(NewsNation) — Charles Barkley realized at a young age that he didn’t want to live like his parents.
Born into segregation in 1963 in Leeds, Alabama, 10 miles outside of Birmingham, the former NBA player was around 15 or 16 years old, and a friend invited him over to his house to hang out. But that friend lived on “the white side of town,” Barkley’s mother responded when he asked her if he could go.
Barkley was confused. He was just a kid, after all, who paid no mind to racial divides.
“I said, ‘Mom, I love you, but I don’t want to live like y’all did,'” Barkley said. “I don’t want to go through my whole life and they live on one side of town, we live on the other side of town and we hate each other, and the only time we see each other is at basketball games or football games.”
Barkley called it a “turning point” in his life, an experience that would help shape his world view. Recounting the story “The Chris Cuomo Project,” he said it taught him that “Kids aren’t racist. Adults teach you to be racist.”
Discussing race in America and how the country can move beyond political division, he said a key guiding principle for him is to be surrounded with good people. It’s something he first learned from his grandmother and was later reinforced by the civil rights activist C.T. Vivian.
He was reminded to “be a people person first.”
“We all have pre-conceived notions, but I have to give a person a chance,” Barkley said. “You never know who is going to be important and significant in your life.”
To get past racial divides and understand one another, Barkley said Americans should look to the nation’s children.
“I always look at these young Black kids and white kids who are playing together when we ain’t corrupted their minds, we ain’t made them racist, and I get chills,” Barkley said. “Why can’t the world be like these little kids? Why do we adults have to screw it up? We screw up everything.”
Barkley has embraced a philosophy of living life to the fullest, without feelings of anger or bitterness. He encouraged others to do the same.
“We just have to do better,” Barkley said. “I don’t know if you can put the toothpaste back in the tube, but I’m never going to give up.”