DETROIT — 2005 Kettering University graduate Brian Olatunji and his Leadfoot Foundation partnered with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a Detroit charter school founded by former NBA and University of Michigan star Jalen Rose, to provide backpacks filled with school supplies to the school’s 240 students at an event Sept. 4.
“Being able to take the burden of worrying about simply having the proper tools to succeed in school off of kids and their families is tremendously rewarding,” said drag racer Olatunji, whose foundation has donated school supplies to Detroit-area kids for the past six years. “It is one of the highlights of my year to be able to do this every school year.”
The Leadfoot Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Olatunji six years ago to help empower youth through the promotion of leadership, education and mentoring opportunities. Olatunji became interested in partnering with Rose’s charter school, which is entering its second year, because of its innovative approaches to education, particularly the school’s promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Education. Students at the school receive exposure to college-level coursework and the school’s goal is to exceed 85 percent of students graduating, 85 percent enrolling in college and 85 percent eventually graduating from college.
“Their approach is unique and dynamic,” Olatunji said.
Beyond Olatunji’s support for the school’s mission, he also shares a common bond with Rose — both are Detroit Public Schools graduates who went on to earn college degrees. As a Detroit native, Rose understands the issues faced by kids who grow up in the cities most struggling areas. Olatunji said that Rose isn’t just lending his name to the school either — he’s a fixture in the halls, talking with students and letting them know that he cares about their futures.
“Jalen was willing to put his name and reputation on this and own this,” Olatunji said. “So he has a responsibility to see it succeed. That’s really a testament to his commitment. This is not just a photo op for him. You regularly see him in the building, he knows the students and they know him.”
Rose expressed his gratitude to Olatunji and his foundation on Twitter.
“Many thanks to @BrianORacing (Brian Olatunji) & the Leadfoot Foundation for donating & distributing supplies for @JRLADetroit (Jalen Rose Leadership Academy) students! #respect,” Rose tweeted.
Olatunji noted that the personal connections Rose and his staff make with students are vital to reaching students in struggling communities.
“The first thing you have to do is you have to show kids that you care about them,” Olatunji said. “That’s fundamental. Then, you have to commit to their general well-being and you have to open their eyes to the importance of education and what an education can do for them.”
Olatunji had his first opportunity to speak with students at JRLA this week at the event when the school supplies were delivered. He speaks with students all over the country — he estimates he speaks in approximately 30 schools per year — about his racing career, his engineering education and background and he’s also a strong advocate for STEM-based education and the career opportunities STEM offers.
“So many people have helped me in my life and career, I’ve always felt it was necessary for me to give back and do that for others,” Olatunji said. “I have a passion for seeing kids further their education.”
Olatunji’s racing career and his work promoting education is currently being documented by a crew filming a reality series starring Olatunji called ‘Dreams 2 Champions,’ which will debut later this year on the Speed Network.
More about the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy at www.jrladetroit.com.