Russell Westbrook Is Opening Middle and High Schools in L.A.: I 'Want to Inspire and Empower'

Russell Westbrook's newest venture? Schoolboard member!

The Washington Wizards player, 32, has teamed up with L.A. Promise Fund to launch the Russell Westbrook Why Not? Academy, consisting of a middle school and a high school in Los Angeles.

The purpose of the schools is "to create better access to educational and outdoor opportunities for children and the community at large in South L.A."

In a statement to PEOPLE, Westbrook says he's "excited" about the initiative, explaining, "I've realized through the work with my [Why Not? Foundation] how often schools in underserved communities lack the resources and funding needed to support their students."

"I not only want to inspire and empower these students but I want to help provide the essential and necessary resources to set them up for success beyond the classroom," he adds.

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In a press release provided to PEOPLE, the schools are said to have a "goal of ensuring students in South Los Angeles have access to high-quality athletic programs while balancing a strong education and leadership development."

"The Russell Westbrook Why Not? Academy will deliver world-class education to South Los Angeles youth grades 6 through 12 to develop academic achievers, athletes and active citizens committed to social change," the release continues.

Westbrook, who is also working with his wife Nina and longtime business partner Donnell Beverly on the project, will sit on the school board alongside Beverly, "to help oversee developments at the schools."

"Creating and supporting educational opportunities for underserved youth has always been a passion of mine," the athlete says in the release. "It's so important that every child has access to a good education regardless of their socioeconomic background."

He adds, "My goal in partnering with the LA Promise Fund is to ensure our South L.A. students are ready for college and, ultimately, success in a 21st-century career."

Earlier this month, Westbrook participated in a Zoom call with kids who are enrolled in the schools and their parents, while his wife Nina and parents Shannon and Russell participated in a recent food-pantry drive and donated the NBA star's signature sneakers to students.

Veronica Melvin, president of L.A. Promise Fund, tells PEOPLE that her organization is proud to partner with Westbrook to open the schools.

"We all know Russell Westbrook's accomplishments on the court. His pledge to the LA Promise Fund Schools and the South L.A. community demonstrates his deep commitment off the court to uplift the community and positively change lives," she adds.


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