Hall of Famer. New York Knicks legend. Baltimore Bullets icon. One of the greatest basketball players to ever come out of Winston-Salem State University. A prostate cancer survivor and, now, a charter school leader.
A prolific face from the old school basketball era, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, better known to some as “Black Magic” or “Black Jesus” – a nickname he earned as a playground legend –is now adding to his legacy in New York with the building of a charter school. Monroe now plans to open the Lewis Katz New Renaissance Basketball Academy Charter School in the Bronx.
These days, Monroe wants to keep the spirit of the game alive by sharing his hoop skills with the next generation at a public charter school devoted to the game he loves so much. I sat down with Earl in a candid interview to discuss his new jump into the charter school space.
A massive human being, standing at 6 foot 3 inches, Earl still resembles his younger days when he could "shake-and-bake" players and get into the paint and dominate defenders with the hesitation dribble.
When I first asked Monroe about his new charter school he laughed jokingly, “I didn’t know it got this far down.” Little does Monroe know about the excitement of his charter school within the charter school space.
“With this school, it’s going to focus on sports – basketball, specifically. It’s going to deal with all the aspects of what a basketball scenario would be. The doctors, the journalists, the analysts, the lawyers, the whole thing,” said Monroe as his voice grew faster with excitement. Thus, the school would aim to expose youth to various careers within the sports industry while still having a special emphasis on academics. And, of course, the school would boast sports teams.
Monroe is quick to emphasize that students at the school will not have to play sports competitively. “It will only be maybe 12 percent of the students who play basketball for the school and participate in the league. All the students will be learning other things,” said Monroe. "As a public charter school in New York, students will get selected for the school through the lottery, so it won’t be specifically basketball players."
“This will be the first of its kind. The interesting thing about this is once these guys and girls graduate, they don’t have to go into basketball, it’s all about the other things. But, they’ve got a great background even going into college, because they’ll have done internships, and all those types of things at local businesses,” said Monroe talking about the depth of knowledge the students will acquire from his school. “In the summertime, [students will be able to dive into] other type of internships with major sports teams and things of that nature so they will have a great background into moving out.”
Unique to this charter school is the fact that they will go above and beyond to assist students with their academic workload. “They will also have a great support system” said Monroe. “Our tutors will be coming from colleges, and not only tutoring them at school if they need it, but also going to their homes to tutor. They really won’t have a real reason, not to do good.”
So just where does this school draw its inspiration? “There’s a guy name Lewis Katz who was very involved in sports in the Philadelphia area and also the New Jersey area. He was the owner of the New Jersey Nets for a while,” began Monroe, as he leaned back in his chair. “He was a very philanthropic type of person, who was inspired by education in itself. He died in 2014, but this was actually what he was thinking about doing.” Katz was also a former co-owner of the NHL's New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. Digging deeper into the story and the significance of the school name, Earl said, “it was a friend of mine who had been a producer for a couple of my films, Dan Klores, who was responsible to say, ’Since we were doing this for a couple years and it went down, now we are going to get it back and let’s get our focus back into it.’”
According to Monroe, initially the school will have between 82 to 88 students. The school will feature not one, but two, basketball courts. “We will also have two studios for people that want to get into broadcasting. We’ve covered the gamut of everything sports related.”
By the fifth year, the school is expected to have 352 students. “It’s going to be exciting because we got a lot of people who are excited about it. A lot of people are donating their time, and the type of knowledge being put in the school, I think, will ensure it succeeds.”
Monroe said, “We’ve done all our due diligence and on the 4th of October we will hopefully get our charter. We are pretty excited about it.” The charter was under consideration by the state panel (SUNY Charter Schools Institute) and by the time of publishing, the school was approved.
The board is already set. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern is just one of the big names who will be on the board of the school. “The board is set up to succeed. There are a lot of powerful people involved.”
The story does not end here. Earl is looking to become a permanent fixture with the charter school sector as he added, “What we’re hoping for is [that] the success of this school, is going to spur it to go to other cities as well.”
If everything stays on track, the school has a planned opening in fall of 2020. “We have the site and land to do it. We’ve got the people to do it, so we’re pretty happy about that. This is kind of an exciting time.”
Kelsey Nelson is the manager of campaigns and publications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
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