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Magic Johnson: ‘I want to effect change any way I can’

His $500,000 donation is part of effort to push education, jobs

Call it the rooftop donation.

On Sunday afternoon, NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, speaking on the outdoor penthouse level of an office building a block from the White House, announced a personal pledge of $500,000 as part of a scholarship partnership with South Carolina State University.

Early last week, Johnson released a statement detailing a partnership with South Carolina State with the goal of helping the school raise $2.5 million for scholarships that will bear his name.

On the rooftop, Johnson proclaimed with the donation, “I want to effect change any way I can.”

A part of an assemblage of about 75 South Carolina State officials, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, and South Carolina State alumni roared with approval. Kenny Claxton, chairman of the South Carolina State Foundation, told The Undefeated that Johnson’s donation announcement was totally unexpected.

“I was caught off guard,” Claxton said on the breezy and sun-splashed day in Washington, D.C. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

In March 2015, Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of Magic Johnson Enterprises, visited the university of approximately 2,800 students in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to participate in an invitation-only meet-and-greet before giving a talk as part of South Carolina State’s Executive Speaker Series. The weekly series features experienced entrepreneurs and business professionals from a wide variety of industries who share professional experience and advice with students.

During a news conference held before the rooftop ceremony Sunday, Johnson said he met with Clyburn and South Carolina State alumnus Mike Triplett, an executive with Cigna Corp., about taking steps to improve the college experience for black students.

“At black schools,” Johnson explained, “they don’t get the funding from the state that they need. With these new resources, we can help them continue to operate.”

Triplett, a former business administration and finance major at South Carolina State, announced his own $250,000 donation to the scholarship partnership, posing with an oversized, cardboard check for that amount with Johnson and Clyburn.

Said Claxton, “That means we are $750,000 closer to our goal.”

Johnson and the school’s three-year plan is to reach $2.5 million.

South Carolina State earlier announced that the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Endowed Scholarship Fund is earmarked to help students seeking business degrees.

“What a great day for South Carolina State,” said one university alumnus attending the rooftop festivities.

“Magic is so generous with his time,” offered another.

The Magic Johnson Foundation (MJF) has been magnanimous in assisting minority students with financial support, mentorship and internship opportunities, as it recognizes outstanding achievement, leadership and their community commitment.

His foundation also addresses HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment for those living with the condition. The MJF’s technology component aims to help close the digital divide between underserved urban areas and more advanced communities by increasing access to resources through education and empowerment.

During the news conference, Johnson praised South Carolina State’s academic high points, saying, “Their nuclear engineering program is tremendous.” It is the only undergraduate nuclear engineering program in South Carolina and the only one of the discipline at a historically black college or university.

“I just want young people to come to school,” Johnson explained, “get a great education and find a great job.”

He added, “I’m going to write a personal check myself, which I always do,” then later saved the announcement of his self-designated amount for the rooftop event, which was sponsored by Glenmede, a wealth and investment consulting firm that specializes in college foundations and endowments.

Johnson added he will offer to help other HBCUs in the future. “I’ve sent thousands of dollars to black colleges,” Johnson said. “I’ve donated money to the [United Negro College Fund],” adding that his foundation has aided hundreds, if not thousands, of people of color.

In a display of their appreciation, South Carolina State officials presented Johnson with a stylish, framed photo montage featuring images of the U.S. Capitol building and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial interspersed with pictorials of South Carolina State landmarks, including the clock tower, football stadium and bulldog mascot. The South Carolina State contingent also gave him a special “Magic” coffee mug.

South Carolina State football is historic, producing such generational stars as Donnie Shell, Robert Porcher, John Gilliam and Harry Carson, with Carson being the only player to finish at any South Carolina college and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006).

Reggie Thomas, who works for management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and is a former president of the South Carolina State’s Washington, D.C., alumni chapter, spoke of Johnson’s impact. “He’s been successful in everything he’s done,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “I think all of the other NBA guys learned from Magic. I think people know Magic is a safe bet.”

Johnson, at his news conference, wanted to make one point as clear as a glass of sparkling, fresh water: “It’s not about Magic Johnson; it’s about young people.”

Gregory Clay is an editor, writer and television/podcast commentator focusing on current news events. Based in Washington D.C., he has worked at Newsday and McClatchy and once gave a speech at a convention for the Texas State Bar Association.