In San Antonio not long ago, the inner-city block now occupied by the Carver Academy was a desolate stretch of crack houses flanked by an abandoned refrigerator factory and a mortuary. "There hadn't been any development in the area for years, and it showed," says Spurs center David Robinson.
What's developing there now are young minds. In 1997 Robinson contributed $5 million—believed to be the largest single charitable donation ever by a pro athlete—toward the $14 million cost to build a private elementary school on San Antonio's predominantly black East Side. In September the Carver Academy, targeted to children of low-income families, opened its doors to 60 students in four grades. When construction is completed next year, the school will accommodate 280 students from prekindergarten to eighth grade.
"I wanted to infuse some money and some pride into the area," says Robinson, who monitors the school's development closely. He interviewed candidates for the headmaster position and wrote the school's charter, which stresses discipline and religious faith. Because most families pay only $300 toward the $8,000 cost to educate each child, Robinson is also aggressively raising funds to establish a $45 million endowment. "It's critical that I stay involved," he says, "if only to show these kids that there's more to loving than opening your checkbook." Robinson's commitment has impressed those closest to the project. "The academy is named for George Washington Carver," says assistant headmaster Everett White, "but only because we couldn't persuade him to call it the David Robinson Academy."