Earvin “Magic” Johnson has been popping up on cable, satellite, and digital video-on-demand providers. Throughout the month of November, on-demand users could rent any of Magic Johnson’s selections thanks to Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and, in turn, Warner Bros. donated a portion of the proceeds to The Magic Johnson Foundation (MJF).
That AIDS awareness and the empowerment of urban youth are able to find their way to viewers browsing through movie titles is a testament to the power of the NBA legend to combine popular culture and positive social action.
Of course, it makes sense that Magic Johnson—who launched a mini-chain of movie theaters—knows how to combine entertainment and humanitarianism. Magic Johnson Enterprises, which promotes community and economic development in ethnically diverse urban communities, has partnered with Starbucks, Best Buy, ESPN, and the list goes on. The commitment to making a difference is just as strong on the philanthropic side with the Foundation.
Last month on November 7, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of Johnson’s public announcement that he was HIV-positive and the creation of the Magic Johnson Foundation, Point Forward Day kicked off with a press conference at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Described as a “national day of awareness and action to celebrate 20 years of impact,” Point Forward Day sought to encourage individuals to become proactive about knowing their HIV status and supporting educational empowerment in urban communities. Magic Johnson has been a role model in this regard from the start for he not only came out publicly as HIV-positive but also started raising awareness about AIDS, both on the court, where he discovered that some of his opponents feared playing with an HIV-positive individual, and off the court, where his Lakers fame easily gave him the ear of the nation and the world.
Point Foward Day was organized around MJF’s three program pillars: HIV/AIDS testing and awareness, Community Empowerment Centers (CECs), and the Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program (TMSP).
Partnering with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the non-profit hosted free confidential testing events in cities across the U.S. Mobile testing units pulled up to Atlanta; Brooklyn; the Bronx; East Harlem; Chicago; Dallas; San Antonio; D.C.; Fort Lauderdale; Miami and North Miami; Wilton Manors, Florida; Los Angeles; Hampton, Virginia; New Orleans; and Marrero, Louisiana. At various CECs, dignitaries, government officials, and athletes showed up to be the first to test and to inspire others to do the same.
Additionally, nine of the seventeen CECs hosted community events, with MJF’s Taylor Michaels Scholarship recipients and alumni overseeing the festivities.
Celebrities and athletes pledged their support on social media sites. Dwayne Wade, Ludacris, Justin Bieber, Kobe Bryant, Adrian Peterson, Pau Gasol, Paula Abdul, Steve Nash, Monique Coleman, Faith Evans, Blair Underwood, and others took to Facebook, Twitter, and Tout to encourage fans to get tested on Point Forward Day.
The track record of MJF speaks for itself: the Foundation has tested 30,000 individuals since its launch, donated over $15 million to underserved communities, and, partnering with AHF, has established five full-service HIV/AIDS treatment centers, which provide state-of-the-art therapies, testing, counseling, and ongoing disease management healthcare to more than 1,200 people each year. Located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, and Jacksonville, Florida, these centers provide high-quality care for all individuals living with HIV/AIDS regardless of their ability to pay for services. AHF also provides medical services and programs worldwide.
To help honor the anniversary of Magic Johnson’s service to the fight against AIDS, A&U asked other advocates the following question: “How did Magic Johnson’s disclosure that he was HIV-positive change, if at all, the fight against AIDS?”
“I have always admired Mr. Johnson for his courage to disclose his HIV-positive status twenty years ago,” says Osvaldo Perdormo, artist, curator, and AIDS advocate. “That took an amazing amount of courage and spirit to be able to do that so openly so many years ago. The stigma of this virus is still a huge problem and I am sure it was not an easy step for him and his family, especially twenty years ago. I respect him and his family for it and I do so even more after I learned about my AIDS diagnosis seven years ago.”
Perdomo continues: “Magic Johnson’s courage, integrity and the work he does for the HIV/AIDS community is just amazing. It is above and beyond. After my AIDS diagnosis, when my health and energy permits, I accept invitations to talk to high school students about HIV/AIDS prevention. The students very often bring Mr. Johnson into the room with questions and comments. He has helped the students to realize that this virus could be transmitted to anyone. Magic Johnson broke the stereotype that many people had, including adults, regarding HIV/AIDS. He put out in the open that HIV/AIDS could happen to any one regardless of their sexual orientation. Magic Johnson is a role model and I am grateful for his courage and his support in the fight against AIDS.”
Filmmaker and AIDS advocate Marlon Royal Reid shares: “I think there is a dual edge sword with this subject. I am happy for what all Magic Johnson has done, but I also feel that the public views him as a survivor and feel they still take risks because he has lived twenty years with the disease. Magic Johnson is a multimillionaire. He can go overseas and try different medicines. [Many Americans do] not have medical insurance. He has done a lot but the fight must continue and we all have our part in solving this issue.”
Says blogger, author and AIDS advocate Justin B. Terry-Smith, “In my opinion Magic Johnson did the right thing in disclosing his status, not only for himself, his family, but for the whole world. This man has been a three-time NBA MVP and has been in the public eye since the beginning of his basketball career and afterwards. He has been a key pillar in the fight against HIV; he gives speeches and reaches out to young people, while promoting safe sex. He has been a major face of HIV especially when he came out HIV-positive even when the stigma was stronger than ever. He has proven that one can live a long life with HIV; he does have more money than the average person, but he has once again proven that one can stand up to this disease. By giving full disclosure and educating others about HIV and how not to be infected, he has been a tremendous soldier in this fight. He promised to be a spokesperson from the very beginning of his press conference when he disclosed his HIV status on television. He is, in my eyes, an amazing man.”
Says Michael Weinstein, president of AHF: “Magic is the living embodiment of living well with HIV. Not only has he lived openly with the virus for twenty years, but he has added his considerable stature and voice to the cause. AHF’s partnership with Magic has led to thousands of HIV patients getting lifesaving care. As the most famous person living with HIV in the world, Magic has made a huge contribution to the self-esteem and hope of people living with HIV.”