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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar relishes becoming cultural ambassador

January 21, 2012 | 12:30 pm

Below are excerpts from a recent conversation with former Lakers player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whom the State Department recently named as a cultural ambassador. He will travel to Brazil from Sunday through Jan. 28, with stops in Salvador and Rio de Janiero. There he will talk to young people about education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding and using sports as a means of empowerment. You can listen to the entire 23-minute interview in the video above.

 On his trip to Brazil: "I'll do a couple of basketball clinics and also be involved in discussions with young people. The Brazilian government is trying to rearrange the educational system so it reaches more of the population. They think the population is underserved by the educational system and needs revamping. The U.S. government will try to help them with this. I'll talk to young people about the need for education."

 On his book, "What Color is My World": "The book is about black inventors. It's targeted for kids 8-12 years old. My motivation in writing it had to do with my memories of ... when I was ... growing up. Black Americans were only mentioned in regards to the use of slavery and civil rights. There's so much more to that story. By focusing on black inventors, you can see where black Americans have contributed so much to world culture in the many inventions they have made."

On what interests him about history: "It started with the neighborhood I grew up in in Manhattan and New York City. It was a Revolutionary War battlefield ... As a kid, we'd find musket balls and old bottles in vacant lots and in the parks. Sometimes after it rains, we'd find arrowheads in Manhattan. I was always aware of the people that superceded us."

On how growing up as Roman Catholic in Harlem and then converting to Islam has shaped his world view: "My heritage was a key for me in helping me understand it's a big world. The smarter you are, the more education you can obtain. The better off you will be."

On U.S. relations with Muslim countries: "President Obama has done a great job. Even President Bush, a lot of people criticized him, but from the very first day he said he was not at war with Islam. He was dealing with terrorists who happened to be Muslim. He always went to pains to point out the majority of Muslims in the world were not hell-bent on destroying America. it was a radical group of people and minority within Muslim countries. What we did with President Obama's tactics in Libya enabled them to obtain their goals and see us as people who were helpful and sticking up for the rights of the common people in Libya confronting a tyrant. In that sense, we're on the right track. We should maintain that. Too many people have gotten into thinking all Muslims are the bad guys and that's not the reality of it."


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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar named State Department cultural ambassador

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 'On the Shoulders of Giants' celebrates the Harlem Rens

--Mark Medina

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