A fifth-grade teacher from Connecticut and a New York teacher who carried her activist spirit with her into retirement in Florida were among the everyday heroes honored this week at the AFT TEACH professional-issues conference in the nation’s capital this week. Teacher Karen King has found myriad ways to help her students actively engage in humanitarian volunteer efforts across the globe, and Christina Sharp has tirelessly organized fellow retirees in the fight for pension security and in support of students and teachers currently in the classroom. Each exemplifies the unsung heroism of thousands upon thousands of educator/philanthropists who go far above and beyond the call of duty, making a difference every day in service to others.
The entire AFT community honors anew this week all of the Everyday Heroes selected from among 350 nominees nationwide for this award—and we’re proud to note that one of our own is among the select group of five finalists. We’ve told you a bit about him before, but let us now again praise Charles “C.J.” Johnson (borrowing freely from an excellent report published online by our counterparts on the national staff at AFT).
Johnson is a paraprofessional safety worker from North Dallas High School and a member of the Alliance-AFT, the 10,000-strong Texas AFT affiliate in Dallas ISD. At AFT’s March 2011 PSRP (Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel) Professional Issues Conference, Johnson was honored as the PSRP Everyday Hero for 2011. He was warmly received by his fellow union members, and by Jerimi Gonzales, an “adopted son”—one of the 38 homeless children Johnson and his mother have taken in over the years.
Gonzales described Johnson as a selfless, devoted, and humble man. “We honor him today for being a hero,” said Gonzales, who is a student at Southern Methodist University. “I honor him for being mine as well, and [a hero] to many others—for being our light, our rock and our captain who steered our ship of life in a positive direction.”
After thanking AFT for the award, Johnson noted, “I’m not the hero.” It’s the kids who overcome difficult situations, he emphasized. “The kids are the heroes to me.”
Johnson was named an AFT Everyday Hero for taking dozens of homeless students into his own home over the last 15 years. Last November, the North Dallas High School employee and graduate received a prestigious local award recognizing his leadership in improving education for low-income people in Dallas. Past recipients of that award have included state senators, a school superintendent, and prominent attorneys. Johnson has become a bit of a local celebrity in Dallas, having been featured several times in the Dallas Morning News and other media.
He sees no boundary between his home and his work as a paraprofessional security adviser. Over the years, he and his mother have taken in as many as four homeless teenagers at a time, providing the steady environment they needed to succeed in school and in life. For his efforts, Johnson has seen many of his students graduate from high school. Some have gone on to earn college diplomas.
Johnson often refers to the students he takes in as “my kids” and doesn’t just provide the basic necessities for them, but takes on the role of father figure and mentor. To instill a sense of responsibility, he requires all of his students to perform some type of community service along with their schoolwork. And his concern doesn’t end there. Johnson stays in touch with the students long after they’ve left his home.
All this makes Johnson “the epitome of what it means to serve,” wrote the person who nominated him. And if you think this man has a pretty amazing resumé, she adds, “he is even more amazing in person.”
More information, including a nomination form for the 2012 Everyday Heroes, is available online.