Commentary: Magic Johnson Puts His Name Behind Urban Education

Retired NBA star opens urban academies to do what public education hasn’t done: educate Black youth.

Posted: 09/25/2013 12:03 PM EDT

His isn’t the typical investment you hear a Black entrepreneur making. Yet what has ever been typical of Magic Johnson?

Few people of color have cashed in their athletic ability for a corporate suit the way Magic has. And those who have haven’t had as much success at it as Magic has.

At 54, he’s given himself financial room to take big risks.

And so many people might say Magic is taking the biggest financial risk of his post-NBA career. He’s doing something that few rich people, Black or white, dare to do: He’s pouring his millions into the educational growth of his people. He’s putting his dollars behind his people.

In Chicago the other day, Magic opened his 17th Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy. His urban academies are now in six states; his plans call for the academies to grow to 40 by year’s end.

Who knows what the numbers will grow to from there?

For a movement, which is what Bridgescape is becoming, builds momentum those movements that are founded on strong beliefs and deep pockets do anyway. Bridgescape has both, and it has a man who can see its mission to completion.

To be frank, urban education needed someone like Magic Johnson. It needed someone who didn’t look at Black students as if they were throwaway bottles, someone who saw redeeming value in each of their eager faces.

Too many urban educators didn’t. They would rather talk about what Black students aren’t than what they can or should be. You know the idiotic, often racist rhetoric:

Black kids are lazy.

Black kids are rebellious.

Black kids are dumb as pound cake.

Black kids get no parental support to help teachers.

These have become the labels, the slogans that mostly white school boards in Cleveland, Chicago and Cincinnati and educational consultants, that are quick to slap on Black students. Such labels have spread like cancers, running deep into the marrow of every Black boy and girl whose lives have been shaped by abject poverty and public indifference.

Perhaps we’re praising too soon Magic’s Bridgescape academies, which rapper Common has attached his reputation to as well. For how can any of us know for certain they will produce better outcomes than, well, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Detroit Public Schools do?

We don’t know, but we do know Magic and his team intend to dress urban education up in a contemporary outfit. They’re hiring teachers who aren’t merely punching time clocks teachers who see Black boys and girls as bright minds that are waiting for someone to shape them, teachers who can mentor these youth and not discard them.

At least those youth know that someone is putting his faith and his millions in them. They know that a man with as public a profile as any athlete in America is standing up for them, trying to dispel myths about being Black in an urban school district.

In Magic Johnson, Black boys and girls have found a voice to speak on their behalf a voice that people can’t simply ignore. They can’t ignore that voice for one reason: Magic Johnson won’t let them.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Dana Nalbandian/Getty Images for Free The Children)

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