Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was welcomed as the guest speaker at Northampton Community College, in Bethlehem, as part of its Annual Humanities Endowed Lecture on April 8.
Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 career points, a six-time NBA champion and the league’s only six-time MVP, spoke via Zoom during the free lecture.
During the hour-long conversation, Abdul-Jabbar spoke with faculty members from Northampton Community College about social justice issues, vaccines and even his role as Roger Murdock in the movie “Airplane.”
The talk was part of Northampton Community College’s Annual Humanities Keynote Lecture, which has occurred every year since 2012. Abdul-Jabbar was the 10th featured speaker.
“The purpose of the keynote event is to provide to community college students the same type of rich experiences in the humanities that they would be able to access at any other type of college or university,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bugaighis, dean of Academic Affairs at Northampton Community College and organizer of the Abdul-Jabbar talk.
Bugaighis said putting on a talk of this magnitude was not easy during a pandemic.
“While we are all living in the world of Zoom, it is a challenge to organize and direct a virtual keynote,” Bugaighis said. “We wanted the event to have some production value and… as you might imagine it took a team to deliver this event and we had two rehearsals to prepare.”
Abdul-Jabbar has been an instrumental presence in not only the recent Black Lives Matter movement, but also social issues of the 1970s and 1980s, like Black rights activism.
He shared a story about his support for Muhammed Ali at the Cleveland Summit after hearing a story about Ali coming back from the 1960 Olympics and not being served at a Kentucky diner. This led Abdul-Jabbar to attend the Cleveland Summit on June 4, 1967, along with other great Black athletes of that period such as Bill Russell and Jim Brown.
The Cleveland Summit was organized and attended by a number of prominent Black athletes of the time to show their support for Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.
When asked about how to handle current social justice issues facing society, Abdul-Jabbar said people should first take the time to understand the issues. Once the issues are understood, he said they must be spoken about without anger.
“Too often we get angry about these issues and people only respond negatively,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Most Americans will listen if you’re genuine and have the patience to listen.”
The conversation with Abdul-Jabbar was led by Northampton Community College Psychology Professor Dr. Gina Turner. Turner was responsible for leading conversation with Abdul-Jabbar and introduced special guests to ask Abdul-Jabbar questions.
Northampton Community College faculty and staff took great pride in being able to host the talk.
Dr. Christine Pense, dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences recalls all the previous lectures, including this year’s, with a sense of pride for the effort that made each one possible.
“There isn’t one outcome or one message; engaging with the humanities is engaging with complexity,” Pense said. “Still, I always hope our students build informed empathy through meeting our speakers, and then they work out some practical application for their inspiration.”