Lebron James came from what by any measure would be considered a disadvantaged past. Born to a teenage single mother in the seedier parts of Akron, OH, it was basketball and his bicycle that kept him on the straight and narrow. Now some consider him to be the best basketball player ever. Consequently, he makes a lot of money. He has recently opened the “I Promise” school in Akron. School hours are 8-5 (working hours for many parents.) Students who live within 2 miles of the school attend tuition-free. Every child receives a bicycle. Eventually it will have grades 1-8. The first year’s class reflects the demographics of the area, African-American, Hispanic, White, you name it. He is trying to work at the formative level of kids’ lives to effect a change in the structure of society. I am profoundly moved.
He is an exception, to be sure. He is hugely talented, and “the system” rewarded the talent. He is an exception in another way. A greater percentage of underprivileged white kids make good than do kids of color. In response to graffiti that appeared on his house featuring the N word, he said, “they will always make sure you know you’re the n-word.”
Ouch! –No, “ouch” is too soft a word. I’m outraged.
His interviewer asked how he overcame the obstacles. In reply he said that challenges can either get you down or make you stronger. That’s almost trite until you look at it from the other side. Those who would remind him that he is always the n-word unwittingly serve him. White supremacy’s oppression merely strengthens the perceived enemy. Any scapegoating that denies the essential humanity of all is a form of hate, and hate will always be its own undoing.
Love, on the other hand, is stronger. As our African-American Presiding Bishop frequently notes, “if it’s not about love it’s not about God.” He preaches that the Jesus movement is about being loving, life-giving and liberating. Love embraces the essential humanity of all and appreciates the diversity of each. These two great African-Americans are preaching the same message.