team up to work on a documentary about the creation of the school.
In an age where activism and sports are intertwined now more than ever, James has continually used his platform to speak out about social and political issues. This summer he called out Donald Trump for his failure to condemn White supremacists who were involved in the Charlottesville chaos, he’s been outspoken about the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, and during the Cavaliers’ season-opener against the Celtics this season he wore sneakers that read “equality.”
NBA superstar LeBron James is continuing to make moves off the court. James’ production company, SpringHill Entertainment, is adding the first scripted drama to its growing slate. The project also boasts Oscar-winning talent: Octavia Spencer.
Spencer is attached to star in the limited series about entrepreneur and social activist Madam C.J. Walker’s life, with James executive producing along with his company’s co-founder, Maverick Carter. Sources tell Variety that Netflix is interested in the series and is the likely destination. The steaming service had no comment on their involvement in the project.
Nicole Asher is on board to write and co-exec produce and “Black Nativity” helmer Kasi Lemmons will direct the pilot and also executive produce. The series is based on the book “On Her Own Ground” by A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, who will also serve as a consultant on the series.
Walker, the daughter of slaves, was orphaned at age seven, married at 14, and widowed at 20. She spent two decades laboring as a washerwoman, earning $1.50 a week. However, everything changed following Walker’s discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women. By the time she died in 1919, she had built a beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women. She counted W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington among her friends.
Zero Gravity Management’s Mark Holder and Christine Holder optioned the book from Bundles in early 2016. Spencer got wind of the project and aggressively pursued the part. Once word spread that Spencer was attached, WME, who reps both Spencer and James, pitched the series to James as his production company’s entryway into the prestige genre.
SpringHill president Jamal Henderson brought the project to Carter’s attention and the two moved quickly to land the property. With Nicole Asher set to write, Spencer starring, and James and Springhill on board as producers, the package was presented to potential buyers, with Netflix acting fast and the favorite to land the series. “I am really proud of this project and that SpringHill will be partnering with Octavia to tell this important story,” James said. “Every American should all know the story of Madam C.J. Walker. She was an innovator, entrepreneur, social activist, and total game changer whose story has been left out of the history books. I hope this project lives up to her legacy with a story that will educate and inspire.”
Oakland Raiders player Marshawn Lynch appeared to stage a silent protest before Oakland’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday, taking a seat during the playing of the national anthem. AP photographers snapped Lynch taking a seat on a cooler on the sidelines as the anthem played.
Lynch’s apparent protest comes in wake of this weekend’s violent white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Va. and falls in line with what Colin Kaepernick started around the NFL last season as players found ways to protest racism and police brutality during the playing of the anthem before games.In Charlottesville, white nationalists with torches marched, chanted racial slurs and attacked counter-protestors in Charlottesville on Friday and Saturday. The situation escalated and resulted in one person’s death and 19 injured after a car driven by an angry member of a white nationalist group plowed over another group of counter-protestors.
LeBron James is chief among a number of other athletes who have spoken up against the violent, racist rhetoric on display. Lynch came out of a one-year retirement to join his hometown Raiders this season. He is expected to play a major role for the team this year.
Basketball superstar LeBron James plans to open a public school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, for students at risk of falling behind in academics. The I Promise School will open for elementary students in the fall of 2018 with support from James’ family foundation, according to plans revealed on Tuesday.
It plans classes for students in third and fourth grades during its first year, and will expand to include grades 1 though 8 by 2022. The school will draw students who “are at-risk in reading and who are in need of additional academic intervention before falling further behind their peers,” the LeBron James Family Foundation said in a statement. James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star forward, was raised by a single mother. He entered the NBA in 2003 after emerging as a basketball phenom at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron.
James spoke about the school at an event Tuesday in a historic Akron theater. “Even though I was underprivileged,” he said, he was lucky to grow up with mentors, his mother and close friends.“They would not let me get off course,” he said. ”A lot of the kids I see today in the community and all over the world are not lucky enough to have the same mentors and the same people around that can help their dreams become reality.” The I Promise School aims to provide a supportive environment for students who lack guidance, James said.
“We definitely understand how important it is to create an environment where our most challenged and at risk students feel safe, supported an cared for,” said Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James at the event as a wall of adults in “We are family” T-shirts stood on stage. A formal proposal for the school will be submitted for school board approval in October. James has previously offered Akron kids educational opportunities. He created 1,100 full-tuition scholarships in 2015 to the University of Akron for teens who completed an “I Promise” program that included goals for attendance and grades.
The “Greatest of All Time” is getting the HBO treatment. The cabler is partnering with director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) and LeBron James for a multi-part documentary about the life of Muhammad Ali.
The as yet-untitled documentary, which will explore Ali’s greatest triumphs and comebacks, has started production. It hails from James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment and Fuqua’s Fuqua Films. No air date has been set.
“Muhammad Ali is indisputably one of the most iconic and distinctive figures in the history of world sports,” said Kary Antholis, president of HBO miniseries and Cinemax. “His impact resonates far beyond the boxing ring and is woven deep into the cultural and social tapestry of the second half of the 20th century. From the moment LeBron James told us of his deep visceral connection to Ali’s life and legacy, we were committed to helping him realize this film, and our enthusiasm has only grown as Antoine Fuqua has developed his compelling cinematic vision for telling one man’s incredible journey.”
Said Fuqua, “Muhammad Ali meant many things to many people, and he is someone who had a deep impact on me from an early age. Being given the opportunity to tell his story, both inside and outside of the ring, is a privilege, and a dream come true.”
LeBron James is donating $2.5 million to support a Muhammad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the basketball star and the museum announced on Thursday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward said he was a longtime fan of Ali, one of the most beloved sports figures in history, who died on June 3 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s syndrome. “Every professional athlete, regardless of race and gender, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Muhammad Ali,” James said in a statement. “His legacy deserves to be studied and revered by every generation.”
The “Muhammad Ali: A Force for Change” exhibit features items from the late boxer, including a training robe worn at Dundee’s Fifth Street Gym in Miami. While the exhibit details Ali’s sports journey, it also highlights his community activism, spirituality and politics.
“We are extremely grateful to LeBron James,” said Damion Thomas, curator of the museum’s Sports Gallery. “As the most socially active superstar in sports today, LeBron James is a testament to the influence of Muhammad Ali (who) embodied the racial and social tumult of his times, blurring lines between politics and sports, activism and entertainment.”
James’ business partner, Maverick Carter, is also contributing to the exhibit, which has been on display since the museum opened on Sept. 24.
The funds will also support the museum itself, which is located on the National Mall.