Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, founder of the Skyhook Foundation, talks about his new book "What Color is My World?", investing in minority students and STEM education,and giving students "a shot that can't be blocked."
Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar, 65, is the NBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer, having amassed 38,387 points over a 20-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He won six NBA championships and was league MVP a record six times, while also being selected to a record setting 19 NBA All-Star teams as well as to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. He has been named one of the 50 greatest players in the NBA. In college Abdul-Jabbar won three straight national championships at UCLA and is the only scholar/athlete in history to be voted the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament three times. He received the very first Naismith College Player of the Year Award in 1969 and has been dubbed by ESPN as “The Best Collegiate Player of the 20th Century” and “History’s Greatest Player” by Time Magazine.
Since retiring from the game, the man who perfected the “skyhook” has become a speaker, author, film-maker, educator and on January 18th, 2012 Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Abdul-Jabbar as a Global Cultural Ambassador.
As A U.S. Global Cultural Ambassador Abdul-Jabbar’s mission is to travel the world and engage underserved youth through special programs and open a dialogue which promotes American history and culture. Through his work with the Skyhook Foundation he engages filmmakers, writers and athletes to develop books and films that teach children about important figures in U.S. history.
As a 7x New York Times best-selling author with books like, Giant Steps was published in 1983 and was followed by Kareem, Black Profiles in Courage, A Season on the Reservation, Brothers in Arms: the epic story of the 761st all black tank battalion, and On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance. His latest book, What Color is My World-The Lost History of African American Inventors is being used to teach children about STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) in elementary schools all over the United States.
“If America is to maintain our high standard of living, we must continue to innovate,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “We are competing with nations many times our size and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation. With these engines we can lead the world, because knowledge is real power.”
Abdul-Jabbar recently adapted his book, On the Shoulders of Giants – the story of the greatest basketball team you never heard of into a critically acclaimed documentary of the same name which aired on Showtime, Time Warner and Netflix in 2012. It’s currently available in retail locations everywhere.
In 2011, President Obama honored Abdul-Jabbar at a White House reception followed by a presentation by Attorney General Eric Holder who awarded Kareem the prestigious Abraham Lincoln Medal in a special ceremony held at Ford’s Theater. The medal honors those who exemplify the character and lasting legacy of President Abraham Lincoln. Abdul-Jabbar continues his commitment to education through his Skyhook Foundation, which is committed to developing & sharing teaching programs that bridge sports and education together. Today, as he travels the world, he is a ESPN.com columnist and writes for numerous other magazines and websites.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, famed NBA superstar and Hall of Fame player, recounts the experience of participating with a robot building science competition. Abdul-Jabbar was astounded to see that a team of kids created a robot didn't miss when shooting a basketball.
Chris Roe: Now, earlier today we talked about space and stars. Now I have theprivilege of introducing a star, great UCLA basketball player, leading scorerof all time in the NBA. Now here?s some math and numbers like we were goingover this morning over thirty-eight thousand points scored. Six times, anothernumber, six times MVP for the NBA and maybe he will talk about the physicsbehind the famous unstoppable sky hook, his favorite shot. Truly one of thegreatest athletes the planet earth has ever seen, and who am I speaking of,none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He started the Skyhook Foundation toadvance STEM education for kids. Chris found out about this and in a meeting, anational meeting of STEM educators found out that Kareem was very interested inSTEM education and so I thank Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his particular interestin After School STEM Education which we were just talking about and that he isreally believing in the way that kids can learn after school and get excitedabout school and get attached to science as a career path and it?s the sameinitiative here that the STEM Learning Network and many in this room have beenputting forward. So since retiring from basketball, he?s become a speaker, filmmaker, educator, author and his latest book which I?ve had the fun to read,?What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors,? isreally a fun and inspiring book. As both a science teacher and a historyteacher, I love this book. It?s a New York Times best seller. He portrays thesuccess stories of inventors and scientists who changed our world for thebetter against all odds. It is inspiring; it?s truly outstanding and in thisbook has become an outstanding motivator for boys and girls who will be on theway to being our future scientists. Kareem?s vision, passion and fundamentalbelief in America?s greatness and our inventiveness and creativeness, sends apowerful message to our youth. He is a STEM star and I have the privilege todayand thank you STEM Learning Network for helping set up this opportunity and theconversations we?ve had have led to this day where I have the privilege ofappointing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be the California After School STEMambassador. Please welcome Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.Chris Roe: Ambassador Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Thank you. Good afternoon everyone. I guess I?m going tohave to do this like this. Good afternoon and I just want to thank everybody,Superintendent Torlakson, local and state representatives and corporatepartners and friends; I want to thank you for involving me in this. I thinkit?s way past time that we did something like this. You guys have the rightidea and I?m thrilled to be a part of this because this is something that hasbeen an issue with me in my whole life, how, you know, even though we mean welland we try to do the best thing, the ends never get to meet at the right timeand the effort that we?re going through right now will change that and get thestuff to the people who need it, you know. That?s always the crucial element inanything when you?re trying to supply something and we?re trying to supplyeducation. This day is reminding of my entry into the NBA. I was fired up aboutthe possibilities that were getting ready to confront me and I was anxious tojoin my team and the team that I joined today has a very important and specialobjective that I want to achieve and that would be to reach out a helping handto the underserved youth in our communities here in the great state ofCalifornia. So if they can get the education foundation that will enable themto live meaningful lives in the next decades, then education which focuses onScience Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will be the subjects upon whichenormous numbers of jobs will be based. Unemployment for African-Americans inour country today is twenty-one percent. For Hispanics, it?s twelve percent andmany of the young people in those communities have stopped looking for jobsbecause they?re just frustrated and a lot of them, unfortunately, go throughthe educational system only they end up with the skills that they need to fliphamburgers and that?s it and we have to do something about that. This trend isa problem for our nation as a whole and not just the individual communitiesthat I mentioned. The United States used to be a world leader in thetechnologically based industries but we have joined a crowd of countries thatlag behind nations that lead in this field and the only way that we?re going tochange that is to do something like we?re attempting to do now. I was able toattend the first robotics competition in St. Louis this year and I observedfirsthand the potential of STEM education. The young participants that wereinvolved in the first competition were the focus of employers from industriesthat produce TV shows, video games, they make airplanes, satellite, they recordthe music that we all listen to and make the films just to name a few thingsthat those people do. These employers came with millions of dollars inscholarships and grants for the participants because they knew that the kidsinvolved in that activity we?re going to become their future employees. Theywill become the core of innovation who make the remarkable discoveries thatwill continue to make the positive changes in the world that we live in. Whenwe start to develop the technological skills of our youth, we will begin toregain our status as the cutting edge country of the technological innovation.For this reason, I recently wrote a children?s book called, ?What Color Is MyWorld? The Lost History of African-American Inventors.? I chose to write aboutBlack inventors because so many African- American youth are unaware of theirintellectual potential. In so many minority communities, young people are onlyable to see themselves as being successful in two areas and that would besports and entertainment. If you were to ask a twelve-year old boy from InnerCity who he would like to become in the future, he will probably give you thename of a sport star, musician or an actor and that young man would spend a lotof time on the playground or gym working on his skills or writing rap lyricshopefully following in the footsteps of Kobe, Denzel Washington or Jay-Z orSnoop Dogg. These superstars are great but it?s my hope that we can get youngmen to want to spend their time getting good grades in Math and Chemistry orPhysics and see themselves as successful scientists, engineers or architects.Professional sports supply very few opportunities for athletes and I know thatso many kids hearing me say that, saying, you can?t be telling the truth, but Iam. Major League Baseball only offers one thousand four hundred jobs. Excuseme, the NFL only offers one thousand four hundred jobs for athletes. MajorLeague Baseball only offers seven hundred fifty jobs for its athletes an in mybeloved sport of basketball, there?s only four hundred and fifty playerpositions available on NBA teams throughout the whole NBA. That composes thirtyteams, the one?s that compete on the NBA rosters and it?s time that we get ourkids to start thinking about this and get them to do the math. According to USCensus Bureau of 2012, there are over thirty thousand public and private highschools in America. Assuming that each high school has a Boys? BasketballProgram with anywhere from fifteen to forty-five players playing on theirteams, this means that there are four hundred fifty thousand high schoolplayers dreaming about playing in the NBA, dreaming about being one of the fourhundred and fifty. Statistically, this means that only one out of twenty- twothousand five hundred students will actually get the chance to playprofessional basketball. Statistics was something that I avoided when I went toUCLA because I was kind of mathematically challenged but I believe this and I?mgoing to take their word for them. However, in the fields of Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, there are tens of thousands of jobsthat are available right now. The companies that comprise our NationalTechnological Center are always trying to hire skilled engineers wherever theycan, wherever they can find them. People from foreign countries have come intoAmerica and taking advantage of our amazing educational opportunities so thatthey can take full advantage of this growing need for STEM educated graduates.Why aren?t we? I?m concerned why we as Americans are not stepping up to takeadvantage of this learning training and eventual employment opportunities.Isn?t it time to do something about this? This is why it is my pleasure to teamup my Skyhook Foundation with the after school division of the CaliforniaDepartment of Education. Our partnership will have as its focus the goal ofpromoting STEM education opportunities for minority students in After SchoolPrograms. America has become a minority in the global job markets that requireknowledge and technical skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.This deeply troubles me when we know that education is a secret to everysuccess in life and the bridge that narrows the gap between the haves and havenot?s. When I was a young boy growing up in Harlem, I was taught by mywonderful parents that school needed to be a well-rounded experience not justan athletic one. So they emphasized education and learning and achievingexcellence in everything I did. In basketball I decided I needed to create ashot that could not be blocked, a sportscaster named Eddie Doucette, he used toannounce for the Padres, he called it the Skyhook. However because of the way Iwas raised, I quickly learned that I could do more that shoot a ball through ahoop. My greatest asset was my mind. This was why I created the SkyhookFoundation to promote academic achievement among underserved youth byconnecting them with mentors and helping them to understand careers outside ofsports, such as those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. In thisway, education and STEM opportunities become every kids shot that can?t beblocked. At the end of the day, Superintendent Torlakson and our wonderfulCalifornia Board of Education have dreams for sale; but unlike the movie scriptin Field of Dreams, no one, no longer can we think if you build it they willcome. No longer can we quote Dr. Martin Luther King, I have a dream andcomplain that the government has written a check that they cannot cash and inlieu of sufficient funds. No longer can we say I did my best. We must succeedin doing that which is necessary. It?s time to do what needs to be done. Wemust go to where our underserved youth are physically and emotionally; onlythere can we gently invite them to grow and participate and get involved andtake advantage of our after school STEM programs. With the backing of theCalifornia Board of Education and its corporate friends, we?ll find a way toturn our underserved youth on to the opportunities that are so readilyavailable to them in the field of technology. Our young students, theircommunities and our nation will be greatly rewarded when we succeed and it?salways a great day when everyone wins. Let me conclude with the words of one ofmy heroes, Coach Wooden who sums up why I am here today and what are challengesof today and tomorrow. Coach Wooden always used to tell us, ?Failing to prepareis preparing to fail?, short and simple and I heard that a number of times.Yes, we have dreams for sale and the underserved children of California arecounting on us to deliver. Not just the promise of equal education but todeliver the promise of STEM jobs through education. May we make this our noblepurpose and resolve. I?d like to thank Margaret Carter from Reading isFundamental for donating the copies of my book, ?What Color is My World??, thatwe?ll be giving out today. Thank you Margaret, it?s a really wonderful thingthat you did and I?m sure the kids are going to like that and thank you verymuch for your attention.Chris Roe: I think we have time for just a couple of questions so I?m going totake the crack at doing that and I have to say, as someone who grew up as ayoung man in Wisconsin, when you were playing with the Milwaukee Bucks, youwere one of my inspirations and I know that the book that you just wrote talksa lot about inspiration, so I?m curious what was your inspiration for writingthe book? What really inspired you to sit down and write that book?Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well the thing that motivated me was the fact I have toback up, I wrote a book in 1996, that was an overview of Black history and Idid a section in there on Lewis Latimer, who?s the African American whoinvented the filament for the light bulb and in doing that research I found outa lot about Black inventors of the 19th century and I was amazed because mostof them I didn?t know what they did; they invented incredible amount of thingsthat we all take for granted like the ice cream scoop or potato chips or peanutbutter, stuff like that, we all take that for granted and did not know thatBlack Americans invented them and I was left over with a number of profilesthat I could?ve done on this people but it really did make an adult-sized bookand just about two years ago we figured out that it would make a perfectchildren?s book. So that?s what I did and I also really started to get annoyedby the fact that too many kids in the inner cities and, you know, minoritycommunities did not understand that they had a mind and that to steal a phrasefrom the United Negro College Fund, ?Our mind is a terrible thing to waste?,and we?re just wasting a lot of minds that could go to helping our country andmaking a whole lot of communities better places.Chris Roe: So earlier today, we had some amazing presentations, you know, theNASA folks have been here and talking about the Mars rover Curiosity and for meit recalled one of my first real Aha! memories was seeing man land on the moon.I was just old enough to really remember that. Was there a moment like that inyour childhood in terms of Science or Engineering, I know math wasn?t maybe oneof your strongest suits but was there a particular moment that you can rememberthat really spurred you to be thinking about where we?re at today?Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: For me that moment happened when the Russians shot upSputnik. I remember that very vividly and I went to catholic school in New YorkCity and had the Christian brothers and they were saying, in a couple of yearsthe Russians are going to be marching down Broadway because they?re too faradvanced ahead of us. Look what they did, they send a dog up into space and youknow, and I never thought about the fact that we?re in competition with otherpeople in the world who would like to take over our position of leadership. Sothe only way we?re going to do that is to educate our way back to the pointwhere we legitimately hold that position.Chris Roe: So Tom, you?re a former science teacher, what was your epiphanymoment, your real Aha! moments when, oh sorry, when you really decided thatthat was the career that you wanted to have?Tom Torlakson: Well I think I can go back to camping with my mom and dad andbrothers, you know, my dad was a teacher so we got off and went to state parksand I remember Burney Falls Park and just camped out under the stars like Imentioned when you get kids outdoors, you know, in that environment, you justask questions and you start thinking and so that was a pivotal moment for mejust looking at the shooting stars, sort of figuring out why are some starsbrighter, how far away are they and then my dad said, you know, our son is astar anyway, it was, it?s basic things that, you know, sort of curiosity andwhen you take kids out camping and they ask the same questions, you know, howdid the earth form and where are we going and how do we preserve it and protectit and so, that and reading John Muir, I?ve read a lot of his books aboutconserving our natural resources and the beautiful environment we have, sowe?re blessed to have these wonderful assets in our lives and it?s fun to knowmore about them.Chris Roe: So a question on teamwork, I?ve played a little bit of basketball asa youth and I know how important that was when my coaches talk to me, can youtalk a little bit about the role of teamwork and how that may impact studentstoday. We had a really interesting presentation earlier today about kidsworking together in teams so I?m just curious what your thoughts are aboutthat.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think teamwork is really a great way that teachingoccurs. I noticed that at the first competition that I mentioned in my speech,all of the different competitors were teams and there were people in the teamsthat were slower in some areas than others and they got help from the otherpeople in those areas that they were slow in but they also had areas that theywere pretty sharp in and that they were able to share their knowledge and howthey achieve in understanding of problem solving to the other people and thewhole interaction between all the different minds on the team really determinehow much success they would have and some of the teams with the nerdiest kidson it did the best robots I?d ever seen. The competition was basketball. Theyhad to make a robot that shot baskets. So they had me there to check it out andI was fascinated. There was one machine that just, it just didn?t miss and itwas hard for me to believe that some kids made this from a robot kit but theydid.Chris Roe: It wasn?t as good as the Skyhook though.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well, there was nobody, there?s no defense, it was stillsomething to see.Chris Roe: So my last question I?m going to ask you, you reference in your bookthis notion of the Bucket Brigade and that?s been an inspiration for here inour conference today. Who had been the people in your life who really have beenat the beginning of that Bucket Brigade to get you to where you are today?Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I would have to say, first of all my parents and then Iwould have to mention a mentoring program that I participated in between myjunior and senior year in high school and it was designed to challenge the kidsin Harlem. I?m from a New York City neighborhood called Harlem, it?s prettywell known. Most people have heard of it and we were challenged to see what wecould do to make Harlem a better place and in order to do that I had to findout about my community and what it needed and deal with the different problemsthat it had and it changed my life. All of a sudden I really cared about myfellow, you know, people my age and had respect for the older generation thatdid all they could do to give us the opportunities that we had and it justturned me around and it really sharpened my interest in history and that?s whyI?m a historian and I write history books today because of that experience. Sothey got to me at the right time. Dr. Martin Luther King came and addressedparticipants in the program, that was the summer of sixty-four, it was lessthan a year after he?d been named Man of the Year and he had all this pressfollowing him and he told us we were already successful because we were alreadythinking about making Harlem a better place and it really motivated me andenabled me to really get an understanding of what I wanted to do with my life.It?s probably?the things that I?m doing now are probably what I would?ve doneif I?d had a real job immediately after graduating from college.Chris Roe: It?s terrific. Tom, who?s been in your Bucket Brigade?Tom Torlakson: Well I go back to my mom and dad and, you know, the chance tohave a great upbringing and great public schools and my coach, in my highschool track and cross country I was a running kind of guy and so, [inaudible]stands out as someone who just said, reach high, aim high, you know, and setgoals and get after them and be determined and that really was a life changerfor me and then when I decided to explore teaching, I went to the University ofCalifornia, the Lawrence Hall of Science had a special science program and DaveMiller was a teacher who showed me all these school labs, go down and look atthe drop of pond water and see all these, you know, microcosmic forms of life.So those kind of people, there are teachers and you know, you sort of open youreyes to the wonders of the world.Chris Roe: Great, well thank you very much, Kareem, congratulations again onyour being named STEM After School Ambassador. We?re really excited.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Thank you very much.Chris Roe: We are pleased that you are here.