By Delinda Lombardo on
NBA Legend, entrepreneur and philanthropist Earvin "Magic" Johnson received the 3rd annual USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award presented by USA TODAY President and Publisher Craig A. Moon. A long-time humanitarian and social advocate, Johnson was honored for his work in entertainment, underserved communities and the founding of the Magic Johnson Foundation.
“He’s the perfect Hollywood Hero,” said USA TODAY president and publisher Craig Moon, “the award is about someone who gives more than just their name or money. Magic is a man who gives his time.”
The caliber of celebrities who came out to honor Magic Johnson for his outstanding work in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention in minority communities was nothing short of spectacular. Guests including Chaka Khan, Samuel L. Jackson, Regina King, Russell Simmons and others, offered their words of praise to Magic Johnson, and by the end of the night there was barely a dry eye in the house.
“I want to thank you for loving mankind, " said Chaka Kahn during her speech.
“He showed me that you can live and be vital and change from one thing to another,” said Samuel L Jackson, “And that affects us and a lot of other people.”
“Thank you very much for asking me to be here, that in itself is an honor,” said Regina King, who spoke openly about her adoration of Magic and his wife Cookie. “Every time I see [Cookie] she has something incredible to say and represents us women so well.” She said, “You remind us that we can’t back off. As you are nurturing your souls, and fortifying your character, it’s about you inspiring us to be better, to want to be better, and I thank you so much for being you, I appreciate you.”
Founder of Def Jam records, Russell Simmons gave a heartfelt speech which highlighted Magic’s courage, “Its important to acknowledge the courage, to remind people to be courageous,” said Simmons, “The inspiration and knowledge you give goes way beyond what people see. You are truly an inspirational image in this country and the world.”
Magic’s wife Cookie explained her feelings about when Magic was ready to announce that he was HIV-positive, “I was absolutely against it,” she said. “At that time, HIV was a huge stigma. … But he said, ‘I have to do this because it’s the only way I can help save lives.’ He risked his own reputation, and that’s what makes him my hero.”
Words such as courage, inspiration, love, admiration, respect, thank-you, and perseverance were prevalent in all speeches.
And when Magic hugged each guest speaker after his or her words, he was quick to share his thoughts on what motives him, “My kids hug me, and that’s the only congratulations you want.”
Chanté Moore and her nine-piece band, including Kenny Lattimore, performed at the gala, which was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Other guests included: LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Paul Sorvino, Mo’Nique, Phil Jackson (LA Lakers Coach), Jeanie Buss (LA Lakers Exec), Kurt Rambis, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Susan DeLaurentis (Producer), Miguel A. Nunez (Kickin’ It Old School), William Abadie (Cashmere Mafia), Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes), Steven Sawalich (Director), Telma Hopkins (Love Guru), Judge Joe Brown, and the recipient of the first USA Hollywood Hero Award, Zina Bethune.
The USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award is presented annually to an entertainment industry humanitarian who has made remarkable contributions of time and energies with a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the quality of life for others. The USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award recipient is unique in that his or her efforts extend far beyond a charitable contribution or simply lending one’s celebrity to enhance a cause or concern.
The Magic Johnson Foundation, founded by Earvin “Magic” Johnson in 1991, works to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities. Over the past few years, the Magic Johnson Foundation has awarded more than $1.1 million to community-based organizations that focus on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, supported more than 800 minority high school students with college scholarships (through the Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program), opened 20 Magic Johnson Community Empowerment Centers located in underserved communities across the country, and provided a range of community-based initiatives including an annual Children’s Mardi Gras and holiday toy drive.
(Photos copyright Alberto Rodriguez)
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