Last Sunday was World AIDS Day and who better to speak on the importance of educating oneself on the topic than Magic Johnson.
The NBA Hall of Fame legend was diagnosed as HIV-positive in November 1991 and seems to have never skipped a beat in getting on with his life and living it ever since. Johnson paid a recent visit to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York a few days before WAD to discuss the virus that exacts a disproportionate toll in minority neighborhoods.
“You gotta educate yourself,” Johnson told the Daily News after speaking on a Harlem panel in advance of Sunday’s World AIDS Day. “Don’t be afraid to get tested.
“We go to get tested, and then we gotta go back for the results; that’s very important,” said Johnson, 54. “Because a lot of times we get tested, but we don’t go back for the results.”
The event’s location was particularly fitting, since the HIV numbers for Harlem remain particularly high.
In Central and East Harlem, the rate of HIV diagnoses and people living with HIV/AIDS is more than twice the citywide figure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One out of every 38 residents in East and Central Harlem is HIV positive, compared to just over 1 out of 100 citywide.
Nationally, blacks account for just 12% of the population but 47% of all new HIV infections. About 250,000 people in the U.S. have HIV and don’t know it.
The former L.A. Lakers great told the audience that his key to living with the disease was getting the answers to his questions right from the start.
“For me, what really helped ease my mind was knowing that I got the right information,” said Johnson, whose NBA career was cut short by his diagnosis.
“If you can find out today, you have so many incredible drugs that they didn’t have 22 years ago when I announced, so those drugs can work miracles and can prolong life.”
Denying that he took any “magical” drugs to keep him alive, Johnson went on to credit his commitment to good health, medicines, and his wife Cookie for living with HIV for more than two decades.
He said that upon revealing his diagnosis about 85% of his friends and family supported him, and the rest “came around” eventually.
Johnson became an instant poster boy for the disease; but still, very few other celebrity figures have stepped up to advocate for the HIV/AIDS community.
Johnson said it’s a personal decision.
“I tell them, look, they have to make a decision based on them. A lot of people are not comfortable, in terms of coming out, because they want to keep it to themselves,” he said of other celebrities who have the disease but have remained silent. “They have to be able to handle what comes with coming out with it.”
To people with HIV or AIDS, Johnson delivered a simple message.
“Never give up,” he said. “Look at me. You don’t have to give up. You can still live a great life. You can educate the world, educate young people, you can do so many great things, you can still have a family.
“It doesn’t change just because you have HIV. Don’t give up. Just live.”
- In Honor Of World Aids Day: For Those Who Have Passed (harlemworldmag.com)