Chances are you’ve heard of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, even if you don’t like basketball. He’s the NBA’S only six-time MVP, a six-time NBA champion and the league’s leading scorer of all time. However, what many people don’t know is that the retired NBA player of 20 seasons is as much of a game changer off the court as he was on the court.
Abdul-Jabbar is an activist, a New York Times best-selling author and a regularly contributing columnist for newspapers and magazines around the world such as The Washington Post, Time Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter where he shares his thoughts on socially relevant and incredibly important political topics facing our nation today. President Obama even awarded Abdul-Jabbar with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and appointed him as a member to the President’s Council on Sports and Fitness.
City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps members recently had the opportunity to meet and learn from the living legend as part of the National Mentoring Month initiatives led by the Milwaukee Bucks, where Abdul-Jabbar began his career. The AmeriCorps members had the opportunity to learn from Abdul-Jabbar about a number of topics ranging from his professional career, his personal life, motivations and hopes for the future.
“When [Kareem] came to us and said [he] would like to talk to a group of people who are as passionate about social justice and social impact as he is, we told him we knew exactly who that group of people is”, said Alicia Dupies, Milwaukee Bucks Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility. “It’s you guys; it’s City Year.”
120 City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps members were able to learn about Abdul-Jabbar’s insights on what makes a successful team, what was the most important thing he learned as a student and how his own experience as a mentor in high school changed his life and his view on the importance of community.
“I was very fortunate to take part in a mentoring program between my junior and senior year of high school…It was designed to show and to challenge the kids that were in Harlem to find out what they were going to do to make Harlem a better place,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Dr. Martin Luther King came to address the students that summer, and he told us we were already a success because we were already thinking about how to make Harlem a better place. That changed my life that summer because it taught me about community and what was important about having one.”
This notion along with many others resonated with our Milwaukee AmeriCorps members, and it was powerful to see the way in which Abdul-Jabbar’s insights aligned with our mission at City Year. It quickly became clear that Abdul-Jabbar understands the importance of believing in the power of young people just as Dr. King believed in him when he was a young mentor himself.
“What I took from our conversation was that [Abdul-Jabbar] just believed in himself and he kept pushing and he did his research…and he stood up for what he believed in,” Njeri Jackson, Team Leader at Pulaski Academy, said. “That is something that even City Year really pushes us to do, is stand up for what you believe in [and] give back to your community, and I think that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really embodies that.”
The AmeriCorps members had great things to say about hearing from Abdul-Jabbar, one of the most influential black men in America. "A big take away for me was that we are not alone in our service," Brandon Slone, Civic Engagement Project Leader, said. "We have the support of people throughout all levels of society and the government, which helped rejuvenate the passion for the work I do."
“It was incredible to hear from him and to be reminded of what an organization like City Year Milwaukee represents,” Gillian McBride, City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps member serving on the Rockwell Automation Team serving at Rogers Street Academy, said. “It reminded me of the big picture of our work and of who our students can aspire to be. He was a great speaker and I am so glad we got to hear from such an inspirational, community-engaged person.”
Like Abdul-Jabbar, City Year AmeriCorps members also understand that “it takes a village” to make a difference in a student’s life, and that this work is not done alone. Luckily for City Year, we have organizations such as the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation in our village to work together to help students succeed in and outside of the classroom every day.
“One of the things that Dr. King said before he was taken away was ‘We’ve got work to do.’ When we get those things done, we all benefit,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Not just one ethnicity, not just one religion, not just one group of people from some place or somewhere. All Americans benefit from that.”
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 20, 2018