In just over 20 minutes, NBA hall of famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson was able to bring in $120,000 for the Gary Community School Corporation.
Johnson delivered the keynote speech Monday night at the Genesis Convention Center on behalf of "A Gary Promise", providing an inspirational message while being the catalyst behind a civic response to boost the school system financially.
“A Gary Promise” provides scholarship opportunities for students that fulfill Indiana Core 40 requirements with a minimum GPA of 2.5. The fund also will support mentoring and enrichment programs, student leadership development training and career awareness projects for all grades.
An initial donation of $25,000 from Johnson himself quickly increased from members of the audience, who bid on seven Los Angeles Lakers tickets (including one floor seat) through four games next season to go along a dinner with the hall-of-famer and ten jerseys.
“We have to do everything we can to ensure that young people become successful,” Johnson said. “We need to reach back and give back to young people.”
NIPSCO, Majestic Star Casino and SMDG were among the companies to bid high on the prize. When the bidding was up, the GCSC had acquired $100,000. But last minute $10,000 donations from former NBA player Sam Mack and Katherine Jackson, the matriarch of the Jackson musical family, had the total up to $120,000 shortly after. Mack was one of several former NBA players in attendance and Jackson made a special trip back to the town “she made famous,” Johnson said.
One of the event's most touching moments occurred when Johnson shared a moment with Jackson, calling her "Mom" a few times.
The auction followed an inspiring message from “Magic,” who shared his personal success story that developed from struggling in reading while growing up in Lansing, Michigan to compiling a remarkable entrepreneurial career that has landed him as an owner of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Sparks in addition to his ownership of Starbucks locations, which served as the catalyst for redevelopment in urban areas.
He shared the story of a teacher who had a particularly positive role on him growing up, giving him the guidance to take reading classes to get himself at grade level and the courage to take a journalism class and join the high school newspaper. He recalled a parking enforcement officer in high school telling him he will “never amount to nothing,” years before he returned to the school after being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Lakers.
“I drove to that same high school, and saw he was still there,” Johnson remembers. “I parked in a no parking zone just to get his attention. When he came over, I told him I thought I wasn’t going to amount to nothing. I wasn’t mean about it, but I remembered it.”
Johnson said he was going through “everything you young people are going through today” during a portion of his message that called all students to stand in the middle aisle alongside him.
“The game hasn’t changed,” Magic added.
Johnson, who also serves as the chairman and founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation that focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programs and community empowerment, e praised the city of Gary and the GCSC.
“It’s important to let people know that Gary Public Schools is O.K.,” he said. “Just because you may be poor doesn’t mean you have to have poor dreams. I was poor, but I didn’t have poor dreams.”
“A Gary Promise,” he says is vital to the community and urged both the public and private sector to come together with the community.
“And Gary is a better city because of it,” he said.
Magic embraced both Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cheryl Pruitt on a night where “creating, empowering and progressing” was the underlying theme.
“Gary should be very proud of both of these incredible women,” he said.
Monday did not mark the NBA legend’s first time in Gary. When former Purdue University star Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson would hold basketball camps, he would participate.
“Gary reminds me of Lansing, Michigan - where I grew up,” Johnson said during a pre-event press conference. “I've been here a number of times and Dr. Pruitt has been on me to come to Gary for awhile.”
“I know Gary. Gary is a great city,” he said later in the night.
Freeman-Wilson thanked Johnson for his partnership, telling him he has “quite a heart for young people.”
Silent auction items, including a Derrick Rose-signed photo, were also purchased with the proceeds benefiting “A Gary Promise,” adding to the total amount Johnson raised through his auction.
“We’re doing it big time for the kids,” he said.