By Courtney Jimenez
JU Communications senior
Encourager, enforcer, educator. Those were just a few of the words used at a recent memorial to describe Janet R. Johnson, a pioneer in the Jacksonville University Upward Bound program and first African-American professor at the University.
About 50 JU and Upward Bound students and alumni came together Saturday, Jan. 18, to celebrate the life of Johnson and National TRIO Day in Terry Concert Hall at JU. (See a full Facebook photo gallery here.)
Johnson died in August 2012 of congestive heart failure at age 79, but instead of focusing on the pain of losing a friend, mother and teacher, the group honored Johnson with stories of her life.
JU Past President and Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne wrote the eulogy for Johnson, which was read by JU Senior Campaign Officer Dr. John E. Trainer Jr.
“It’s impossible to measure the influence and impact for those she has touched,” Kinne wrote. “Upward Bound took on a new meaning under her influence. She leveled the playing ground for everyone so higher education was possible and within their reach.”
Since Johnson started Upward Bound, TRIO Support Services has helped many students in the Jacksonville area toward reaching their goal of going to and completing college.
TRIO programs provide students the information necessary for graduating high school and moving on to college.
The graduation rate for Duval County in 2013 was 72.1 percent, the highest in the school district’s history. Meanwhile, the JU Upward Bound high school graduation rate for 2013 was 95.8 percent, according to Staci Sams, JU Upward Bound Coordinator.
Johnson’s efforts with Upward Bound and TRIO Support Services did not go unnoticed by city officials: Jacksonville Mayor and JU alum Alvin Brown ’85 and ’89 said he saw Johnson’s efforts first-hand as a JU student.
“Although Mrs. Johnson is gone, she will always be with us, and reminding us of those things that truly matter: education, equality, family, faith and friends,” Brown wrote in a letter for the celebration.
Leo Stanley, a former Upward Bound student, said Johnson believed in keeping calm and remaining composed, especially when up against enemies. Johnson used these skills when she, along with her husband, Earl Johnson, worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement.
The Johnson household was used for planning meetings with King in 1964. Two of Johnson’s five children spoke on their mother’s efforts during the movement.
“The Civil Rights movement is difficult for me to talk about,” Robin Johnson said. “I marched, I held hands with my parents and I sang, ‘We shall Overcome.’ ”
Robin Johnson said that now that she’s older, she sees the change in the world, and that it’s a different place than it was back then.
“Nowadays, people rap about being 25 and sitting on 25 million,” she said. “In those days we were on a mission, not to make 25 million but to change the world. We had a job to do, and that was to make a better place for everyone. Mom wanted to make a change, and I think she did.”
Janet Johnson was a strong woman with high ideals and morals who gave her all in everything she did, Robin Johnson said.
“She saw the potential in people. She taught us that the best things in life are not seen but felt with our hearts.”
For more about JU Upward Bound, visit http://www.ju.edu/OSSP/Pages/Upward-Bound.aspx.