Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Aisha Tyler Express Need for Diversity in Higher Education in America

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

by Jasmyne Bell
Chancellor Gene Block was honored with the Educational Visionary Award, presented by Abdul-Jabbar and fellow UCLA alum Bill Walton.

Fulfillment Fund’s annual event, Eat, Drink, Be Inspired, put a spotlight on the organization’s incredible mission to send students from low-income and marginalized backgrounds to college. The fundraiser, which was held at Calley Park at Sony Pictures Studios, honored UCLA for its relentless commitment to diversity and providing an equal opportunity for every student. Fulfillment Fund is dedicated to empowering students to rise above the odds, and they invited some special guests to join them in their endeavors.

The event’s host, Aisha Tyler, began the night by acknowledging and honoring the group of students who were in attendance, and have benefited from Fulfillment Fund’s cause. Before introducing the presenters and Fulfillment Fund’s new CEO, Tyler sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about what diversity in higher education means to her. “Access to advanced education improves the quality of life in every aspect. It absolutely changes people’s lives. I think it’s still very problematic and difficult for regular people to be able to afford a higher education. Even more than that, it’s culturally inaccessible. It’s really important to tell people that it’s not just something that is available to them — it’s right.”

Tyler, who is a Dartmouth University graduate, shared how she connects with the stories of the students who were being honored. “I am one of these kids. I understand what it feels like to think of one of my goals as insurmountable and then to continue moving forward anyway. These kids may have felt that before getting involved with this organization that this was something they maybe couldn’t do, but they did it anyway.”

Tyler continued the night by announcing the fundraiser’s special guest presenters, UCLA alumni Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, to award Chancellor Gene Block with the Educational Visionary Award. “We are so lucky to be in this position. UCLA won’t always be recognized like this for our immense diversity amongst our student body, but it’s an incredible honor to be acknowledged by Fulfillment Fund, who has been doing so much for these students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to go to college.”

Abdul-Jabbar commented on the stigmatized relationship between higher education and diversity. “By enabling people from backgrounds where there isn’t a foundation of education to get a college degree, it shifts the pattern in their families,” he said. “They open doors for their children and grandchildren. It starts a chain reaction of taking advantage of opportunities.”

The night came to a close with an inspirational testimony from a Fulfillment Fund mentee and a live auction presented by comedian Sinbad. Eat, Drink, Be Inspired raised nearly $900,000 that will go toward the organization’s services.

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