Students and staff at Al Raby High School for the Community and Environment were stunned when former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson made a surprise visit to their school.
"It was a shock to everyone," said Carrie Ohannes, Program Manager for Al Raby. "We had no idea this was going to happen."
About 150 students, most of them school leaders and student athletes, were quickly assembled and treated to a dialogue and photo session with the NBA great.
"I didn't even believe it was really him at first," said Al Raby student Maurice Earskines, who had the privilege of escorting Magic Johnson through the school on what happened to be the high school senior's 18th birthday. ""It was cool to talk to him and find out so much about him."
Magic talked to the students about many things, including his childhood, his dedication to his goals, and how living with HIV has affected his career and personal life. Above all, he stressed the need for students to devote their full attention to getting a quality education.
"He talked to us about what we need to do to succeed in school and in life," said Lanier Courts, a junior who plays three sports for Al Raby. "He made me want to do more school work and do better on the court at the same time."
Magic posed for photos with the students, and before he left, put all of their names into a bag, choosing five lucky winners to accompany him to a Lakers game later this spring.
"He's going to fly us out to L.A. and go to the game with us," said Maurice Earskines, one of the students who was lucky enough to win Magic's raffle. "But he said we have to take school seriously, because it's what comes first."
Located in East Garfield Park, Al Raby serves 524 students in grades 9-12. The school's principal, Femi Worrill-Spearman, was thrilled that her students had the opportunity to meet a celebrity, as she believes his fame gave credence to his message. "He reinforced what we are saying to them every day," she said. "But hearing from a professional athlete that you should take your education seriously really turned on the light bulb for our students, because Magic is someone they look up to."
Spearman, who will accompany those five lucky students to L.A. this spring, was impressed with Magic's ability to connect with the students. "He said, 30 years ago he was just where they are. He didn't know he would be Magic, but he let them know the hard work got him to where he is now."