IN THE FIRST 239 days of 2015, 185 black men were murdered in the city of Baltimore. In post-Katrina New Orleans, FiveThirtyEight concluded, black residents are more likely to live in poverty than before the hurricane 10 years ago. The Washington Post recently released data indicating that every nine days, on average, American police kill an unarmed black man. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 9.1 percent black unemployment rate for July, nearly twice the rate of whites.
White America grows exasperated by the insistence that race still matters, but these facts are a neon sign pointing not at post-racialism but to an entrenched underclass. In Akron, Ohio, hometown of LeBron James, the black poverty rate is 28 percent, 12 points higher than the state average. To James, the numbers are not just a topic, ammunition for winning an argument, but statistical recognition of his life before fame. Days after the anniversary protests marking Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, James partnered with the University of Akron and countered the numbers with other numbers, pledging $41 million to send as many as 2,000 at-risk Akron kids to college.
It was a massive initiative, a reminder that, in addition to protest and pressure, the rhetoric of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps means nothing without boots. It was also something else: proof that James is the signature socially conscious athlete of his time. By this measure he need not aspire to be Michael Jordan. He’s already run right past him.
source: ESPN Howard Bryant, ESPN Senior Writer