Magic Johnson jumpstarts celebrity mentor campaign

Common and Magic Johnson (Photo credit: Dave Pence, courtesy of Coca-Cola North America)

Common and Magic Johnson (Photo credit: Dave Pence, courtesy of Coca-Cola North America)

ATLANTA – Basketball legend Magic Johnson is spearheading a nationwide apprenticeship campaign to motivate and develop the careers of young people.

Johnson, alongside hip-hop artist Common and BET boss Debra Lee, have joined forces with Coca-Cola to serve as mentors.

All three celebrities will give youngsters, between the ages of 16 and 21, the opportunity to shadow them and their teams for a week during summer.

In a face-to-face interview with theGrio.com at the Coca-Cola headquarters in midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, the towering former NBA player said he wants to teach teens that “focus, discipline and sacrifice” are all necessary attributes to become successful.

“It’s a chance for young people to be with us, pick our brains and learn the craft,” said Johnson, who has utilized his brand to become one of the most successful African-American entrepreneurs. “I want them to understand the professionalism, versatility and hard work.”

“Young people forget we were once their age,” Johnson added. “We’re still connected to the streets, neighborhoods and communities through the work that we do.”

“We could have turned to the left but we choose the right. We were blessed to have mentors and people who helped pave the way.”

Multi-Grammy-award-winning musician-turned-actor Common also found time to do sit down with theGrio. Looking sleek in a fitted brown leather jacket, he said, “I want them to experience the ups and downs, the hard work and discipline that it takes.”

“I will personally be involved in overseeing the work they do,” said Common. “Beyond music, it’s important for me to reach back and create a legacy bigger than my career.”

What was clear during the interviews it that both men — who are well-known for their community and philanthropic work—are deeply committed and passionate about giving youth the necessary skills to succeed.

Following the sit downs, the two men moved across to company’s auditorium to participate in a Q&A session with 11 Alive’s anchor Karyn Greer. The 500-seater room and overflow area were packed to full capacity, with Coca-Cola staff, bigwigs from the company and invited students from Clark Atlanta University.

In an uplifting and inspirational discussion, Johnson stressed the power of education, focused ambition and self-belief in the journey to the top. “You can grow up poor but you don’t have to have poor dreams,” he said to a cheering audience.

“A lot of us come from tough situations but there is always the opportunity to turn things around, said Common. “It’s about making the right choices.”

Both men paid tribute to their parents for inspiring them to reach their goals and instilling the values of giving something back. Common, the son of an educator, said while he was growing up he watched his mother “give back beyond what was required to her students.”

Now in its second year, the “Coca-Cola Pay it Forward,” scheme will give four apprenticeship experiences in diverse fields from business with Johnson to music & community with Common and media/entertainment with Lee.

“Coca-Cola’s ‘Pay It Forward’ program is a movement to uplift the next generation,” said Lauventria Robinson, vice president, Multicultural Marketing, Coca-Cola North America Group, in a statement.

“It uncaps a world of possibilities for today’s young people by offering once-in-a-lifetime apprenticeship experiences that only Coca-Cola can provide. ‘Pay It Forward’ inspires each of us to take an active role in cultivating and empowering tomorrow’s leaders.”

Anyone can nominate an aspiring young person to the “Pay It Forward” apprenticeship scheme via the My Coke Rewards site through March 2. As part of the concept, Coca-Cola has also partnered with United Negro College Fund, the country’s largest minority education organization, for a text-to-donate program.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti