*When NBA star and business mogul Earvin “Magic” Johnson pulled a magical lever to launch his very own 24-hour cable television network ASPiRE – targeted at African Americans — he became the second ginormous celebrity to launch a network – second to Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. Johnson, who is the new network’s Chairman and CEO, stated that he created ASPiRE to celebrate the African American experience.
ASPiRE launched June 27, 2012 at 8:00PM EST on Comcast and Time Warner Cable in approximately seven million homes and aspires to “shine a light on the positive contributions African Americans have made to American culture.”
“African Americans have choices, and now they have another one,” stated iconic athlete and entrepreneur Johnson, explaining that his goal was to create the next BET and open up opportunities for African American actors, directors and producers.
The new network will broadcast a mixture of enlightening, entertaining and positive programming to African American families with a diverse slate including movies, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and faith-based and inspirational shows – each hosted by an influential African American celebrity.
ASPiRE hopes to inspire millions with its original shows, movies and documentaries featuring a mix of comedies and music as well. A number of well-known shows from the 1960s and 1970s will regularly be rebroadcast on the network, including “The Flip Wilson Show,” “The Bill Cosby Show,” “Soul Train,” “Julia” and “I Spy.”
Lawrence Fishburne, Jonathan Slocumb, Esperanza Spalding and Omari Hardwick will host the five blocks of content to be showcased on the channel providing the “background, cultural relevance and historical significance of each night’s selection,” according to the network.
At a lavish launch party at Cipriani 42nd Street during his warm welcoming remarks a nattily dressed Johnson told a packed celebrity crowd, “I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. ASPiRE — that’s how I’ve been leading my life.”
ASPiRE, whose principal owner is Magic Johnson Enterprises, will celebrate African American heritage and groundbreaking cultural achievements and create new opportunities for the next generation of ground-breakers and game-changers. Grounded in faith, family and community, ASPiRE reflects positive images of the African American culture.
“It has been a long-held dream of mine to launch a television network that offers viewers inspiring and positive portrayals of African American lifestyles, accomplishments and talent, while also creating opportunities for the next generation of artists and storytellers,” remarked Johnson.
“My vision for ASPiRE could only become a reality with a group of visionaries and bold charter brand partners, The Chrysler Group, L’Oréal USA, Nationwide Insurance, Coca-Cola and Walmart. I am thrilled to have GMC TV as my partner along with our affiliate partners Comcast, Time Warner Cable and FAVE TV to help make this dream come true,” Johnson concluded.
Adding their own luminosity to the elegant evening was a special performance by New Edition who had everyone dancing and singing during a dazzling two hour performance of their major hits.
There were many luminaries in attendance including Magic Johnson’s wife Cookie Johnson; Apollo Theater Foundation president & CEO Jonelle Procope; National Action Network president Tamika Mallory; singer Natalie Cole; ABFF founder Jeff Friday and wife Nicole Friday; NFL great Curtis Martin; Kwame Jackson; New York Knicks player Carmelo Anthony; New York Knicks exec Allan Houston; GMC TV vice chairman Brad Siegal; Colman Domingo; director Malcolm D. Lee; gossip columnist Flo Anthony; singer Natasha C. Coward; publicists Donna Torrence, Steve Manning & Marvet Britto; DJ Nice; Rev. Al Sharpton; and former New York Knicks player and Hall of Fall great Walt Clyde Frazier.
Also ABFF Independent host Omari Hardwick; Essence Magazine entertainment editor Cori Murray; filmmaker Samad Davis; former baseball player Gary Sheffield; singer Wyclef Jean; EVP & chief marketing officer, CNN Worldwide Janet Rolle; Ground Breaking Comedy host Jonathan Slocumb; ASPiRE general manager Paul Butler; Cheryl “Salt” James; Sandra “Pepa” Denton; publisher of VIVmag Jocelyn Taylor; actress Lynn Whitfield; actress Sidra Smith; Laff Mobb Enterprises Bob Sumner; singer Eric Benet; NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous; record & business mogul Russell Simmons; Miss Universe Leila Lopes; actor Taimak; Tika Sumpter; WABC-TV Eyewitness News reporters Sandra Bookman and Kimberly Richardson; NBC weatherman Al Roker, and many, many more. (Photos courtesy Wilson Morales)
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.