Six time NBA champion, six time MVP, and 19 time All-Star–these are the numbers that Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put up over his 20 years in the NBA. But the numbers Abdul-Jabbar has been more focused on within the last few years are those with respect to children and their education-specifically those who are underserved and happen to be predominantly Black and Latino.
In 2009, Abdul-Jabbar started Skyhook, a non-profit whose mission was to provide 4th and 5th grade kids with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) involvement. Research shows that kids not engaged by this age are less likely to go into these fields. These fields hold 90% of the high paying jobs in the market today. Sadly, only 16% of college graduates are in these fields according to Skyhook’s website.
When it began in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the program started with one of its flagship programs, a five-day camp with immersive opportunities meant to engage the kids. The participating kids are predominately from homes where English is a second language. That camp continues today with some modifications for COVID-19 that saw the Skyhook foundation going to the children.
“Hispanics students are currently the largest minority group in the public school system, but they score lower than national averages on math and science achievement tests and enroll at significantly lower levels,” according to the Hispanic and STEM EDUCATION.
“The sad truth is most disenfranchised kids won’t even graduate high school. If they are lucky, they will settle in at some minimum wage job that barely puts food on the table,” Abdul-Jabbar said. And the sad truth is that the need for help for these underserved children continues to get greater and greater. There is currently a six-year waiting list for the program. Many of the children don’t have computers or Wi-Fi access. Add to that the pandemic and a growing educational gap, the foundation is trying to keep pace with the need. Abdul-Jabbar has even auctioned off some of his basketball memorabilia to give to the foundation.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continues to give kids, especially underserved kids, a shot. He told CNBC, “I would see my legacy as being a success when the kids that we’re trying to reach end up with jobs as engineers, and scientists, and inventors.”