On a warm Saturday in December shoppers ambling along Granville Avenue are stopped by a vision glowing in the gray street. A green Cadillac. Not lime green. Not forest green. Marveling from a respectful distance, a woman tells her two friends, “That’s Don Juan’s car. It’s money green.”
The Cadillac’s owner, Bishop Don Magic Juan, pastor of the nondenominational Magic World Christian Kingdom Church, is inside Heritage Books & Music to sign copies of his new biography, From Pimp Stick to Pulpit: The Life Story of Don “Magic” Juan. His older sister, Ann Bromfield, is coauthor of the book, published by Vantage Press, a vanity house with an extensive catalog. This is the first appearance the two have made on behalf of their book.
Bromfield has settled into a seat behind a table, while a woman wearing high heels, Miss Sin’sation, stands nearby with her arms crossed, a bit uneasy. B.J. Mwakyoma, the owner of the store, gets her a chair. Magic Juan is hunched over the table, resplendent in a suit of many colors–jacket and pants with stripes in hues of green and yellow, and yellow socks and shoes. His jewelry catches the light and rarely lets go: One ring is a shining gold billboard of florid script that reads “Juan” across three fingers. On the other hand a gold temple rises a couple of inches above another ring. Dangling from a thick golden rope is a giant gold, jewel-studded crucifix that stretches approximately from breast to navel.
Magic Juan hasn’t pimped since 1985, but his style remains the same. “That’s just me,” he says quietly. “I went through an inner transformation.”
Several friends and well-wishers have come out, but the atmosphere is subdued. The air is touched with incense, and music plays softly in the background. Voices are hushed, as if this were a library.
A couple enters, and the man halloos, “Hey, is that you?”
Magic Juan hugs him and shakes hands with the woman.
“You remember Peggy?” the man asks. “Of course I do,” Magic Juan says.
“So, this is the book,” the man says, lifting a copy and squinting at the cover. “This man has some real stories to tell.” He buys two copies, and then he and Magic Juan discuss movie deals and a play. Magic Juan says a play based on the book will be done in Detroit.
When the couple leaves, Magic Juan says, “That man is one of the most important attorneys in Illinois. His name’s Steve. I think his wife’s a judge, traffic court or something. I’ve been knowing him for a long time.” He nods.
“Unless God has revealed himself to you, it’s difficult to understand a transformation like mine,” Magic Juan goes on. “God showed me a vision on February 6, 1985. I was in Hollywood at the time.” This was before the Magic time, when he was still Don Juan the pimp. The story recounted in his book is that he’d been staying in an apartment, drinking Champale and smoking PCP and reefer. Even now, years later, talking about the experience puts him on edge.
“I had the most shocking experience of my life. All the years I’d been getting high I never felt anything like it. I saw the police and FBI coming for me, coming through the door. It grew light in the apartment, then it grew dark in the apartment. My niece called me on the phone and I told her, ‘I need help, bad.’ She said that it was God coming into my life. I wanted God to help me, but I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t want to be by myself. She said she’d come over, but she never made it. I started crying so hard the tears were coming out of my eyes, mucus was running out of my nose.”
He was frantic, so he smoked another joint. But he saw the vision again.
“God revealed to me that it was him breaking into my life. I called the girls the next day and I told them, ‘That’s it. You don’t have to give me money anymore. I’ve been called by God.’ The girls didn’t understand. They cried, ‘Why didn’t God take somebody else?’ I told them they could come in the church with me. They followed me, most of them did. But most of them didn’t have the same feeling. They tried, but it hadn’t happened to them. So some of them left.
“When I was in the life, women meant money to me. That was all I cared about. I studied to be a pimp. I read every book–Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines. These books were about life in the area where I grew up, ghetto life. I was inspired by the dress and the clothes. A book I really loved was Manchild in the Promised Land. That was like my life.”
Magic Juan goes on signing books as he talks, signing copies for the store when he isn’t signing them for customers. “I was the greatest pimp that ever put a piece of flesh on the corner,” he says. “I was voted the number-one pimp in America 13 years in a row. There are organizations, sororities, in all the cities, you know, and they were the ones who voted me number one. I was in Players Magazine as the number-one pimp in America. People knew me everywhere. I went to Hawaii–I was popular even there. Don King gave the ‘player’s ball’ for me in Vegas–I think it was in 1978. There wasn’t any animosity towards me. All those celebrities you see in the book didn’t just pose for pictures. I know those people.”
He looks up. “I was in the world’s oldest profession, and, you know, many men who haven’t actually worked in it have had some involvement in it, usually as johns.”
His sister says she wants a cigarette and heads for the coffee shop next door. “She’d been making notes for the book since 1972,” says Magic Juan. “You know those composition notebooks? We’d be sitting around, getting high. She’d be watching, and then she’d have to run home and write it all down. It was hard on her, but she did a good job. The language isn’t as harsh as in the Iceberg Slim books, but it’s straightforward.”
Two men dressed almost entirely in black walk in. Magic Juan puts down his pen and goes to greet them. After a minute one of the men steps out. The other starts browsing through the shelves, then walks back to Magic Juan with a copy of Whoreson by Donald Goines. Goines, along with Iceberg Slim, was a pimp turned writer. A shelf in the store is lined with their novels, mostly mystery thrillers. “You ever read this?” he asks. “This is good.” He laughs. “This man was cold!”
Magic Juan looks the book over. He says he’s read it.
“You remember Silky?” the man asks. “He was cold too. Not as cold as Julius though. Julius was the coldest pimp alive. Man, he put his own mother out.”
Miss Sin’sation whispers to the man, who responds, “God’s outside.”
“I thought God was everywhere,” someone says.
The man says he didn’t mean God. “I meant God, the guy I walked in with. His name’s God. Mine’s Jesus.” He chuckles. “I’m his son.”
The last customer is a man who says he doesn’t have enough money for the book right now, but he’ll buy a signed copy tomorrow. Magic Juan says he’s ready to go. Tomorrow’s Sunday, a day to preach. Then he points out that there’s a similarity between the professions of pimp and pastor. “You talk to people. I talk to all kinds of people, many of the same people I talked to when I was a pimp. I evangelize. I go to jails and high schools, I talk to gangs and girls, and I tell them things can change. I talk about safe sex, tell them to use condoms. We have the highest incidence of AIDS in Chicago in my neighborhood on the west side. I give condoms to the girls.”
Magic Juan leaves the bookstore, followed by Jesus and Miss Sin’sation, and starts searching for his sister and God among the lovers strolling down Granville. He’s promised to carry them home in his money green Cadillac.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Cynthia Howe.