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Cookie fights HIV/AIDS with magic

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by Shauntel Lowe
Oakland Tribune

People cheered when she said she grew up in Detroit. People laughed when she asked if anyone knew her real name.

And people applauded when “Cookie” Johnson described her response when her husband, former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, told her just months after their wedding in September 1991 that he was HIV positive.

“I told him I was going to stand by him and we were going to fight this thing together,” she said.

As part of “I Stand With Magic,” the Johnsons’ program aimed to reduce the spread of HIV among African-Americans, Johnson spoke at a town hall meeting at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts on Tuesday along with an area physician and HIV/AIDS patients.

The meeting followed a session of free, rapid HIV screenings, provided by the California Prevention and Education Project.

The event was a collaboration with Abbott Laboratories, a health care company that has been doing HIV research for more than 20 years.

Johnson, who later claimed she is “shy,” spoke for about 20 minutes before a question-and-answer session.

She said Magic told her he had HIV two weeks after she found out she was pregnant with their son, who recently turned 16.

A few weeks after he told her and she slapped him — a “love tap,” she said — Johnson said Magic told her he wanted to make a public announcement. “I’m ready to be in this fight with you, but I’m not ready to share it with the world,” she recalled  telling her husband.

But since then, the Johnsons have canvassed the world, educating people about HIV/AIDS and fundraising for research.

Johnson said she felt she needed to reach out to black women after hearing they are diagnosed with AIDS more often than white women.

“Maybe they’ll wake up and listen to me,” she remembered thinking.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are diagnosed with AIDS nearly 23 times as often as white women.

African-Amercians account for 50 percent of AIDS diagnoses in the United States.

Dr. Robert Scott of Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation cautioned all sexually active people against feeling immune to HIV/AIDS.

“Some people look great, they feel fine, but the foundation of their body is being eroded,” he said.

He added that even people in serious relationships should be careful.

Johnson said people should get educated about HIV/AIDS and get tested. She said churches should not cast as sinners those with HIV.

“The church needs to really get on board with doing some real forgiveness,” she said.

Johnson said she was relieved to find out she did not have HIV a few weeks after her husband broke the news.

Now, she is trying to prevent other women from contracting the virus.

“It can happen to anyone at anytime if you’re not protecting yourself,” she said.


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