Magic Johnson Hosts HIV/AIDS Awareness Panel in Jacksonville


Three decades ago, Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced to the world that he had contracted HIV.

There was then a lot of uncertainty and misinformation around the virus.

“I learned of my diagnosis over three decades ago, and the world was in a completely different space,” Johnson said. “Now, through research and innovation, we can fight this virus and disease and the stigma associated with it.”

Johnson and a panel of HIV/AIDS health experts held a discussion on the condition of the black community Monday at the Jacksonville River City Downtown Hotel. The event was facilitated by Clear Health Alliance, a Medicaid HIV/AIDS specialty plan.

The conversation coincided with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. In Florida, health department data shows that more than 117,000 people are living with HIV.

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Johnson served as emcee for the event, sharing personal stories with guests and asking questions of speakers.

Johnson walked through the crowd while orchestrating the conversation, which ranged from what healthcare providers can do to support patients to how patients can get the best care.

Panelist Daniel Downer, executive director of The Bros in Convo Initiative, described himself as a black, queer man who was “thriving with HIV, not living with it.” He suggested an app be created to reach young people with the virus and gave insight into his personal experiences.

The conversation also focused on self-care and overall health

But the conversation wasn’t just about HIV/AIDS, as each speaker focused on taking better care of your overall health.

Johnson said that in black and brown communities, health issues were just one of the things a person could face. He referenced the communities served by his organization where people couldn’t buy groceries or struggled to keep their jobs.

This has led to more healthcare providers having to do a better job of getting to know their patients.

Holly Prince, president of Clear Health’s parent company, Simply Healthcare Plans, said healthcare professionals should be doing a better job of “caring for the whole person”. She noted that when you go for a check-up, doctors should take this opportunity to make sure you are doing well overall.

As the discussion drew to a close, Johnson took photos and signed autographs for those in attendance, but he had one lasting message: This is just the tip of the iceberg for what he hopes Clear Health can do.

“If we’re not on the court, we’re not going to make a change,” Johnson said after the event. “You are making changes by being on the ground with these people who live in different cities here in the state of Florida. We share information…it’s really good, and it’s just the beginning. We will do more of that.

The panel consisted of Johnson, Downer, Prince, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, Donna Sabatino, Registered Nurse and AIDS Relief Initiative Director Donna Sabatino, and Ne’Tosha Dopson-Woodall, a medical assistant who has treated AIDS/HIV patients for over 20 years.

Juston Lewis is a sports reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustonLewis_.

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