photo by Jacqueline Miles
Magic Johnson, the five time NBA Champion, made a triumphant visit to Pensacola’s Maritime Park Blue Wahoos Stadium bringing a message of hope, pride and self-esteem to his fans from Pensacola and neighboring Gulf Coast communities. There was an electrifying energy in the air when the Olympic gold medalist walked out to speak with loud cheers of ”Magic, Magic, Magic, Magic” in the background filling the stadium. Magic strutted across the baseball field’s home plate literally preaching a family values, preventive health, lifetime ambition, and community betterment. He praised the Chairman of People for Peace, Art Rocker, as a partner with the Magic Johnson Foundation, for the great work that he and his organization is doing “in an organic way” to help the poor in the Black and brown communities. Magic seemed right at home with his comfortable demeanor and personal appeal that scored points with parents, and the many youth in attendance.
Art Rocker in an exclusive interview with the Pensacola Voice said, “Magic’s visit to Pensacola was a win-win-win for our community. It was a win for him coming to Pensacola and taking an interest in our area. It was a win with the community response and it was a win with the weather. We are looking forward to great relationship with Magic and his foundation for days to come!” Art Rocker reached out to Magic Johnson through his non-profit organization, People for Peace, and organized the event branded as “Magic Johnson: Speaks to the Heart of the Community“. He obtained major support from local developer and national health consultant, Quint Studer, as Honorary Chair, the Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson as Co-Chairs, in addition to Escambia County Chairman Lumon May along with the Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas as Co-Chairs.
During one of the several media interviews held prior to Magic speaking, he complimented Art Rocker for his organization’s work in the community calling the collaboration “the things that are really important to minorities who live in inner-cities are what Art is doing and what my Magic Johnson Foundation is all about as well so this was natural partnership between the two of us and we are hoping that other community leaders, community organizations, state and local agencies partner with Art and his organization to help them feed people and do great work.” When asked by a reporter what made Magic want to come to Pensacola he responded that it was beacause of Art Rocker and the great work that his organization is doing. Magic stated that “this man has dedicated his whole life to doing that for many many years so its great to have a local hero here and that I can partner with him and try to get out a word of to making sure we support an organization like this. There was question during the media interviews concerning how his foundation is addressing the digital divide. Magic responded that his foundation has 150 students on scholarship and has started 18 technology centers around the country in housing projects and housing developments which has resulted in 75% of the students grades increasing. On the issue of health care he was asked why he has become involved in the Affordable Health Care Initiative of the Obama Administration. Magic stated that everyone need affordable health care and that is why he decided to do the PSA to get the word out. He said he felt that President Obama is doing a wonderful job of getting help to those who have never had health insurance.
Magic spoke to an estimated 4,000 fans and supporters. The Maritime Park Blue Wahoos Stadium had a virtual who’s who along the Gulf Coast serving as sponsors for the event: Platinum sponsors included Quint and Rishy Studer, City of Pensacola-Mayor Ashton Heyward, Attorney Fred Levin, University of West Florida-Dr. Judy Bense, Escambia County School District-Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, Cumulus Radio Host Linda “Sonshine” Moorer, Bishop State College Dr. James Lowe, and Fox 10 TV News. Gold Sponsors were Visit Pensacola, Inc., VIP Level Sponsors were WRNE Radio-Robert Hill, City of Pensacola Police Department, and Sodexo Corporation as a Fiend of Operation People For Peace. The Escambia County Commission was a visible contributor with Escambia County Commission Chair Lumon May as a Co-Chair for the event, and Commissioner Gene Valentino as a personal financial sponsor. Additionally, during the event, Rocker acknowledged the dedication of the late Escambia County Administrator George Tourart for his work to make the event a success before his passing by welcoming his family accompanied by County Commissioner Wilson Robertson.