September 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Abdul-Jabbar Helps Pitch Academic Competitiveness Black Leaders Discuss Need To Set High Standards For Kids

Kalpana Srinivasan Associated Press

Although he has six Most Valuable Player awards and 17 All-Star games under his belt, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says black youths today need to strive for academic - not just athletic - success.

“Because the expectation of achievement is on white kids, black kids come to think of themselves as expendable, useful only as athletes or entertainers,” Abdul-Jabbar said Friday. “They don’t hear about the black man working on Wall Street. They don’t know that’s an avenue of success wide open to them.”

Abdul-Jabbar joined a group of black educators and advocates on a taping of “America’s Black Forum” to discuss the gaps in academic performance between black students and white students and ways to narrow the margin.

“It’s not a matter of genes. It’s a matter of agenda,” said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mfume said preparation needs to begin even before children enter the classroom.

Although panelists pointed out disparities in income and access to education, some said the problem stems from an acceptance of lower standards. Shelby Steele, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said expectations for black students must be set high and should not be lowered through programs such as affirmative action.

“A preference is an institutionalization of a low expectation. Look what it does to the dignity of the black community,” Steele said.

Educators said a broad approach, with parents and community involved in the educational process, would give black students a more solid footing.

“To expect a teacher to be a surrogate for all that ails us is unrealistic,” Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert said.

The one-hour special will air during October and November in various cities nationwide.

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