Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – author, ambassador and former Los Angeles Laker superstar – joined Gov. Pat Quinn Sunday in working to score points with Chicago high school students on the importance of learning math and science and preparing for careers outside of sports and entertainment, such as in engineering and technology.
“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, those subjects are very important for any young person out there,” Abdul-Jabbar, the co-author of a children’s book on African-American inventors, told students and parents gathered at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School. “If you start thinking about those types of things right now, those subjects and paying attention to them in school and getting good grades in those subjects…that type of foundation will be the foundation for jobs in the 21st century…will enable you to be relevant to the work force and to get a good job.”
Abdul-Jabbar told the story of Dr. Richard Drew, who developed the concept of large-scale blood banks. He also talked about the work of Dr. James West, who helped develop the electroacoustic transducer, also called a foil-electret microphone, used in telephones.
“I’m not telling you not to go out there and play hoops or go out there and write those wonderful songs,” Abdul-Jabbar said. But, “so many young people, in inner city communities especially, only see themselves as being able to be successful in only two areas… sports and entertainment. They don’t have any idea what their potential is beyond those two areas.”
Abdul-Jabbar stressed the importance of education and shared with the group how his education, including graduating from UCLA, helped prepare him for life after basketball. Abdul-Jabbar was appointed global Cultural Ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January. Since retiring from the NBA in 1989, where he remains the all-time leading scorer, he has worked on projects focused on black history and socio-economic justice. His 2011 documentary “On the Shoulders of Giants” highlighted those issues. He also launched the Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children’s lives through education and sports.
Abdul-Jabbar’s book, “What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors,” made the New York Time’s Best Seller list for children’s books. Abdul-Jabbar, who autographed and distributed free copies of the book to students and parents, told them, “I hope you read this book and get inspired by it because your intellect is a very powerful tool.”
Quinn told students, “We all need to make sure that we learn every day. Jobs follow brain power and we want to muster as much brain power as we can in the state of Illinois.”
Echoing the importance of so-called STEM learning, the focus on science, technology, engineering and math, were representatives of Lisle-based Navistar Inc. and AGB Investigative Services Inc. of Chicago, who also addressed the gathering. The companies underwrote the cost of the books given to students and parents.
Navistar recently hired more than 600 engineers here, many from the Midwest, said Senior Vice President Gregory Elliott. But even in a time of high unemployment, the company, which makes products including engines, school buses and other commercial and military vehicles, found it challenging to find people with the highly specialized skills the company needed, he noted. For students interested in pursuing careers at the company, he stressed, “It’s important that you start thinking about that today, that you start developing those skills today.”
Joanna Piphus, a ninth grade student at King who plans to attend college and major in computer technology, said she plans to help spread the message of Abdul-Jabbar and the other speakers to other students.
“I thought that it was really inspiring,” she said. “I wish more of my friends would have come to learn about this.”
Senior Joshua James, who plans to attend college and study photograph, said for those looking to pursue careers in sports or entertainment, the message he took away from the program was, “You can have those as B and C plans, but college should definitely be the first plan. They need to go to college and get a good education.”