Wake Up! Wake Up! Mister Senor Love Daddy cried in Spike Lee’s 1989 movie “Do the Right Thing.” Now, LeBron James is using his celebrity to encourage young black boys (and hopefully Latino ones too) to Wake Up and get educated in a new commercial sponsored by the State Farm Insurance Company airing on television during NBA games.
The ad challenges boys to stay in school and view education as the key to making their dreams happen; a powerfully important message that I completely buy into.
The truth is: we need many more ads in all forms of media with celebrity spokespeople espousing the importance of an education and its relationship to succeeding in school and succeeding in life. But, I’d prefer the ads use celebrities with more authenticity to reinforce the point.
I am not “hating” on LeBron. I’m aware that he graduated high school and has an unrivaled star power that will attract eyeballs to pay attention to the ad and recall it, a key metric of advertising success.
He’s a tremendous athlete, and for all I know, a great person. But the commercial leaves me wondering, because its messenger, while highly popular, reinforces the low bar we’ve established as a nation for educational attainment. LeBron would be a stronger messenger if he embodied a college degree as well as a high school diploma.
In addition, Mr. James didn’t achieve his dream through education. Black boys know this, so I can’t help but wonder whether the star power of the messenger undercuts the importance of the message. Perhaps we think they won’t notice.
It’s a missed opportunity to reinforce how important higher education is to future success. The pool of high school graduates who earn $14 million a year or more is pretty small.
Getting educated in the 21st century doesn’t end at high school. Our focus on graduation from high school sets children’s sights on a bar that’s set just too low. With this marker as our guide, black boys achieve the lowest test scores and the highest drop out rates in the nation.
I wonder if the low level of educational attainment of black boys, and of America’s children generally, has contributed to an increasing reluctance to expect more and to set higher targets. Dare we dream?
We need more public messages that engage celebrities to inspire black boys to wake up to the need to prioritize school success to the same extent as they prioritize athletic and other pursuits. There is a game to compete in, and it’s in the classroom. It’s the game that matters most. Wake Up!