On July 12, Dekovon Day, a nineteen-year-old Starbucks employee in Dallas’ Oak Cliff, sported an autographed Starbucks apron. It was signed “Magic #32.” Magic Johnson signed all the employees’ aprons that day, which marked the grand opening of Starbucks on 3431 West Camp Wisdom Road in Oak Cliff. (Although the store officially opened on March 9, this was the first time Johnson could make it to the area.)

So what’s the big deal? Starbucks opens three new stores every day somewhere in the world. This one is different. The new Starbucks is part of a venture formed in 1998 called Urban Coffee Opportunities (UCO)—a collaboration between Johnson Development Corporation and Starbucks. The goals of this business enterprise are to create employment in the community and to give an opportunity to local minority vendors to sell goods to the store. The hope is that Magic Johnson’s stamp of approval will help stores in poor, minority neighborhoods to do well financially and to inspire. The Oak Cliff store, decorated with art by children from the community, is the first Texas location. There are fifteen part-time employees, and the store manager, Darryl Williams, announced that there will be regular events like gospel, jazz, open mike, poetry, and country night. “They’re going to wonder what’s going on down here on Camp Wisdom Road!”

The Oak Cliff store follows the example of other stores previously opened in Harlem, LA, East Lansing, and Detroit, among other cities. All of the UCO stores feature framed photographs of Johnson, co-branded items, and special Starbucks-produced CDs, which reflect the musical tastes of the community. How did Johnson come up with the idea? He claims that people came to him with a plea for nicer stores in their communities—an appeal that Johnson was all too familiar with. The former LA Lakers basketball star (he’s now the vice president and part owner of the team) says that when he was growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, he had to drive thirty minutes to get to more desirable stores. With this endeavor, Johnson has taken what he was known for on the court—making other players better by his unselfish play—and used it to help others in everyday life.

“Minorities deserve the best of the best,” Johnson said in a speech at the grand opening. “We work hard like everybody else. We deserve Starbucks in our community.” Kim Duncan and her two children, ten-year-old Alex and eleven-year-old Erica, think so too. The Oak Cliff family is tired of having to drive thirty minutes to get to nicer stores. They would like it if the area supported shops other than Target and Kmart, for example Chick-fil-A, Stein Mart, a bookstore, and nicer restaurants. Alex said he may even want to work at Starbucks. “When I’m a teenager,” he explained.

There is hope for the Duncans, assuming the Oak Cliff store follows the likes of its predecessors. The Harlem Starbucks encouraged the opening of a Disney Store and a movie theater in the area. In Los Angeles the Starbucks inspired the opening of a T.G.I. Friday’s. Starbucks representatives and Johnson said they are aggressively looking for more locations in Texas but won’t specify where.

Starbucks isn’t the only boost for Oak Cliff these days. Things are looking up for South Dallas in other ways. Last session the Legislature gave the nod to create a University of North Texas at Dallas. The current Oak Cliff prototype (the University of North Texas System Center at Dallas) offers junior, senior, and graduate level courses in addition to professional certificate programs. When the enrollment reaches 2,500 students, the system center will become a university with courses and degrees being offered from the University of North Texas at Dallas. Of course, it is still too early to know exactly where the new university will be located, but it has been determined it will between Interstate 35 and Interstate 45, somewhere along the I-20 corridor. The campus will be the first public university within the city limits of Dallas, which has a population of more than one million people. UNT administrators hope that the building for the planned campus will be finished by the fall of 2007.

With this kind of inspiring activity (and a little bit of magic), Oak Cliff may really be turning around. You can see it in the smiling faces of the crowd as Dallas mayor Ron Kirk bellowed, “I want to tell this community you haven’t seen nothing yet.” Dekovon Day, who transferred from a North Dallas Starbucks location, is just glad he doesn’t have to drive twenty minutes to get to work anymore.