Earvin “Magic” Johnson shocked the world on Nov. 7, 1991 with the announcement that he’d contracted the HIV virus and would retire from the NBA. In 1991, AIDS was the second-leading cause of death among men 25-to-44 years old.
Ignorance, homophobia and flat-out fear crippled a true understanding of AIDS, a mysterious malady at the time. Magic, who spoke openly and honestly about his health and how he’d acquired the virus via unprotected sex, changed the conversation about an epidemic generally thought to be a death sentence, if it was thought about at all.
With Magic, it became our disease. Yours. Mine. All were susceptible. Even the NBA superstar with a so-so hook shot and megawatt smile.
In some respects, a recent tragedy could carry similar weight — the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the shooter, George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic. If you’re black like me — father of a son and a daughter, the ordeal inflicts bitterness. For many responsible parents, “I am Trayvon Martin” has become the mantra.
If we allow it, this horrific encounter in a gated complex could fulfill a broader purpose, just as Magic affected the face of HIV and AIDS. If we get real - true to ourselves, each other and the greater good - the troubling aspects of Trayvon’s killing - even though his shooter wasn’t black - provides impetus for a conversation long overdue, albeit racially perilous: Black-on-black crime.
In Atlanta, it’s a crucial conversation to have. Young black men dominate headlines — too often for the wrong reasons. Too many shoot and kill with abandon. We on the Opinion staff of The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionplan to do more on this issue in coming weeks.
Today’s Atlanta Forward page marks the beginning of what we hope evolves into an ongoing, commonsense discussion about crime and race — topics many people generally dance around unless they can post an anonymous, derogatory online comment. We hope you, readers of goodwill, will join us on myajc.com and on the ajc.com Atlanta Forward blog. But be forewarned: We intend to move beyond silliness. Calling the Rev. Al Sharpton a “race pimp.” Trashing “the white man.” Foolishness begone on this sensitive, important topic. Today’s guest writers are just two of the varied opinions we hope to bring you going forward. Bring them on.
The subject of black-on-black crime can cut a broad swath. Fuel infinite conversations. One can’t discuss violence of any stripe and ignore personal responsibility. It’s hard to wax poetically about such responsibility and not critique controversial laws like “stop-n-frisk” and “Stand Your Ground” where they concern blacks. Is black-on-black crime any more abhorrent than white-on-white crime? And why does society gravitate toward “black pathology” as explanation?
So let’s imagine. I do. I think Magic would admit that much work remains in regards to AIDS awareness and education. His former agent, Lon Rosen, once said the Lakers’ legend had wanted to keep the disease atop everybody’s mind.
Your newspaper strives to do likewise. We want to enlighten. And help host a conversation that has potential to save lives of every color.