When Magic Johnson, the brightest star of the Lakers, announced in 1991 that he was HIV positive, the virus and the disease it caused-AIDS-were like a death sentence. Back then, many people wanted to picture this disease-and are still trying to do it-as one that only affects the gay population. That is why it was not considered a public health policy priority. Extremists would say it was punishment for homosexual practices. If you were heterosexual, you had nothing to fear, they would say.
Magic Johnson’s courageous declaration that he had contracted the virus by having sexual relations with a woman was the first step in quashing arguments that HIV and AIDS are “gay diseases”. This week marked the 20th anniversary of Johnson’s announcement and his retirement from basketball. During a celebration event this week, he looked like the very image of health. Today, it is possible to live with the disease for decades with the appropriate medications and a healthy lifestyle. Johnson is living proof of this.
His contributions to changing the image of the disease have been enormous. However, Johnson also used his name and wealth to create the Magic Johnson Foundation, which has dedicated millions of dollars to programs and services focused on disseminating information about HIV/AIDS, empowering communities and providing scholarships for youths. The foundation currently helps more than 250,000 people with various services related to health and education. HIV/AIDS still poses a serious problem: 25 million have died, another 20 million are living with the virus and 7,000 people become infected around the world every day. In the United States, there are 50,000 new cases every year, and a majority of these patients are Latinos and African-Americans.
On this date, we celebrate the life of Magic Johnson and his great contribution to our society. He once was a basketball star, but today he is a hero for our communities.