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Abdul-Jabbar Shares Thoughts on Racial Relations in America

An enthusiastic audience filled the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Saturday afternoon to hear a conversation with former NBA player and bestselling author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

During the conversation, which was moderated by professor of African and African American studies Henry Louis Gates Jr., Abdul-Jabbar addressed many concerns regarding the current state of racial relations in America.

Besides his legendary basketball career, Abdul-Jabbar has also done extensive work in philanthropy, acting, and African American and Muslim American activism. His latest book, “Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White,” is a New York Times bestseller.

Gates began the event by arguing that, while America has a black President, African Americans still face significant discrimination.

“It’s the best of times for so many black people but it’s the worst of times for so many black people. We have a black man in the White House, but we still need Black Lives Matter,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar said education was a key factor in determining whether or not African American youths can succeed.

“We have to figure out a way to help black parents who are struggling to get their kids educated and keep them out of the negative opportunities that are so abundant in the inner cities,” he said.

The conversation also touched on misconceptions some Americans may have about Islam. Abdul-Jabbar said that many Americans aren’t aware of how intertwined the history of Islam is with the history of Western civilization.

“Tell everybody how easy it is to do higher math with Roman numbers,” he joked, citing Arabic numbers as one of Islam’s many important contributions.

Abdul-Jabbar, who holds the all-time record for points scored in the NBA, further reflected on the growing number of athletes using their fame as a platform for social activism, and the unique potential sports heroes have for impressing the importance of creating positive change onto younger generations.

“Guys who have the opportunity to play sports have a great influence on young people and what they think about and the things that they pursue,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar also encouraged audience members to step out of their comfort zones and get to know people who look different from them.

Many attendees said they were inspired by Abdul-Jabbar’s talk.

Robert Rush ’18 said that Abdul-Jabbar has helped many people move away from a black and white perspective on social issues and towards a more nuanced and informed view.

“We tend to look at things very superficially, which can cause long term problems as we move forward,” he said.

Assad Traina, a student at the School of Public Health, said he was glad to hear from a personal hero.

“For me, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, like Muhammad Ali, is someone who makes me proud to be a Muslim American,” he said.

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