WOOSTER, Ohio – “An Evening with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” made for a memorable night Tuesday at The College of Wooster not just for the rare celebrity appearance but for the discussion of a wide range of social issues in front of 3,000 adoring attendees at Timken Gymnasium.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, New York Times best-selling author, U.S. cultural ambassador, and entertainer visited Wooster as the feature speaker for the annual Peter Mortensen Lecture. Abdul-Jabbar expanded upon many thoughts from his recent book, “Writings on the Wall – Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White,” part of the criteria for the College’s first-year seminar program.
Seated comfortably on a stage that looked like a typical American living room, Abdul-Jabbar conversed with the Wooster student-faculty pairing of Aubri McKoy ’20 and Denise Bostdorff, who served as the evening’s moderators. Most of the questions were submitted by Wooster students and they covered a wide range of hot-button topics – the 2016 election, the importance of a free press, women’s and LBGTQ rights, environmental issues, Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, life lessons from his basketball career, and the value of arts and humanities.
Among the highlights, Abdul-Jabbar, never one to mince words, condemned the “divisive things that (have) started to take root in our country,” stressed that critical analysis when consuming the media is necessary in “making decisions on verifiable facts,” and in reference to various forms of racism, he said “we can’t be anyone else; we have to be who we are.”
If there was one central theme, though, it was education. Abdul-Jabbar stated the phrase “knowledge is power” multiple times and he emphasized to the hundreds of students in attendance that college “is a great place to find yourself, (which is) absolutely essential,” while wittily adding “you have to get your term papers in … you’ve got a lot to do.”
Abdul-Jabbar also noted that education never stops, not just by informing oneself through reading but via open dialogue with others. A voracious reader himself, Abdul-Jabbar was known to have his nose in a book minutes before big games, and he encouraged everyone to “maintain (a similar) curiosity … look for information … explore the world … find out about different cultures, find about the past.”
Abdul-Jabbar cautioned that “you have to be open to what the other person says” and “you have to be willing to accept some opposition,” but patience mixed with education could lead to improved relations within the U.S., which he labeled “the best country in the world” and wants to see it “live up to its promise.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s visit was impactful for many, especially McKoy, who closed the presentation by comparing his work as a journalist in 1964 covering a Martin Luther King Jr. press conference to her serving as co-moderator. “I can relate to the feeling (Abdul-Jabbar) wrote about … that he was destined to be in that moment … and this moment for me was just like that.”