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Magic Moment

THIS MAGIC MOMENT: First-generation college student gets scholarship surprise from NBA great

Darnell Jackson Jr. may be too young to know that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy were basketball players with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s, but the 18-year-old can relate to how those Hall-of-Famers were able to maximize opportunities created by their teammate Magic Johnson, though.

Johnson had an arsenal of passes so dazzling during his playing days, his team became known as the “Showtime Lakers” because of the entertainment value of the their basketball skill. They won five NBA championships in the 1980s. In basketball retirement, Johnson is chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, an investment conglomerate with products and services that focus primarily on ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities.

Johnson was the keynote speaker at an Empowerment Network event in Omaha in June. During his NBA career, he made 9,887 passes that led directly to points for his teammates — sixth most in the history of the league. Johnson was up to his old tricks when he dished out a big assist toJackson: he told the Benson High School graduate he’d be footing the bill for his college education at Metropolitan Community College.

“I was just going there to hear what he had to say,” said Jackson, a wide receiver in high school and a big Kansas City Chiefs fan who hopes to be a college football coach someday. “I’d seen some highlights of him (Johnson) and knew he had five rings.”

Johnson shared a pivotal moment that happened during his freshman year of high school. His teacher pointed out that he was reading at a seventh grade level. Johnson had to go to summer school to catch up.

“I had challenges in my life, but I met them head on. You can do anything you want in life, but it has to be through education,” Johnson said.

Jackson said when he walked into the event, college wasn’t an option he was considering. No one in his family had gone before him, and he didn’t think he could afford it.

“I wasn’t even thinking about it. I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school,” Jackson said. In the moments after Johnson called any high school senior to the stage (Jackson was the only one in the audience) to tell him his college education was covered, he admitted it hadn’t fully sunk in what had just occurred, but he responded appropriately.

“I thanked him for the opportunity, and I told him I won’t let him down,” Jackson said.

Reality set in when he came home.

“It was amazing. My grandfather was there, my dad was there and my little cousins and my little brother. It was perfect, especially for my cousins and little brother to be there because I want to be a role model for them. I’m the first. Now I’m setting an example for the next ones coming up,” Jackson said.

Jackson is following through on his word. He registered and completed a summer class and is enrolled in five classes this fall. He is focusing on his general education credits with introductory courses in business, English composition, college writing, sociology and Black history.

Aside from the content in the curriculum, he’s also absorbing important life lessons since graduating high school, one being that you can’t be in the right place at the right time if you don’t show up. Like the day he had an opportunity to go to the Empowerment Network event or the first days of class during the summer and fall quarters.

“In good academic standing” his transcript reads. To others who might not be thinking about college like he wasn’t just a few months ago, he offers this advice: “You never know until you try. Don’t believe what other people say about it. Go see for yourself,” Jackson said.

MCC is set to award more than $4 million in scholarships in the 2022-23 academic year — its largest amount in recent history. In addition to the unique scholarship Johnson provided to Jackson, MCC offers more than 150 scholarship programs each year. Students who want to apply need only complete a single application. The College will determine eligible funding. Visit mccneb.edu/Scholarships to apply.

For organizations interested in providing scholarship opportunities to MCC students, contact the scholarships office at scholarships@mccneb.edu.