Years after retiring from the basketball court, legendary player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still making impressive plays. Only now he’s doing it with his nonprofit, the Skyhook Foundation, a group that’s been helping to teach underserved Black and Latinx students science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) — highly valued skills that could help them advance towards well-paying, successful careers.
“Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in the field, in which workers tend to earn more than non-STEM workers with similar education levels,” reported Michelle Fox of NBC News.
“The Covid pandemic has made his mission even more urgent,” Fox added. “Students of color are seeing the biggest learning loss amid school closures, a McKinsey & Company report found in December. That translates into a hit on future earning power.”
“It’s a social justice issue; giving kids a better idea of where they can go with their education,” the six-time National Basketball Champion said in an interview with NBC News.
According to Abdul-Jabbar, the Skyhook Foundation was created in 2009 to provide in-need educational opportunities to 4th and 5th graders in the Los Angeles school system.
“Typically, the students [participating in the program] attend a camp for five days and four nights in the Angeles National Forest and get an immersive learning experience,” Fox explained. “The attendees are largely English language learners and participate in free or reduced lunch programs.”
“We try to give them their first experience with science and let them know it’s not something exotic, it just takes application and they can learn a lot,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s been very gratifying for me to see the light turn on with the kids, when they started to realize what’s possible and where they can go with this information.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s next goal is to attempt to bring his program to even more children. There’s currently a six-year waitlist to get into Skyhook Camp, and the Foundation is constantly working to improve its technological resources, enhancing Wi-Fi access and securing higher quality computer equipment for students to use.
For his part, Abdul-Jabbar told Fox he now finds more satisfaction improving children’s lives than he does in looking back at his basketball career. That’s why he continues to auction off memorabilia to continue funding the foundation.
“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,” Abdul-Jabbar said to Fox. “That’s going to make me feel good.”