"Magic" Johnson Captivates Audience at Scholarship Dinner
Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (Jan. 24, 2008) – Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr., professional basketball legend, entrepreneur and philanthropist, provided a sellout crowd with an evening to remember as the keynote speaker at the University of Central Missouri’s annual Freedom Scholarship Dinner Monday evening, Jan. 22. The dinner was the highlight of the university’s 2008 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
More Than $71,000 Raised for Scholarships
By evening’s end, a total of $71,752 had been received and pledged for scholarships. More than 400 guests filled the university’s Elliott Union ballroom, with more than $35,000 raised through individual and corporate sponsorships for the opportunity to attend the dinner. In addition, Johnson pledged a $10,000 gift from Magic Johnson Enterprises, which was matched by the Sprint Foundation. Johnson also surprised the audience by auctioning his personal courtside seat to a Los Angeles Lakers game, along with four additional seats and an autographed jersey. A silent auction conducted during a predinner reception for Johnson and pledges received during the dinner rounded out the total.
The highlight of the event was the presentation by UCM President Aaron Podolefsky and Johnson of Freedom Scholarships totaling $15,000 to six high school students from the Kansas City metropolitan area and Johnson County, Mo. and three scholarships to currently enrolled UCM students. Also presented was the Janice L. Perkins Scholarship, presented by the Xi Tau Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Dr. King's Legacy
During a lively speech, Johnson reminded those present of the opportunities that resulted from King’s struggle for equality, including his own career in the NBA.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Dr. King,” Johnson said, reminding his audience of the days of segregated sports. “And we wouldn’t be here tonight, this group of people from all walks of life, if it weren’t for his sacrifice.”
Johnson also spoke about King’s belief in the importance of education in social change.
“Dr. King marched for opportunities for education, so everyone would able to obtain goods jobs in corporate American, working with a diverse group of productive citizens,” he said. He added that education brings growth to communities in the form of investment in urban communities.
“The minority communities in America must grow as part of the American economy,” he said. “Black owned businesses are important to that growth.” In order to provide those opportunities for success, Johnson said more scholarships need to be funded to provide opportunities “for students who have the grades, but don’t have the financial resources that some of us have had. They want to work and succeed, and we should continue to bet on their successes with scholarships.”
A Bright Future for Many Students
“Mr. Johnson’s contributions to the success and growth of our annual scholarship program are immeasurable,” said Jesus “Sonny” Castro, UCM’s chief diversity officer and chair of UCM’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Planning Committee. “Due to his generosity and enthusiasm, those in attendance tonight and sponsors and patrons throughout the community have joined together to make it possible to provide a strong foundation for the future of the Freedom Scholarship program. The winners will be the future scholarship recipients who will reap the lifelong benefits of a college education.”
Johnson’s presentation was made possible through sponsorship by Sodexho Campus Dining, the food services provider for UCM.