I have previously done two blog posts on our young, budding basketball star, Jabari Parker, the first on whether he should serve a mission and the second on whether he should jump to the NBA. I’m now going to make it a trilogy.
On the mission question, I opined that he should not go, reasoning in part as follows: “By being a good example and role model for young people, as a basketball player Jabari has the potential to have a far greater reach and impact than he would in a limited sphere as a formal missionary. He would be able to touch hearts and influence lives that 10,000 missionaries couldn’t reach.”
I think he is already fulfilling that promise in many ways. In particular, I want to focus on his advocacy for the importance of education for young people. A month ago he published an article in the Players’ Tribune, which was a personal reflection on the importance of education for young black children growing up in low-income neighborhoods in places like Chicago, where he himself grew up. He knows what he’s talking about, because he lived it.
You should read the whole article, which isn’t too long, but I’ll pull a few key quotes to give you the flavor:
Around the time that I was taking Ms. Reed’s class, I also started to play AAU basketball, which meant that I was playing games and going to practices in other parts of the city. I got to see a world beyond the South Side. Some of my best friends on the team lived on the North Shore, in really nice neighborhoods. We’d have sleepovers after practices or games and I’d be in their rooms looking at their school books. I’d pick them up and run my fingers through the new, crisp pages and over the covers that weren’t torn off. History books issued this year? At my school, I’d open my book and inside the cover (if there even was one) I’d see my older brother’s name from eight years earlier, and even more names before his.
I went to Simeon Career Academy, a vocational high school. But even as college recruiting letters started to arrive and I began to think about what school I would go to, it seemed Chicago was still reeling me back in. One older guy in my neighborhood kept telling me that I needed to learn a craft.
“Electricity. Plumbing. Welding. That’s what you need to do.”
Education is what’s going to give these kids a future. It doesn’t have to come from new books, or new buildings. We can deal without those. I’ve seen it. We can use those books until the pages fall out — I did it. But when you close schools and force kids into different neighborhoods, when you cut programs that keep them off of the streets, where are they going to go to escape? Where are they going to find something productive to do after school gets out at 3 p.m., in the hours when juvenile crime is at its highest?
Now this next Jabari quote comes from a different source but is in the same vein. This is the one that made a huge impression on me and moved me to share it here on the blog:
“Crime in the city happens after school and that’s between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” Parker said. “What are we doing to bring forward extra curricular activities besides sports? These kids are going to have different talents and other ventures. They have to be exposed to arts and drama and music, all types of things to give them versatility. Everybody’s not going to be a basketball player, football player, baseball player. That’s the difference between our environment and the North Shore, because these kids have so much exposure to different things and that’s why they’ll be able to reach so much success.”
When was the last time you saw a professional athlete advocating for arts education like this? Fine arts? Music? Drama? Yet Jabari sees that these are humanizing influences (thus humanities) that the affluent kids on the north shore have in abundance and the poor kids in Chicago neighborhoods don’t have at all. He sees and articulates how important these things (always the first to go in budget cuts) are for our children.
I was very impressed by his insight, and so resolved to share it here with you.
And I think he’s closing in on having the influence of those 10,000 missionaries that I talked about in a previous post.