SANDUSKY, Ohio — For the third straight year, the LeBron James Family Foundation hosted its summer get-together at Cedar Point, and just as he has in the past the Cleveland Cavaliers star brought some special guests on stage to celebrate what he called “the greatest day of the year.”
Singer Jordin Sparks joined James for the duration Tuesday night. Donning a green and gold “We Are Family” T-shirt, she performed her hit “One Step At A Time.” Usher sang a few of his songs while James and Sparks joined in. Even J.R. Smith, initially shirtless when introduced to the crowd, was part of the event.
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“J.R. where’s your shirt,” James asked his teammate.
“I need that workout,” Smith replied. “I’m over there striving for greatness, you know that.”
The skit ended quickly and Smith tossed on his green shirt before hopping into the oversized car on stage that was being used as a prop. Eventually Smith put on a straw hat and shared the backseat with James’ children.
But Tuesday wasn’t primarily about high-profile guest appearances. It wasn’t even about James’ heartfelt speech about Charlottesville, a message that also contained a dig at President Donald Trump and called for unity and love to overcome societal issues. It wasn’t about basketball.
With the rollercoasters and light show as the backdrop, the “We Are Family Reunion” was a reminder of James’ positive impact on the community.
“To be here with all my kids, all 1,200 of the kids and all their family and all the supporters, you guys make it all possible,” James said. “Without you guys there’s no me, seriously. You guys make me get up every day, be a role model, be a father and be a husband, friend, son.
“You guys make me be everything I can be and try to be as perfect as I can for you kids because I can’t let you down. I refuse to let you down. Thank you for allowing me to be your inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to be a father figure at times, your superhero at times, your brother at times and all the above.”
James and his foundation provided transportation and hosted more than 7,000 of the I Promise students and their families, allowing every student to invite up to five family members to enjoy all-day access to rides and the new Cedar Point Shores Waterpark. His foundation, in its seventh year, teamed with the University of Akron two years ago to pledge 2,300 four-year college scholarships, a cost of more than $80 million, to students who enroll in and complete an education program.
Tuesday’s gathering celebrated the LeBron James Family Foundation welcoming a new class of third graders in need of additional academic support into its I Promise program, which started with 232 students five years ago and has grown to serve more than 1,200 Akron Public School students.
The next phase for the foundation is to open the I Promise School, an Akron public school, in 2018.
A controversial comment about Trump, referring to him as the “so-called president,” capped the night. But that’s not what everyone will remember.
“It means everything to me to be a part of this,” said Akron’s Casandra Morrow, who recently graduated from the GED program James offered. “The thought to bring all of our families here for a day and to be able to get us all together at once is immaculate.
“This is a blessing. The impact on us has been phenomenal. I think it brought us closer together, stronger and tighter. Not only that, it makes us work harder.”
During his speech about the recent Charlottesville violence, James pointed to the unique platform he has, wanting to use his voice to try to affect change. That’s how James has always been. That’s at the core of his foundation.
In front of the kids Tuesday night, he became a shining example once again, using the platform to address social issues while showing the kids that it’s OK to use their voices and stand up for what they believe in.