Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Speaks On Race, Activism

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, basketball Hall of Famer, six-time NBA champion, author, filmmaker and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar visited ETSU on March 28 for a Q&A.

The session was co-moderated by Carshonda Harris, director of the Multicultural Center, and Stephen Marshall, chair of the Media and Communication department.

The forum took place in a packed Brooks Gym and was part of the university’s annual Civility Week. This year’s theme was “Dialogue Across Division,” highlighting civil dialogue to break down current barriers and divisions of society.

Adbul-Jabbar, an avid reader, started off early in the night listing W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin as authors people should read, stating that Walter Mosley is his favorite.

Abdul-Jabbar also addressed a number of topics including how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., someone he met multiple times in life, might feel if he saw the country today.

“I think Dr. King would be alarmed because when we see the president of the country trying to create division and present them between different factions of the country, that is not a good thing for our country,” Abdul-Jabbar said to the crowd. “Too many of our communities have been through a whole lot to try to reach out and understand each other, and to have to deal with this issue at this time, it is very disappointing.”

Abdul-Jabbar also addressed the history of treatment of African-Americans in the country, mainly in talking about Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

“I wasn’t surprised by what Colin Kaepernick was protesting,” Abdul-Jabbar announced. “It was the same thing that disturbed me when I was 8 years old and the same thing that scared black Americans from the first days of landing on these shores.”

The New York Times best-selling author also took to address the surge of white nationalism by stating how the outlook on events like Charlottesville have changed in years past.

“I remember one of the things I took from all those horrible incidents at University of Virginia was that the response from across the country was that Americans are not Nazis,” he said. “We do not tolerate that. That is not what we’re about. We respect and know each other in ways that would never tolerate what the Nazis were about.”

In the early 1970s, Abdul-Jabbar changed his name from Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. when he converted to Islam and talked about how being Muslim in America had changed over the years.

“For me personally, being Muslim didn’t matter too much until 9/11,” he said. “Being Muslim was being under the radar for a long time because Muslim weren’t seen as a threat. Then things changed.”

Abdul-Jabbar went on to address how he feels about President Trump by telling a story of when he was criticized by Trump.

“He said I didn’t know what I was talking about,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “Of course, I laughed about that. His words, everybody knows what comes out of his mouth is gibberish, so I didn’t worry about that. It’s always the same story with him. I’m glad that America is starting to see him in the light that he really sits in.”

Over the course of the evening, Adbul-Jabbar commented on a variety of things, from how his daily routine has changed over the years to media pressures of an athlete. He reiterated one simple solution to division and how students can engage in activism and discuss with those whom they may disagree with.

“It is very simple. Just be willing to talk to the people that you don’t agree with,” Adbul-Jabbar stated. “When America was first founded, the Founding Fathers all came from different religious backgrounds, and they hated each other. They decided to end that when they decided to try make this experiment here in the United States.”

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