'Magic' Johnson to Speak in University of Arkansas Distinguished Lecture Series

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Earvin “Magic” Johnson – entrepreneur, philanthropist, HIV/AIDS activist, and one of the National Basketball Association’s “50 Greatest Players” – will speak at the University of Arkansas as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series for the 2008-09 academic year.

The lecture will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, in Barnhill Arena. The lecture is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

Johnson was one of the most famous athletes in America in 1991 when he announced, in a nationally televised news conference, that he had tested positive for the HIV virus and was retiring from the NBA. That public announcement and Johnson’s subsequent activities to promote HIV/AIDS awareness are credited with helping to change the national perception of the disease. Johnson wrote a book promoting safe sex and helped publicize the risk of infection to the general population. He also worked zealously to debunk myths and misconceptions about the disease, and opposed discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS.

In 1991 Johnson created the Magic Johnson Foundation as a nonprofit public charity to promote HIV/AIDS treatment and awareness. It has since grown to help “develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities,” according to the foundation’s Web site. The foundation has donated more than $1.1 million to community-based organizations that focus on HIV/AIDS education and prevention. In addition, it has provided college scholarships for more than 800 minority high school students, opened 20 Magic Johnson Community Empowerment Centers located in underserved communities across the country, and provided a range of community-based initiatives.

Johnson’s concern with serving the “underserved” actually began early in his professional basketball career. He established Magic Johnson Enterprises in 1983 to pursue business and investment opportunities in ethnically diverse urban communities. The company is now involved in business ventures, consulting and licensing and capital management with both for-profit and nonprofit operations in four states and nearly two dozen cities. These enterprises range from Burger King and Starbucks franchises to a chain of movie theatres to $4 billion worth of investments in urban real estate development and rental property improvements across the country.

Johnson’s athletic career is, indeed, legendary. As a high school senior at Everett High School in Lansing, Mich., he led his team to the state championship. At Michigan State his team won the national championship in his sophomore year. The next year, as a rookie with Los Angeles Lakers, he was named Most Valuable Player when as the Lakers won the NBA Championship. The Lakers won another four championships during Johnson’s career, and he earned an Olympic gold medal in 1992 as part of the American “Dream Team.” He is, however, the rare athlete who’s life after sports has been as impressive as his feats on the court.

The Distinguished Lecture Series is supported by student activity fees, the Associated Student Government and the University of Arkansas. Past lecturers have included Benazir Bhutto, Ehud Barak, Robert Redford, Anderson Cooper and Malcolm Gladwell.

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