NORTH LAWNDALE — After a glowing introduction from a success-story student at the North Lawndale alternative school he helped start, an emotional Earvin "Magic" Johnson broke down in tears Wednesday and had to compose himself.
"God is so good. He has been so good to me," Johnson repeatedly said after Haman Cross IV's introduction.
"If I did not know Haman I would have never thought he was in high school by the way he carries himself and speaks. Listening to him lets me know more of these schools are needed."
The NBA Hall of Famer visited the North Lawndale campus of Magic Johnson Bridgescape, 3222 W. Roosevelt Road, on Wednesday to promote what he described as "schools designed to help urban youths."
By the end of the year, Johnson said 30 Magic Johnson Bridgescape academies will be up and running throughout the country.
Students who attend Bridgescape split their school day between traditional classes and classes they take online while at school. That school day is then coupled with service work and internship opportunities, according to Carol Washington, a program director for Bridgescape.
Another Chicago campus is set to open Nov. 4 at 10928 S. Halsted St. in Roseland. That location was chosen after Bridgescape unsuccessfully tried to open a campus in South Shore at 7037 S. Stony Island Ave., which is located near a day care and was opposed by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).
Johnson said he did not take the opposition by Hairston personally.
"That's politics. You win some and you lose some. I respect the local alderman's decision not to support our school at that location, but who is really hurt by that?" Johnson said. "The only people hurt when a school cannot open is our kids."
The five-time NBA champion said all of his businesses are located in black and Hispanic communities.
"I have to put my people to work. My purpose for opening these schools are to help youths in black and brown communities who want to learn," Johnson said. "This is not a pilot program, either. Our schools offer hope for youths who may have experienced hard times and need a helping hand to get back in school and back on track."
He said when kids are not in school it contributes to crime, which he said could explain why Chicago has experienced so much youth violence.
"If a kid is not in school, chances are they're gong to turn to violence and end up dead or in prison," said Johnson.
Joining Johnson to show support for building more alternative high schools were Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago-born rapper and actor Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., better known as "Common."
"When I was a shorty, I watched Magic play ball and looked up to him because everything he did I admired," recalled Common. "There are too many youths out here involved in violence, and I share Magic's desire to do something about it."
And Quinn said as a resident of the West Side himself, he knows how important it is for kids to have a second chance in life.
"It means a lot to have someone like Magic Johnson make this important investment in the students of Illinois," Quinn said. "Adults get second chances when they make mistakes in life, and our youths should get a second chance when they mess up in school."