CLIS Student Chapter of the American Library Association

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Harlem Renaissance January 18, 2008

Filed under: ALA Midwinter Meeting — edesmond @ 1:58 pm

Session: President’s Program – Sun. Jan. 13, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

At the Midwinter Meeting, the President’s Program featured author, historian, and former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Mr. Abdul-Jabbar has written several books, and his latest, On the Shoulders of Giants:  My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance, describes the people and events important to this time period, as well as his own connection to the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement which began in the 1920s. He explained, “The Harlem Renaissance didn’t end–only it’s popularity in the mainstream ended.  Just because the gardener who planted a seed retires, that doesn’t mean the seed stops growing.”

Mr. Abdul-Jabbar told of the great effect the Arthur Schomburg Center for Black Research had on his life.  He was first introduced to it during a high school summer program, the Harlem Youth Action Program, and it was here that he first became interested in the Harlem Renaissance.  Mr. Abdul-Jabbar attributes his love of reading and scholarship to his time spent at this library, as well as to his father, a policeman and jazz musician who bought books by the pound (literally).

In his speech Mr. Abdul-Jabbar talked about what studying history and culture had taught him.  Learning about the accomplishments of the past showed him the importance of curiosity and skepticism, and the need for people to have “the skill to find out the truth for themselves.”  However, he stresses that people should not study history merely out of “curiosity.”  We also need to use history’s lessons to improve our society and lives today.  Finally, he also noted the extraordinairy power of words, which he says are more powerful than violence.  “Words don’t placate or diminish anger…You can use words to change the causes of the anger.”

In about a month, an audiobook of On the Shoulders of Giants will be released, which will include period recordings and guest narrators.  Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is also planning to write a series of childrens books.  He believes books are an important way to inspire children to achieve.  In his conclusion he reiterated the importance of libraries, saying “Librarians can pass on to boys and girls words that will become a part of who they are and who they will be.”


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