It's generally a good idea to start an interview with a uncontroversial opening question to get a reasonably friendly dialogue going. With that in mind, when talking Friday with the Timberwolves' Jamal Crawford about his involvement with the organization's Black History Month essay contest, my first question was simple: What does this initiative mean to you?

"I just think it's important. It really is," Crawford said. "Especially in the times we're in now, to be honest with you."

Point taken. I mentioned to Crawford that I was going to get to that line of questioning eventually, but he was more than willing to fast-forward.

"I'll volunteer," he said.

And away we went, with Crawford talking about the essay contest — which he will help judge with Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson, who has also been an outspoken advocate for social justice — while more often than not circling back to the state of the United States as he sees it.

"It's amazing with what's going on with the leader of our country and some of the things he's saying," Crawford continued, talking about President Donald Trump. "He just said something crazy [Thursday]. It doesn't stop. It's like, 'Are we serious?' It's scary. We see him, obviously. But there were a bunch of people who voted for him. Do [they] have some of the same views? It's interesting. It's sad. It's a time that we really need to pull on each other and the good of people. Human decency."

Black History Month, celebrated in February in the United States, was an important part of Crawford's upbringing, he said.

A native of Seattle, Crawford recalls watching the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech as part of his introduction to black history in school. Monday marks the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States.

"They made sure we had that in class and understood the history and how far the country was turning forward at the time," Crawford said. "I didn't know it until I was in school, and then I wanted to know and learn more about it."

For much of his life, racial equality was "kind of on the upswing," the 37-year-old Crawford said, but now "it feels like we went backwards." There's a fundamental sense of decency that is lacking at this point in history, he said.

"It's not like it's a hard thing," Crawford said. "Male or female, people of color or not, just treat them how you want to be treated. Be respectful. It's pretty easy."

Hence, the importance of being involved in this essay project, which asks students to write about a leader from black history who inspires them today. Submissions are being accepted from now until Feb. 2 from students in grades 6-12. Grand prize winners in each division receive four tickets to the Feb. 24 Wolves game against the Bulls and Lynx tickets for their entire class for a 2018 game.

Crawford said he's eager to hear from kids about their experiences.

"We're taking it one way," he said. "We're grown. To see kids and how it's affecting them is very important. Some of the stuff kids are seeing, to me, is not real life. It's not how it's supposed to be. The fact that they're still getting it, cutting through it and navigating and still having the human decency to say this isn't right and express it in a way … I think it's good."