You may know Jalen Rose as one of the University of Michigan’s legendary Fab Five, or as a 13-year NBA veteran or as one of ESPN's sports commentators, but today a group of 120 high school freshman will get to know him as the man behind their alma mater. Today marks the first day of school at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter school in Rose’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Rose took a moment to share why education is key, what he learned from his brush with the law and why despite what you've heard, he and Grant Hill will always be friends.
BET.com: What motivated you to start the school?
Jalen Rose: As a Detroit native, I grew up in the public school system and early in life I learned what classism meant or separatism was and I understand being a parent now that if you have the financial means it puts your family in a better position out of the gate for success.
I was reading about the dropout rates in Detroit and those statistics are alarming.
It’s embarrassing. There was a statistic that 47% of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate, which now makes sense as to why only 25% of 9th graders are graduating.
So what’s your school model? How will you help change this?
I’m trying to create a hybrid of a tuition-free public charter high school, there’s no separatism, there’s no segregation. Our kids are chosen via lottery, so we didn’t pick the best of the best 8th graders but I want to expose them to the best of the best with a 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio and 10-to-1 in English and math. Of course, we want them to get their A's and B's and get their academics in order but we also have to teach them life skills, social skills, how to deal with adversity, how to deal with things that are happening in their everyday lives. We’re also working from with a grade 9–16 model because nowadays just having a high school diploma doesn’t mean in a global economy when you’re competing against technology for jobs and people in other countries for jobs. These kids not only need a diploma, a degree, but also a trade or a career path.
You are quite passionate and sound like you were hands-on throughout the process of building your school. Have you always been an advocate of education?
The world knew my name because of the headlines basketball gave me but I always took pride deep down in not ever wanting to be considered a one-trick pony or a dumb jock. So in high school, yes, I was a McDonald’s All-American but I also made the honor roll. At Michigan, yes I was a member of the “Fab Five” but I also made the Dean’s List. And while people will talk about the fact that I went on to go pro and doing what I do now multi-media-wise, I did get a college degree and I am working in the field of my degree — mass communications. Radio and TV with ESPN, film with 3 Tier Entertainment, who executive-produced the Fab Five project. So, being involved in education didn’t just start for me, the Jalen Rose Charitable Fund has sent 40 students to college via scholarship, four as endowed students at the University of Michigan, so JRLA is just taking things to the next level.
Will athletics be a part of the academy?
Athletics will be a part of what we do but it’s not going to be the focus. I’m way more concerned about the young men and women’s GPAs than their PPGs. But a couple of things we’re doing to make the school special during our expansion over the next couple of years is our relationship with the Michigan Credit Union so we can teach our students and our parents about financial literacy. We're also planning on having a police mini-station in our school. There are a lot of great jobs out there. Urban kids have lost touch with what it really means to be a fireman, a doctor, a nurse, someone who works in the emergency room and, last but not least, a police officer. This whole screw-the-police mentality is good until somebody kicks down your door and the first person you call is 911.
What’s your next legacy?
Nothing for me is bigger than education. We want to give our students a true opportunity for success. That’s what it’s really all about. People term giving back a lot of different ways, some think it’s making money off the community but my goal is to teach the community how to fish and so they can feed themselves forever.
You were recently in the news about your DUI arrest, how will you handle this with your students?
I’m an open book and the thing about life is that adversity breeds character and it dictates what you’re made of because the reality is this, perfect people aren’t real. There are those that have done and said the wrong thing and unfortunately for me, I’ve been a combination of both but you can’t be a testimony without dealing with any tests. And yes, with the DUI, I made a dumb decision, and put so many things that I’ve sacrificed, my life, career, so many people in my family that really look up to me, that idolize me, that have put me in the position to be a role model.... It upset me to let so many people down. But I stood up like a man, took my punishment and now I’m moving on. Hopefully anybody that was watching will take it as a lesson of what not to do.
And what about your relationship with Grant Hill? After the Fab Five documentary aired there was some controversy about statements you made in the film.
I was talking about how I felt as a high school kid and what motivated me to try to become the best Jalen Rose that I could be and I used Grant Hill and his scenario as an example and I used the term “Uncle Tom” because it was an ignorant term I was using at that time. People said I was being racist but the last time I checked we’re both Black. So, it’s not about race, it was about class, but that’s the thing that a lot of people don’t want to address. I remember there were days when I had to go to sleep with skull caps and hoodies on and boil water to wash up and having kerosene heaters. That was my motivation. And the reaction to the truths in the documentary is the reason why it took 20 years to tell the story because I knew a lot of people weren’t going to be ready for it. Me and Grant Hill have no issues with each other. I got love for Grant. We been playing against each other since we were 13. But I’ll never forget once we played against their team, the new Patrick Ewing’s had just come out. Our team scraped up our money, did everything we could to make sure that every player on our team had those Adidas, and I remember them running out — they had uniforms, warm ups, clean shoes — we were like, “Whoa!” People have no idea what kind of impact that has on a kid.