Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: US Global Cultural Ambassador
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on New Role as US Global Cultural Ambassador

Ambassador Abdul-Jabbar with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

What made you decide to make the film, On the Shoulders of Giants?

I wanted to do a film on the Harlem renaissance and the Harlem Rens basketball team. The Rens were a basketball team that played in Harlem in a Dance Hall. Many of the wonderful bands that played during the Renaissance would be playing in that dance hall after the Rens stopped playing so it was a tie in between the two different phenomena. It is a pretty interesting story…

I found that they were really unknown subjects that nobody really knew about so I decided to write a book about them. After the book came out, I had something that I could show people that would explain what the story was all about and gave people an idea of what I was driving at in doing a documentary. I was able to raise funds and get enough money to get the documentary made.

What kind of feedback have you been getting from NBA players and the general public?

A lot of people had no idea about the story. Most people think basketball started with the NBA in 1947. They were not aware of the history of the game prior to 1947. Most people who have seen the film said it has been a great experience and they really enjoy finding out all about what professional basketball was like in the 1920’s and 1930’s and how it got tied in with the Harlem renaissance.

What inspired you to write your latest book, which is your first in the children’s category, What Color is My World: The Lost History of African American Inventors?

I can remember back when I was a kid our history books only dealt with Black Americans with regard to two issues: slavery and civil rights. The Black experience in this country is so much broader than that, but there really hasn’t been anything relating to anything else, especially to young people. Writing this book was an attempt to address that issue.

Further, the inventors are scientists and engineers that apply their knowledge to certain problems that we have, come up with answers that work and invent things. So many young Black kids never look at those areas as places where they can succeed and do something significant. Most of our young people are of a mind that they can only succeed in entertainment or sports and we have to change that mindset. We must get them to understand there is a much broader amount of things they can do that will make them successful and make the people that love them proud of what they accomplished.

Why do you think it’s important for people to know about Black history beyond the month of February?

I think it is important for people to understand significant things that Black Americans have done because what they call Black history is really American History. It’s something that has been either ignored or sometimes suppressed just because the dominant group gets all the credit. Something needs to be changed. People need to know that Black Americans have contributed to American life in ways that many have no idea. That’s essential for making it possible for us to know and respect each other.

What is your main reason for starting your nonprofit the Sky Hook Foundation?

The hope is that we get the opportunity to use sports as a “hook,” more or less, to get students to think about their education. We use the whole idea of sports enabling kids to understand that their education is even more important. Even if you have a great career in sports it’s going to be over before you’re 40 years old; and what will you do with the rest of your life? By emphasizing that sports is great but that there is more to life than that and having the opportunity to mentor kids who are into sports, really gives us the ability to lead them in the right direction and it will broaden what is possible for them, especially for minority kids.

Watch Abdul-Jabbar speak on his new position below.