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Los Angeles launches African American Heritage Month

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti helped launch the city’s celebration of African American Heritage Month Wednesday, presenting honors to a series of notables, including a lifetime achievement award for former UCLA Bruin and Los Angeles Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Garcetti called Abdul-Jabbar “a true L.A. hero.”

“I was raised by a father who went to USC undergrad, he taught me to root for them in football … but he went to UCLA law school when Kareem was playing there, and he said it made us feel invincible,” Garcetti said during a presentation in the City Council Chambers. “It made us feel like we could do anything. … The man next to me is one of the most disciplined minds, bodies and souls that I know.”

Garcetti praised Abdul-Jabbar for his work with children in low-income neighborhoods and efforts to encourage children to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering careers.

Abdul-Jabbar thanked the city for the honor, and said he was proud to call Los Angeles home.

“I came out here in 1965, leaving New York City, trying to figure out just what I would do, and I decided I would go play for this guy named John Wooden, one of the best decisions I made in my life,” he said. “But it wasn’t just about hoops when I got to UCLA. I was able to get a wonderful education, and that was something that was promised to me by another UCLA alumni named Jackie Robinson. He sent me a letter saying you should go to UCLA, you’ll definitely get a good education, and you might do something in basketball.

“After my college career I had to spend six years in the Midwest in Wisconsin, but when the opportunity came for me to leave and I realized that I could not go to where I was born, New York City, but I did have a chance to come to Los Angeles. I did not hesitate. Again, it’s another decision I’m so proud and happy that I made, because the relationships and the friendships that I’ve made in the city have lasted me a lifetime.”

Actresses Nia Long and Vanessa Bell Calloway were also honored during the City Hall ceremony, along with Grammy winner and Oscar nominee John Legend and Judge Mablean Ephraim.

Long is best known for her roles in the television series “The French Prince of Bel Air” and the movie “Boyz in the Hood.” She has won three Image Awards

Galloway made her film debut with Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America” in 1988 and has also appeared “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” Crimson Tide,” “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” and “Lakeview Terrace.”

She has made countless appearances in television shows throughout her career and been nominated for six Image Awards.

Legend has established himself as one of the top performers in music since arriving on the musical scene in 2004 with the album “Get Lifted,” which earned him a Grammy in 2006 for best new artist and two other Grammy Awards. To date, he has won nine Grammys and his nominated for best solo performance for “All of Me” in this year’s Grammy Awards show Feb. 8.

Ephraim is a former prosecuting attorney here before becoming a judge on television’s “Divorce Court” in 1999.

She has also appeared in several Tyler Perry movies.