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“Speak truth to power:” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks leadership with young adults in Milwaukee

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MILWAUKEE -- Recently we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Because of his influence, among others, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is who he is. That led the Hall of Fame center and former Milwaukee Bucks star to Milwaukee, to keep Dr. King's dream alive.

"Dr. King came and told us we were already a success because we were already thinking about how to make Harlem a better place," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Recalling the summer between his junior and senior year in high school, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shared his story of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

"That changed my life that summer because it taught me about community, what was important. My community was important," said Abdul-Jabbar.

Abdul-Jabbar was part of a mentoring program then. Once again, he is part of one -- this time with 120 members of City Year Milwaukee's AmeriCorps members.

"Being able to talk to young people is really a key for me because if we don't give them positive examples of how to conduct themselves and how to affect change in a positive way, they're going to make bad choices," Abdul-Jabbar said.

The young adults range in age from 18 to 25 and serve in 13 Milwaukee public schools doing a number of different things.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

"They're serving with young students every day, supporting them in English/language arts, math, attendance and social/emotional development," said Meralis Hood, with City Year.

Meralis Hood, is the executive director of City Year in Milwaukee, where her corps members are at their mid-year summit, which is why she felt it was a great opportunity to have Abdul-Jabbar speak with them.

"Bringing Kareem on a day like this, right in the middle, really supports our Corps, not only energizing them, but also letting them know what they do is important. I really wanted Kareem to come away with the understanding that our Corps members are dedicating so much time, so much talent and really giving up a lot to be here and just serve with our young people," said Hood.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

His story had an immediate impact on Njeri Jackson, a team leader at Pulaski High School and the person who led the discussion with Abdul-Jabbar and the Corps members.

"He stood up for what he believed in and that is something that even City Year pushes to do, stand up for what you believe in, give back to your community and I believe that...Mr. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really embodies that," said Jackson.

"You've got to speak truth to power. Even if they're going to come down on you, you've got to do that. Because if you don't point out the injustice, they'll keep running it on you," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Meralis Hood

"I loved when he said, 'Really make sure you're speaking truth to power.' I think that resonates with young people because young people don't hear that a lot. They don't hear permission to speak that truth," Hood said.

That sentiment rings true to Jackson as she works with the students she's mentoring.

"Yeah, it's tough right now. But like I said, the things he was saying, 'Keep pushing forward' or 'Believe in your community' like it's always going to be tough, so you've got to keep pushing," said Jackson.

While he had an effect on all of the men and women in the discussion, Hood believes it's only the beginning.

"Honestly, the impact is yet to be seen. I feel like it's going to be multiplied over time. We talk about cathedral building, that takes a long time," said Hood.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

"We always got to have the time and will to make sure that we connect with the next generation and help them see their way through that, how to do it right," Abdul-Jabbar said. "You've got to keep your mind open and be prepared to encounter and enjoy some of the things life has for you because you have no idea how wonderful that can be until you can experience it."

Abdul-Jabbar met with the AmeriCorps members through the Bucks organization which partners with City Year. For more information on City Year, CLICK HERE.