Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Remembering John H. Johnson

If I ever have had a moment of thinking "I just gotta blog about this", I have just had one today.

Less than 30 minutes ago, I was in a nearby grocery store to pick up an item that my wife Wyteria called me about. I was returning from voting on a county referendum about a sales tax increase.

While I was in the grocery store, I saw one of my business heroes on the cover of the magazine he started on the same date that I started my first business shortly after graduating college.

I am speaking about no other than publisher and entrepreneur John H. Johnson who started his first business with $500 gift from his mother who took out a loan against her furniture. My mother provided start-up capital of $200 which has become TNL Communications Corporation (now known as The Next Mint).

I saw Mr. Johnson on the cover of Ebony magazine and knew that he passed this summer. But I was not prepared for what happened next at the checkout counter.

The cashier mentioned the sticker that Georgia voters are given upon casting their ballot electronically. Then another grocery store employee placed everything within a plastic bag and a should-have-been-unmentionable-in-this-day-and-age proceeded from her mouth.

Both women were African-American before I forget.

The statement by the lady who was old enough to be either my mother or an aunt said "I still don't know who John H. Johnson is".

My jaw broke the foundation of the building.

I mentioned that he published Ebony magazine that she had just bagged for me and it did not ring any bells for no one was home.

When I mentioned that he published Jet magazine, she then recognized what I was talking about.

The cashier mentioned that Mr. Johnson started his business with a $50,000 loan and even her jaw dropped when I told her that it was only $500 and the rest of the story involving his mother.

Here I am living in self-deception and denial to think that the internet is truly a wonderful gift from God and here we have another African-American who was clueless about one of the greatest entrepreneurs America has ever been exposed to and had as a citizen.

No matter how many issues Mr. Johnson published before his passing, the issue that I purchased has been claimed to be the very first one where he appeared on the cover.

But I do imagine that if he had been a fashion designer and manufacturer of clothes, sneakers, or music label president, his name would have been unforgettable.

How can one slip through society and not know one who has been a force in preserving and chronicling Black history? Where are the values that could allow one to keep such an integral product off their radar screens?

I have been a student of communications from my elementary school days when my first cousin Mike along with another cousin had our own pretend radio station WEFUNK and played records nonstop along with doing a news broadcast, keeping a record chart similar to Billboard magazine, and other stuff related to broadcasting.

Never would I have imagined unless I saw it like I did today that someone like Mr. Johnson could not be recognized by any and every African-American much less an American citizen.

I did not hear an accent like that of an immigrant, the lady gave me no indication that she did not have a high school diploma or GED, and in no way I could imagine that there are people living so far below the poverty level or current events knowledge level without knowing who John H. Johnson was.

I mean in our family and it still exists in a few homes but I won't call any names, there are still Ebony magazines laying around on coffee tables and anywhere you would expect a telephone book, newspaper, or anything a child could bring home from school.

Needless to say, I am still floored.

I did not make the homegoing celebration (funeral) of Mr. Johnson, but today's event makes me misty-eyed more than you can imagine.

It tells me that February has plenty of work to do in regards to being Black History Month. The 28 days have not reached enough people and the 29th day continues to operate in vain if someone or some family could allow their descendants to move out or remain home without knowing who Mr. Johnson was and still is to our culture.

I know that I have plenty of work to do.

It was Mr. Johnson that taught me by example that telecommunications would be the industry where real wealth could be obtained and virtually every other celebrity since the founding of the Johnson Publishing Company has proved him to be correct especially within America.

I did have the pleasure of working directly with the Johnson Publishing Company as I persuaded the Florence Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. to seek the hosting of the Ebony Fashion Fair in Florence, SC and I was the first committee chairman of the event in 1990 before moving to Atlanta.

I was a scholarship recipient of my Aunt Lauretha's former sorority who originally sponsored the Ebony Fashion Fair in Florence, SC.

I still remember attending my first fashion show in Florence, SC in the 70s. So yes I do know Mr. Johnson directly and indirectly from my youth.

To Mr. Johnson's family and everyone else who has inspired by him, we cannot allow another individual or family to not know Mr. Johnson and what he means to us still.

I would like to see his face printed on t-shirts and any other media that would increase his awareness to people not inclined to read especially.

We cannot allow people to forget or not know who such true celebrities are because if he does not appear on their radar screens, then every other Black celebrity is truly going to be an exception and not the rule.

We owe it to Mr. Johnson, we owe it to ourselves and we especially owe it to each other.

Thank you Mr. Johnson for telling us that there is a better way indeed.

May God bless and keep your soul and I look forward to meeting you in heaven one day.


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