Magic Johnson returns to Lansing to talk politics, economy
Earvin “Magic” Johnson speaks Wednesday evening at Pattengill Middle School, 626 Marshall St., in Lansing.
MSU basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson paid a visit to his hometown of Lansing on Wednesday, but instead of kicking back and relaxing, Johnson was all about business.
Johnson appeared at Pattengill Middle School, 626 Marshall St., in Lansing, to host a town hall meeting on urban policy as a spokesman for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Johnson and five other panel members, including a local clergy member, a community organizer, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine, endorsed Obama’s plan for urban renewal and offered individual perspectives on Lansing’s current decline.
“When I grew up here, Lansing was booming,” Johnson said.
“Now, my heart is broken for the city.”
While the other panel members sat behind the table, Johnson placed his chair off to the side. The 6-foot-9 former point guard’s legs were too long to fit underneath the table.
Johnson is best known at MSU for leading the Spartans to the 1979 national championship before going on to win five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Since retiring from basketball, he has gained notoriety as a successful businessman.
What began as a discussion of urban renewal turned to another topic: The economy, and how Obama’s plan will spur economic activity in urban areas such as Lansing.
Bernero said the economic downturn in Lansing and across the state is not a result of a lack of jobs, but a lack of qualified workers.
“There are jobs available in Lansing, but we have a skills gap,” Bernero said.
Bernero also said a lack of government funding for upkeep of infrastructure such as roads makes it difficult for urban areas to attract businesses.
Johnson said Obama’s plan to retrain manufacturing workers for high-tech and green jobs would offer cities such as Lansing a chance to rebound from recession.
“If we don’t do that, even if new businesses come into Michigan, they’re going to be sitting there with no employees because people don’t know how to do their jobs,” he said.
Although many of the audience members attended the event just to catch a glimpse of their hometown hero, junior Clint Richmond said he was there to show support for Obama.
“I’m a Spartan, but I’d rather be here for Obama,” he said.
“If (Johnson) wasn’t here, I’d still be here.”
Still, Richmond couldn’t resist bringing his old Magic Johnson trading cards in hopes of snagging an autograph.