Former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson is shooting for a new audience in K-12 education. Johnson’s company, Magic Johnson Entertainment (MJE), has entered into a joint venture with independent children’s studio Blackboard Entertainment to develop interactive learning tools for children and schools–especially those in underprivileged communities.

“This project is all about the kids,” said Johnson, who serves as president and chief executive of MJE. “Everybody knows the importance of children’s educational programming. We’re going to deliver new, exciting multimedia that gives kids something to think about and something to do after the TV or the computer is turned off.”

Johnson’s involvement stems from his desire to bring first-class educational tools to the communities that need them most. The venture will cater to the kids and schools with the fewest resources by offering products that can be used in the classroom or at home.

The venture will create, produce, and distribute a new brand of children’s educational multimedia products, including curriculum-based comic books, videos, educational software, audio programs, and interactive games. The co-production deal between MJE and Blackboard also will delve into non-prime time children’s educational television programming and motion pictures.

The venture will seek to bring together high-quality educational content with premium production and entertainment values, the companies said.

“Our vision is to raise the bar in children’s programming and interactive multimedia to the highest levels,” said Marcela Davison Aviles, CEO of Blackboard Entertainment. “We have assembled a stellar creative and marketing team, and we’re very fortunate to have attracted the talent, magnetism, and business acumen of Earvin Johnson and his group.”

Blackboard Entertainment, itself a minority-owned business, is an award-winning producer of children’s programs. Among its titles are the Field Trip and New Zoo Review series. The company will continue to produce its own titles in addition to its role in the venture.

Creative development for the joint products will be handled by MJE’s Kaj Goldberg and Sherri G. Sneed and Blackboard executives Michael Davis and Ehrich Van Lowe, who lead the company’s broadcast, film, and publishing division. Blackboard will manage publishing and worldwide home video and television distribution. The companies will jointly manage licensing and merchandising.

Both Magic Johnson Entertainment and Blackboard Entertainment will have a brand-name presence on the merchandise. The venture’s first product, the comic book series, should be rolled out next fall.

The city of Oakland will serve as an equity partner in the venture. The Hispanic-owned Blackboard is based in an economic enterprise zone in Oakland’s Fruitvale District.

Leaders of the venture say the deal exemplifies the commitment of both companies to urban economic and community development.

Magic Johnson Development, a unit of Magic Johnson Enterprises, continues to foster local growth and financial empowerment in long-neglected neighborhoods by developing entertainment complexes, restaurants, and retail centers in under-served communities, a company statement said.

In a separate announcement by the two companies, MJE and Blackboard launched a national day care center initiative, which will distribute educational multimedia programs and computer technology to child care centers in low- income neighborhoods.

Blackboard Entertainment