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Magic Johnson promotes ‘A Gary Promise’

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilsintroduces EarvMagic Johnsduring press conference held Genesis Center Gary April 28 2014. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson introduces Earvin Magic Johnson during a press conference held at the Genesis Center in Gary on April 28, 2014. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 30, 2014 6:06AM



GARY — As Earvin “Magic” Johnson squeezed his way into a packed conference room at the Genesis Convention Center, it became clear the media was here for a reason other than A Gary Promise.

The Basketball Hall of Famer who starred for the Los Angeles Lakers was in town to headline a dinner to raise scholarship funds for Gary students.

But on Friday, a recording was released that allegedly has Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks — creating a firestorm of controversy and extensive news coverage over the weekend.

That meant the bulk of Monday’s news conference concerned Johnson’s reaction to the comments and how he thinks the NBA should respond.

Prior to Monday, Johnson had condemned Sterling’s remarks — which included Serling asking his girlfriend not to take pictures with blacks or bring them to games — and advocated for the NBA to force him to sell the team.

“There’s no room in society or in sports (for such comments), so it’s a sad day for all owners,” said Johnson, who owns part of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As for A Gary Promise, the program will award scholarships to students who fulfill Indiana Core 50 academic requirements with a minimum grade-point average of 2.5. It will also offer mentoring and enrichment programs, student leadership training and career awareness projects at all grade levels. One of the goals is to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate.

Johnson said Gary Community Schools Supt. Cheryl Pruitt was determined to get him involved in Gary’s educational future.

“I thought Michael Jordan was tough when it came to pressure,” he said.

Johnson’s company, SodexoMAGIC, received the food service contract for Gary public schools last year, and the contract included an appearance from Johnson at a fundraiser.

He raised $100,000 Monday for A Gary Promise by auctioning off six sets of Lakers floor seats, plus Johnson himself donated $28,000 and SodexoMAGIC donated $22,000.

Johnson emphasized the importance of education in his life, and he credited his parents.

“I was so lucky that they stressed education,” he said. “My dad worked at GM, and my mother worked in the school cafeteria. They made sure that I was doing well in the classroom before I stepped on the basketball court.”

He credited teachers for helping him improve his reading skills when he was reading at a fourth-grade level in seventh grade and encouraging him to take college prep classes in high school.

“It’s about applying yourself and then, us as parents and the community, providing hope and love for these young people,” Johnson said. “That teacher showed that she cared about me.”

Johnson has been active in educational initiatives across the U.S. for more than 15 years through his foundation and partnerships with Edison Learning. He’s launched Community Empowerment Centers, Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies and dropout prevention programs.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the city is in discussions with Johnson about possible investment in Gary as well, and he’s set to tour the city soon. Johnson’s companies have invested in inner-city areas in New York City and Los Angeles, bringing in restaurants and entertainment options.

“It’s not a one-hit wonder but sustainable development,” the mayor said. “That’s what makes me very excited.”



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