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Magic Johnson and HIV: magical moment
Reported by Jules Levin
  Last night I attended an important and "magic" event at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York City's Time Square area. Congressman Ed Towns, from the epicenter of HIV in NYC, the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, spoke at the event. Also James Jones, MD, a practicing community based HIV doctor delivered a talk. And of course Magic Johnson delivered talks to different audiences, a gathering of about 100 HIV/AIDS service providers and an audience of about 1,000 community infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Overall, the events and Magic Johnson delivered important prevention messages. And the attendees got the thrill of a lifetime in seeing the personal side of Magic Johnson and his ordeals with HIV.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a good deal of time talking with Magic, Congressman Towns, and Dr Jones about wide ranging HIV related subjects including prevention, treatment, denial, and issues in the African-American community.
I have always been an avid basketball fan and a Los Angeles Laker fan for many years. As well, I have always been a big fan of Magic Johnson. So for me this was a real thrill. I got an opportunity to talk with Magic personally for quite a while. We exchanged personal stories about having and living with HIV and the work we each do. And I had my picture taken with just Magic and me. Dr Jones and Cong. Towns arrived after me and joined this discussion which turned into quite an interesting talk about the issues facing African-Americans. Magic spoke at length about denial and the need to overcome denial in the African-American community. As well, Cong. Towns and Magic talked about how important it is to involve the faith-based communities in the cause for HIV and African-Americans. There is great stigma still in 2002 regarding HIV in the African-American communities and churches and pastors are not on the whole as involved in these issues as they need to be. I had never met Magic and never had the opportunity to hear him or watch him personally talk about AIDS and HIV. I found him to be very knowledgeable and committed to the cause, particularly regarding the needs for African-Americans. He was very familiar with the issues regarding, prevention, sex, teenagers, and treatment access for the poor. We also talked briefly about his previous involvement on the Bush Presidential AIDS Council years ago. Magic and Cong. Towns talked atalked about some of the difficulties and barriers in delivering the needed funds to address the local problems and neighborhoods.
After this intimate talk myself, Magic, Dr Jones and Cong. Towns had it was time for the events to begin. Each event was about 1 hour. Dr Jones' talk was brief and described the epidemiologic and prevention issues of HIV with particular emphasis on the issues for African-Americans. Cong. Towns talked about some political aspects of accomplishing goals regarding HIV. He talked about his neighborhood, Bedford Stuyvesant, and the high rates for HIV there. He talked about ADAP shortages and his full support and previous support for ADAP and Ryan White. But the reason 1000 people came to this event was to see and hear Magic Johnson, perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, although Michael Jordon fans would disagree. I have had many agruments about this. It's like many blissful childhood arguments I had over who was the greatest outfielder during the 1950's‹Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, or Willie Mays. I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan.
I am pleased to tell you that I was very impressed by Magic's presence and discussion with the audiences. He was at ease, very personable, well informed on the issues, and very engaging with the audiences. I think he inspired many people in the audiences. Much of the time at these events were devoted to question and answer between Magic and the audience. He took great care in his interaction with the community audiences. He was careful in answering questions and it appeared to me he was determined to share himself genuinely with the audience and to answer their questions as well as possible. He was very aware of his affect on the individuals who attended and he wanted to be clear and deliver important messages, which he did.
He talked about his personal experience with HIV. He related how he first found out he had HIV. He was called back from a road trip in Utah and told by the team doctor of the Lakers that he had HIV. He said he was devastated. And then he had to tell his wife. He said the drive home to tell his wife was very long. And of course she also was very hard hit by this. He was very concerned about being around for the long term for his wife and children. He said he wants to give himself every opportunity that he will be around for his wife and children.
He took great care in explaining that he is in many ways just like all of us with HIV. Yes, he is very wealthy, but he explained how he has to be just as adherent as us, has to take the same regimens as us, and no he does not have access to any other HIV drugs than all of us. I think some audience members may have said to themselves their housing and daily living issues are a little more difficult. He talked about his personal daily schedule: workouts of running 3 miles and lifting weights I think he aid 5 days a week and then heading into his office. He talked about how he has to be a father, patient with HIV, businessman, and father. Very importantly, Michelle Lopez, a community activist in NYC, asked him during the extensive question and answer period to address the misconception people have that Magic was "cured". He carefully explained that he is not cured, that HIV is not curable today, and that probably he would be on medication for HIV for the rest of his life.
He talked about his wife and children. Me made it clear that he was not sure how long he would live but he felt that he could beat HIV and live a long and productive life. He wanted to do this for his wife and children. He wants to see his children as he put it "do their thing", grow up and live life. The questions from the audience were very good and clearly this was a real thrill for the individuals who attended, as many of them said this when they went to the microphones to ask their questions. Many service providers said their clients and patients discuss Magic on a daily basis. Clearly Magic Johnson is a strong role model in the African-American community. He also talked about his departure from the NBA. After his positive test he returned to playing and one night in Charlotte he got a cut and the game was stopped, their was a great hush in the entire arena. Clearly the other NBA players were scared of getting exposed to HIV. Magic said he did not want to harm the game of basketball that he helped make great, so he quit. He also graciously explained how this was a while ago and it was understandable how other players might not be as educated as people are today. He said "I was not well informed about this back then either". He explained how players and friends shunned him back then. Players he had just played with in the Olympics did not want to play with him after learning he had HIV and some friends were not as anxious to hug him as they used to. He also talked at length about the need for prevention and the various prevention issues. Earlier in the day he spoke at a High School in Brooklyn.
He was inspirational and his presence and talk were heart warming for me and the audiences. And I am sure he had a positive impact on the individuals in the audience. He emphasized how we are all in this work together and he urged people to continue their work.
The events were sponsored by GalxoSmithKline and will be repeated in a number of cities throughout the USA in the upcoming year.
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