After LeBron James‘ house in Los Angeles was vandalized with racist graffiti last week, a Northeast Ohio teacher wanted to make sure the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ superstar knew how much he continues to be appreciated back home.
Jennifer Pennington, a middle school English and language arts teacher for Akron Public Schools, placed several signs outside James’ property in Bath Township, Ohio, with descriptors praising the Akron native.
Pennington created three double-sided white placards, writing the phrases “Hero,” “Role Model,” “Mentor,” “Humanitarian,” “Leader,” and “Good Samaritan” in big block letters using black magic marker and placed them about 10 yards apart on the side of the street across from James’ driveway.
“My heart broke when I saw the N-word posted on [his gate in Los Angeles]. Because that shouldn’t be a word to describe anybody,” Pennington said in a telephone interview with ESPN on Sunday.
After posting her idea to make the signs on Facebook and receiving encouragement from her friends, Pennington executed the plan, spending approximately $20 on supplies and then making the 15-minute drive from her home in Copley Township, Ohio, to James’ residence.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do to combat the evil, combat the hate in the world,” Pennington said. “The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Hero.’
“I could have made ton of signs, but I thought I just wanted to do a few just to get the message out.”
Pennington added that she was touched by comedian Patton Oswalt’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and it prompted her decision to do something after James’ home in L.A. was the target of a hate crime. Oswalt’s Facebook post at the time of the bombing, which went viral, concluded with a message aimed at evil forces such as violence, hatred and ignorance: “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
“[Oswalt’s] response plays out in my head often; I thought my actions would be a good response to his words,” Pennington said. “And as far as LeBron, I think he is doing an amazing job of being ‘the good.’
“So often in the news, I see stuff and I don’t know what I can do about it. This was different — I could do something about it.”
James has been a part of the Pennington family’s lives for a long time. Pennington’s mother, Edie Bowers, was his kindergarten teacher. Pennington’s ties to James don’t end there, as she taught at a summer camp sponsored by the LeBron James Family Foundation in 2016.
Bowers named James her student of the month in January 1991, writing a note to accompany the distinction that read: “LeBron is always a polite and courteous young man in our room. Crosby School is very fortunate to have a student who tries his best every day.” The note resurfaced last spring, having been held onto for all these years by one of Bowers’ former coworkers.
When Pennington arrived at James’ home, she spoke to the security guard working the property and informed him of her intention.
“I said, ‘Hey, we’d like to put some signs up, but only if it’s OK with the family,'” Pennington recalled. “He said, ‘We’re not going to do any of that [here in the driveway], but you can put them across the street.’ So I said, ‘OK, sure.’ And then he was really cute. He said, ‘Well, actually, I probably should look and see what these signs say before I give the OK.’
“So he looked at them and said, ‘Nobody should have a problem with those.'”
The signs went up Thursday, the day the vandalism was discovered at James’ L.A. home. They have since been taken down.
Pennington said James’ impact is felt at her school district immensely.
“LeBron donates a ton to Akron Public Schools,” said Pennington, who currently is on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter, Cecilia, now 3½ months old. “I get to see firsthand the wonderful things that he’s doing for this community.”
James’ foundation announced in April that it will be opening the “I PROMISE School” to support at-risk children. It will open to third- and fourth-graders as a part of the Akron Public Schools in the fall of 2018 and will expand to grades one through eight in 2022.
“I think LeBron is an inspiration to people,” Pennington said. “Nobody in this world is perfect, but he is doing remarkable things. He is amazing. As someone who has the resources that he has, he holds his head up high. As a young kid, we watched him grow up, and the spotlight hit him and he handled himself with grace. I have a new baby girl; if my baby girl has the same characteristics and qualities that LeBron does, then I’ll be a happy mom that I raised someone good.”