Cookie Johnson advises to “keep chugging up that hill” to overcome adversity and keep the faith

Aug 15, 2019

When Cookie Johnson’s husband, NBA great Magic Johnson, revealed his HIV status in 1991, she turned her initial fears into a newfound mission. More than two decades later, she continues to inspire as an example of faith and perseverance.

Earletha “Cookie” Johnson isn’t the kind to crumble. Not on your life. During the many challenges she’s faced in her life, she’s drawn on her deep sense of faith and self-worth to emerge stronger, wiser, wittier, and more determined to be a force for good. 

An author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and advocate for women and children, she was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and grew up in Detroit. She earned a bachelor's degree at MSU in 1981, specializing in clothing and textiles.    

You may have seen her on “The View” or on the pages of such magazines as The Oprah Magazine, Ebony, and Woman’s Day. If you’re a Spartan, you know her as Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s wife. But make no mistake. She’s her own woman and has always been a steadying force in their relationship.

In 2016, Johnson released Believing in Magic: My Story of Love, Overcoming Adversity, and Keeping the Faith.

“My friends kept saying, you need to write a book,” Johnson tells Spartan editor Paula Davenport. “People see and admire your life and say it has affected them. If I write a book, then it could probably have a good impact on others who have gone through something traumatic or just women who are trying to make the right decision about their marriage or other aspects of their lives. I decided that I would take the chance and write this book because it was about more than just me.

“It was about affecting a lot of other women and families because we went through a lot, and I've gone through a lot in my life. You talk about the relationship part, on and off, and then finally getting married, and then boom, getting hit with HIV the minute we got married and trying to make it through that. And then, having children. And then you have a child that is LGBTQ, and it's an adjustment. It's all adjusting, adjusting, adjusting.”

Cookie says she originally tried to talk Magic out of going public with his HIV diagnosis.

“But he looked at me in the eyes and he said, ‘You know what? I have to do this because I need to go out and save as many lives as possible. People need to understand that this disease can reach anyone.’ Of course, at that time people thought it was only a gay disease, and it really wasn't. But you didn't hear a lot about other people getting it. That's why it was so important that he made that announcement.

“When he did that, after that day, it hit me that my purpose was to be here by his side and to help him and keep him healthy to help him to achieve his purpose. And now, I feel that my purpose is to continue to tell my story to inspire other women.”

Johnson discusses the challenges of raising a family in Hollywood and of being recognized almost everywhere she goes.

“We just embrace it. When people come up, we just say hello. If we have time to talk to them, we talk. If not, it's a nice ‘Hello, but I'm sorry I've got to go.’ Most people are very respectful when you do that. It warms my heart to see that people still love Earvin after all these years.

“Everywhere we go in this world, they just love him. That makes me feel so good. So, the attention doesn't bother me because we know how to maneuver through it. You just keep moving, and you say hello and you take a quick selfie. It's funny, the selfies kind of help because you just bend over and do a little selfie and keep it moving. You never stop moving. That's Earvin’s policy. He never stops moving, he just keeps going. You want a picture, you've got to run fast with him and take a picture with him walking.”

Johnson talks about the impact MSU has had on her and says “my whole thing is when trouble comes around or something that disrupts your norm, don't be so quick to throw it away. Try to figure it out, try to work it out, try to face it head on and figure out if there is a way to work through this before just throwing it away. And also, don't let it scare you and knock you down. And if it does, because there are things that knock you down, pick yourself back up. There is a future for you. Just believe in yourself and believe that there is a future for you.

“So, pick yourself back up and figure out how to maneuver through that one step at a time.

“That's what I always tell people. A lot of people think that If you can't accomplish something all at once or get over or through something all at once, then it's not worth doing. ‘I'm just going to shrivel up and die.’ Don't do that. Pick yourself up. Push one step at a time. That little engine that could just chugged up that hill a little bit at a time, chug, chug, chug, until they got to the top of the hill.

“I truly believe that if you have that type of tenacity to keep pushing through, you will get to the top of that hill. Don't give up.”

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