TAMPA — Earvin "Magic" Johnson grew up idolizing Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. But it wasn't until he became the first of 10 siblings to attend college, playing basketball at Michigan State University, that he found himself equally impressed with corporate owners whose names adorned buildings in East Lansing, Mich.
Johnson visited Tampa on Thursday with a message of academic success and business acclaim geared toward black and Latino young males. As the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Black, Brown College Bound Summit, the five-time NBA champion and entrepreneur said he has the No. 1 brand in urban America and can connect with young people by giving them the blueprint for his success.
"I want these young men to know they can do the same thing," Johnson said. "They need mentors. They have to be serious about their education and their career paths."
The BBCB, which began at Hillsborough Community College as an effort to address the challenges of African American and Latino male students, has since expanded to other campuses and drew representatives from more than 15 colleges and universities to the Marriott Waterside for a four-day event. The series of workshops aimed to set the record straight about the perception of minority males in higher education.
"It's a great time in our nation to be a minority," Johnson said. "The most powerful man in the world sits in the White House."
In addition to referencing the success of President Barack Obama, Johnson also noted that in addition to having sports heroes, young minority men should look up to business leaders as well. He praised the likes of Robert Johnson, who created Black Entertainment Television, and Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express, as examples of minority role models.
This year's BBCB event focused on stereotypes in education facing this group of young men and dispelling them. Panel discussions included talks about identity and culture, trending careers, and social issues such as Florida's stand-your-ground law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict.
Among the many businesses that bear his name, Johnson created the Magic Johnson Bridgescape academies. These schools provide students with another option to complete their education and reach their goals. The program affords students opportunities to earn their high school diplomas at paces suitable to their schedule, lifestyle and learning needs.
Since the closest Magic Johnson Bridgescape is in Georgia, Hillsborough County School District superintendent MaryEllen Elia made sure Johnson knew she represented the eighth largest school district in the nation and was interested in bringing his program to Florida. According to a BBCB press release, Florida is one of the states with a significantly lower high school graduation rate for African American and Latino male students.
"We have looked at it before," Elia said of Bridgescape. "We are trying to do things to identify the best programs for students in alternative schools."
Elia said the public school district is developing a proposal now with hopes of implementing it this August or in 2015.
Johnson, who has an ownership stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as SodexoMAGIC LLC — which provides food for more than 100,000 people including the Minnesota Twins, Allstate Insurance and Delta Airlines, among others — wants today's minority youths to stay on track toward their goals.
"Nobody thought I could go from the basketball court to the boardroom and be successful," Johnson said. "I proved them wrong. For me, I love people to eat their words. I'm not going to be outworked."