A few nights ago, hundreds of New Yorkers filled the pews of BrownMemorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn. They came to hear basketballlegend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and other community leaders talk aboutHIV in the black community. The evening, sponsored by AbbottLaboratories, was part of a nationwide campaign called "I Stand By Magic: Campaign to End Black AIDS."The grassroots campaign aims to reduce the rate of new HIV infectionsin the African-American community by 50 percent over five years(Brooklyn’s HIV-positive population is believed to be about the same asthe combined caseload of 45 states). Front man Magic tours the country,talking to groups like the one filling the church, encouraging them toget tested, to protect themselves and, if they are already HIVpositive, to get care and treatment and to stick with it.

Whilethe crowd awaited the arrival of the NBA star, a range of speakersriveted the audience with personal stories of how their lives have beentouched directly or indirectly by HIV.

Shadé Ogunleye, MissBlack New York, came to the podium wearing her sparkling crown andrecounted a list of questions posed to her by the New York Citystudents she’s met on school visits: Is there a cure for AIDS? How do Iknow if my boyfriend has HIV? How can I get tested without my parentsknowing? “These [questions] are the results of abstinence-onlyeducation,” she told the crowd.

“Just one short year ago,”Ogunleye went on, “I believed that AIDS only happened to gay men, [IV]drug users or African children. I never thought about it in terms of myfamily, my friends or myself. But after meeting my [college] roommate,who lost her parents to AIDS, I realized that it can happen to anyone.”

Otherspeakers included Shirlene Cooper, deputy director of the New York AIDSHousing Network, and Dierdre Wallace-Hines, advocacy relations managerat Abbott. They discussed the problems of accessing quality HIV careand the stigma surrounding AIDS, as well as the importance of safer sexand getting tested. Many in the audience scribbled down notes andsnapped photos with their cell phones. “Just being here is a huge firststep—even if you are here to see Mr. Johnson,” Helena Kwakwa, MD, toldthem. “Learn one, do one, teach one. Take the information you learnhere today and teach someone in your life about it.”

Then, Magicentered the church. The audience leapt to its feet, applauding wildlyas he offered his famous smile—greeting people warmly and patientlyposing for cameras. Rather than speaking from the podium like the otherspeakers, he walked through the aisles of the church speaking directlyto the people he passed and making a special point of addressing peopleliving with HIV.

Magic urged positive people to take care ofthemselves, physically and emotionally. “Do your part; take yourmedicine and have the attitude ‘I am going to be here for a long time,’” he said. He also urged them not to pay any mind to what other peoplethink about them and their HIV status. “If they don’t want to love, hugor high-five you, so what? Get you another friend! Because if you aregood with the man upstairs, then that is all that matters.”

Hedebunked the myths that he had been cured or was on special treatment,saying he’d had access to the same drugs as his audience andemphasizing how his attitude, and the support of his wife Cookie,helped him stay well. He told the story of how—nearly three years afterhis diagnosis—he was lying around moping on the couch. “Cookie told meto get out,” he said. “I asked, ‘Get out the room? Or get out thehouse?’ and Cookie said ‘Get out of the house and don’t come back untilyou’re ready to be the man I married.’ ”

Magic concluded histalk by answering some questions before heading out to another meetingin Brooklyn, with students at Medgar Evers College. (At the college, hewas met by a group of HIV activists—angry about the high prices ofAbbott meds in Thailand—who asked him to try to influence thepharmaceutical company into reconsidering its position on globalpricing. Magic said he would “talk to them.”)

At the church, theaudience filed out to the accompaniment of church hymns sung by theHousing Works Gospel choir. Outside on the sidewalk they encountered aline of volunteers from Street Wise, a program of Planned Parenthood ofNew York, who offered complimentary condoms and free rapid HIV testingand counseling conducted in a white van at the corner. “Get tested!”one of the volunteers yelled. “Know your status today.”