Why I Serve: Dennis Archer Jr. and the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy

Buddy Moorehouse
Sep 8, 2023 1:27:33 PM

By every measure, Dennis Archer Jr. is one of the busiest and most well-connected business leaders in Detroit. He’s the CEO of Ignition Media Group, a leading integrated marketing agency, and the founding partner of Archer Corporate Services. He’s also involved in the restaurant business as creator and managing partner of the holding company that runs Central Kitchen + Bar, one of the top restaurants in Detroit.


He's also involved as a real estate developer and is heavily involved with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

With all of that on his plate, why does Dennis make it a priority in his life to sit on the school board at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter school in northwest Detroit? Because he knows that nothing is more important than the education of our young people.

At the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, we refer to our students as scholars,” he said. “I don’t care where one sits on the debate of school choice. What I do care about is that kids – particularly in the City of Detroit – have access to quality education. Your education should not be determined by your zip code. In Detroit and many other cities across the country, children in those zip codes have subpar academic options.”

As a business leader, Dennis knows that having great schools in Detroit isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the only thing that will help the city thrive.

None of us will thrive with subpar education and students matriculating without the skillsets to be successful in life,” he said.

Dennis said he comes by his love of education naturally. His father, Dennis Archer Sr., was a Michigan Supreme Court justice and mayor of Detroit, but long before that, he was a teacher.

Both of my parents were teachers,” he said. “My father met my mother when he was teaching special education at Bunch Elementary School on the city’s east side. As a child growing up, education was always stressed in my household.”

Fast-forward to 2011, when Detroit born-and-bred basketball superstar Jalen Rose decided to give back to the community he grew up in by opening a charter high school on the city’s northwest side. The school would be called the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, and it would have a unique “9-16” model, meaning that the school wouldn’t just help its scholars through grades 9-12. JRLA would continue to provide support for the next four years and beyond, providing intense support (tutoring, financial aid, internships, etc.) for all its graduates who went on to college.

Jalen said he wanted to create a Detroit Country Day-type school that would be a public school, and he wanted to plop it down on 8 Mile and Greenfield,” Archer said. “It wasn’t that easy.”

Jalen realized early on that for the school to be successful, he needed to create not only a top-notch educational program; he also needed to create meaningful and productive partnerships. No. 1 on that list – the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy needed a top-notch school board.

So working with the school’s authorizer, Central Michigan University, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy assembled a group of community leaders who would oversee the school’s finances and operation, and help provide the support the staff and scholars needed to succeed.

Dennis Archer Jr. joined the school board early on, and he’s been an enthusiastic and fully involved board member ever since.

Back in 2019, he was invited to be the keynote speaker for the annual conference given by the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. Speaking before hundreds of educators and school leaders, he outlined the ways in which the JRLA school board provides academic and financial accountability.

If you look at the partners in our school, we have a very involved board of directors with very different skillsets,” Dennis said.

He said that these include board members with financial backgrounds, making sure the school’s finances are in excellent shape. As charter school board members who report to their public authorizer, they’re required to look out for the needs of both the scholars and the taxpayers.

And what impresses Dennis most of all is that the school’s founder, Jalen Rose, rarely if ever misses a meeting.

Unless he’s on TV that night, Jalen is there for every meeting,” Dennis said. “He’s not just a name on the building. He’s involved with every aspect of the school.”

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