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Magic Johnson Speaks to Pensacola

Listen to Magic Johnson's speech

NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson spoke to several thousand people Monday afternoon at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium at Community Maritime Park.  Those attending the free event included children, community and business leaders.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
NBA Legend Magic Johnson speaks at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.

Johnson began his address by applauding Art Rocker and the work of his advocacy organization "Operation People for Peace" in addressing the needs of underserved and underrepresented communities and urging individuals to join in the effort. 

For the youth in the audience, Johnson stressed the importance of education. "Everything you want in life, you can have it. But, you got to get it through a good education," Johnson says.  Johnson believes he's living proof of the success that can be had, despite being from a poor family in Lansing, Michigan.

"No matter how poor you grow up, you don't have to have poor dreams," he says.  Johnson says he dreamed of playing in the NBA, and he had an incredible career as he won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.  But, he says he always had thoughts of becoming a businessman, using his money to invest in the same kinds of communities like the one he grew up in.  Johnson partnered with Sony to build Magic Johnson Theaters; opening the first of his chain theaters in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles in 1994. Later, he partnered with the owner of Starbucks to bring the coffee giant to urban America.  

The entrepreneur encouraged young people to find a mentor in the community to idolize, like he did.  Clearly, it has paid off for Johnson, who's extremely proud of how far he's come in the business world. "Who would have ever thought Magic Johnson would own the Dodgers," Johnson proclaimed, adding that he and his partners also recently purchased the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA.


Magic Johnson is coming to Pensacola
The advocacy group Operation People for Peace plans Pensacola event with NBA legend Magic Johnson.

NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson is set to visit Pensacola this Monday afternoon for a public event at Community Maritime Park.

Credit Operation People For Peace
Operation People For Peace

Over the years, Johnson has turned his “Hall of Fame” success on the basketball court into a successful business career, now serving as Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Art Rocker is founder, CEO and Chairman of the advocacy organization ‘Operation People for Peace,’ which is organizing the event. Rocker says Johnson will ‘Speak to the Heart of the Community,’ emphasizing community change and economic development in underserved areas.  

He did it in Chicago, Miami, Watts, etc. And, that’s the excitement we have that he’s gonna be coming here with a message of lifting up and transforming  the community,” says Rocker.

At a similar community event in Alberta, Canada last fall, Johnson talked about his efforts after overcoming early challenges associated with being poor and going on to become the first in his family to go to college and beyond. “One of my biggest dreams was to make it to the NBA. I got drafted  by the (Los Angeles) Lakers. But in doing that, it wasn’t just about a basketball plan, it’s how I’m affecting change in urban America right now by giving back,” Johnson says.

Locally, organizers are expecting about 3,000 people to attend the program and presentation by Magic Johnson.  Rocker and his wife Jessica, who is vice president of ‘Operation People for Peace,’ say they’re particularly excited about this opportunity for young people to see the NBA legend in a different light.

The program will include participation by local high school students, musical entertainment and a skit by skit by N.B. Cook Elementary Students.

Co-sponsors include the University of West Florida, the Escambia County School District, Visit Pensacola, and the cities of Pensacola and Mobile.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.