Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar helps teach STEM skills to black and Latin American students
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a lot more on his mind these days than the sport.
For more than a decade, he has focused on introducing underserved students to a STEM education consisting of science, technology, engineering, and math. Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in the area where workers tend to earn more than non-STEM workers with a similar level of education.
The Covid pandemic has made his mission even more urgent. Color students see the greatest learning loss when school closes, a report from McKinsey & Company found in December. This leads to a blow to future profitability.
“It is a social justice issue to give children a better idea of where to go with their education,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
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He started his nonprofit Skyhook Foundation in 2009 to provide these educational opportunities to 4th and 5th grades in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Typically, students attend camp for five days and four nights in the Angeles National Forest and receive an extensive learning experience. Most of the participants are English learners and take part in free or reduced lunch programs.
When the pandemic broke out, the foundation adapted and used eco vans to take the camp to individual recreation centers and playgrounds while staying socially distant.
“We try to give them their first experiences with science and let them know that it is nothing exotic. It just takes application and they can learn a lot,” said the six-time national basketball champion.
“It was very enjoyable for me to see the lights on with the children as they began to see what is possible and where to go with this information.”
However, there are still some obstacles in Abdul-Jabbar’s path, namely the ability to reach more children. There is currently a six year waiting list to enter Skyhook Camp. There is also a shortage of WiFi access and computer equipment for many.
For Anthony Chan, the organization’s treasurer and former chief economist at JP Morgan Chase, this means doing everything possible to meet these needs. The foundation has partnered with companies including the Panasonic Foundation, which recently received the Global Business Alliance’s Corporate Social Responsibility Award for its collaboration with Skyhook.
“Kareem and I both grew up on housing projects,” said Chan, who is Hispanic.
“I’ve seen all of the challenges there and how easy it was to basically fall into the cracks.”
It was very enjoyable for me to see the lights on with the children as they began to see what was possible.
NBA legend and founder of the Skyhook Foundation
In addition to the lack of opportunity, there is the problem of understanding money issues, he added.
“If you teach them financial literacy, this income inequality debate that we are talking about today will go instantly faster than Houdini can make it go away,” Chan said.
Abdul-Jabbar hopes to look back on what he has done with his life and remember the children he helps, rather than “looking at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating to celebrate something I do before a long time ago, “he said once after auctioning off his basketball memorabilia to fund the foundation.
“I would see my legacy as a success if the children we want to reach get jobs as engineers, scientists and inventors,” he said.
“That will make me feel good.”
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