Johnson urges Bridgescape students to make their mark

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 10:24 PM

Still operating like a point guard, Earvin “Magic” Johnson called a play for himself Tuesday at the Bull City school that bears his name.

Time was running out during his classroom visit at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy, housed at Holton Career and Resource Center in North-East Central Durham. The former Los Angeles Lakers basketball wizard was due to address an audience waiting for him in the school’s auditorium.

“I know we’re short on time, but I’m going to make this happen anyway,” Johnson said. 

He posted up in the middle of the classroom and told students to get their cellphones ready so they could take pictures with him. 

The move was a slam dunk.

Bridgescape is an alternative school. But it’s not one of those places for bad kids.

Bridgescape students want to be there. They have to apply to get in.

Antonia McPherson, 18, a Bridgescape senior, said there was too much fighting at Riverside High School when she was there. She chose to earn her high school diploma at Bridgescape. 

Yes, Bridgescape is for high school dropouts. But it’s also for students like Dairon Ebron, who said health challenges made Bridgescape a good landing spot for him.

“The decision to return to school is not always easy, and it’s not always simple for our kids,” said Kesha Futrell, Bridgescape program director. “Our students face challenges in their lives that make school a difficult priority — not because they don’t realize it is a priority, but because they have so many challenges, and life happens to them a lot of times, and sometimes it just happens way too much.”

Johnson has parlayed a Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame career into a role as a serious player in the business world. He is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and told Bridgescape students about the 125 Starbucks franchises he owns.

Ebron, McPherson and their classmates can make similar power moves, Johnson said. But it’ll take all manner of folks in the Durham community offering internships and jobs to the students, he said.

Johnson said strategic partnerships are critical, such as the relationship announced in the Holton auditorium.

CNK Digital and One World Literacy Foundation will provide additional access to technology and scholarship opportunities for Bridgescape students.

International education-service provider EdisonLearning and Magic Johnson Enterprises have established themselves in the trenches with Durham Public Schools, those entities combining to use individualized goal-setting and an online curriculum to educate Bridgescape students.

This is not about coddling students but meeting young people where they are, said Jim Key, the DPS area superintendent for high schools.

Young people make mistakes, and every adult in the auditorium used to be a young person, Key said.

“Sometimes they just need extra time, or sometimes they need a different learning environment,” Key said.

A high school diploma does not guarantee a great future, but lacking one closes a bunch of doors, Key said.

Johnson said a college degree shouldn’t necessarily be the end game with education.

But Johnson insisted that it is imperative for Bridgescape students who don’t go to college to learn a trade.

Ebron said his health wasn’t the best when he attended school in Greenville. He said he was sick a lot, but his teachers viewed him as skipping school.

“When you look at yourself in that mirror, I want you to see me, too,” Johnson said. “Same problems. Same issues. But the difference is I believed in myself, and I took advantage of my opportunity, and that’s what you’ve got here.”

Johnson said he was reading on a fifth-grade level when he was in seventh grade. He said a teacher and a counselor at his school helped him catch up, and he ultimately was into Michigan State University.

“I grew up poorer than poor,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there sometimes was peanut butter in his childhood home in Michigan but no jelly; sometimes sugar and water but no Kool-Aid mix.

But Johnson said that while he grew up poor, his dreams were rich.

“Everybody forgets I’m from the ‘hood,” Johnson said. “I’m from the neighborhood. I grew up like this.

“The reason I said that is I want to you know I had problems, too. But I said, ‘OK, I’m going to meet them head-on.’ I had setbacks just like you. But I met them head-on.”

Right on, McPherson said.

“Magic is a successful man, but at the end of the day he’s human just like us, and he bleeds just like we bleed,” McPherson said. “I give him his gratitude on that because coming from nothing and making it to something is a lot, and that’s how I feel when it comes to my situations.”