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Eric L. JohnsonI’m from the age of the birth of hip-hop.

Crisp Adidas, shell toes with long white crew socks.

Thick gold chains and boom boxes on the shoulders,

I’m from “Lisa and Tony 4EVER” doodles on trapper keepers and two pocket folders.

I’m from a place not conducive to producing young scholars.

Where it’s more important to dress fly, ride rims and pop collars.

Where people live hard for today because they see little hope for tomorrow.

I’m from battles between resilience and circumstance,

Where faith in God and self-determination give you your only chance to succeed.

I’m from Pearls of Wisdom from my grandmother who told me “Watch the life that you’re leading,

And grandson, I hope you understand the grave difference between LIVING and BREATHING.”

Aside from this environment surrounding,

I’m from a family that’s astounding,

Pounding educational value deep into my pores.

And I never thought about it before but I’m from a family that’s hella poor,

Monetarily, but rich in support.

And I truly believe that’s made all the difference ...

Because although that’s how my story began,

I’m pleased to report that’s not how it ended.

With hardship transcended and with fate on my side,

God directed me to Columbia for a season to reside.

And I met 10 distinguished young scholars, who spoke their stories and wrote their stories.

Masterful griots speaking with passion and determination.

Young people whose lives became intertwined ... each one an inspiration.

To one another, to their peers, to their loved ones and mentors.

Successful lives await as they walk through Opportunity’s next door.

Marking the earth with their existence and with experiences that tell of who they are,

Blazing paths to where they’re going.

Talk Story, Write Story. My Story, your Stories.

Indelible prints left to change the world.

Eric L. Johnson is principal of Hickman High School. He wrote his poem’s first five stanzas in 2003, at age 18. He added the last two stanzas this spring.


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