FIFTH GRADE is a lot busier these days than it was when I was a kid, but 10-year-old Juwon Johnson handles his full schedule with enviable ease.
Monday through Friday is school time at Haven Elementary, where he’s in the SEARCH program for gifted students and on the debate team. Saturdays are spent at his job at Sheila’s Talk of the Town hair salon and barbershop, assisting master barber Anthony Bolds with sweeping up and running errands. There’s church on Sundays at First Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. In Johnson’s spare time there’s homework; helping out his mother, Moshell Roberts; reading (he’s just finished the Magic Tree House book series); and playing WWE wrestling video games.
In early September, Johnson flew to Washington D.C. (his first airplane trip), setting aside his busy routine for one week to participate as a delegate in the People to People Leadership Forum, a youth leadership development program for 5th through 8th graders from across the U.S.
Johnson and his mother raised the nearly $3000 in program fees and expenses through his earnings from his job, at a fundraiser at his church, and through fundraising appeals by several community members including Dr. Abigail Jordan and neighbor Michael Hogan.
During his six days in Washington, from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. each day, Johnson and about 500 other students visited government and historic sites and attended leadership sessions.
“Everything that they showed us, they led one thing to the next,” says Johnson. “Like, after we went to Jamestown, they said ‘next we are going to Williamsburg,’” explaining to the students the historical sequence of events.
Johnson visited Arlington Cemetery, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. “We went to Capitol Hill to learn more about the branches of government,” wrote Johnson in a report on his trip. “We explored the Capitol Building.”
A favorite site was the International Spy Museum, where Johnson assumed a disguise (a brown hat and long coat) and an alias (Demitri Kowalski) and learned that Underground Railroad conductor and slave Harriet Tubman was a spy. “I never thought about this before,” he says.
Each night all student delegates assembled together in a “Delegation Meeting” for leadership activities.
“We heard a famous speaker named Sean Covey talk about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” Two of the habits that Johnson recites from memory are, “Sharpen the saw. Always think hard, by thinking hard your mind is made a sharp thing,” and “Keep your mind open. You can always learn new things.”
“The best part was when we went to Jamestown and explored Powhatan [Native American] life, and blacksmithing and leatherworking,” says Johnson. “My second favorite was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument, and his dog Fala.”
“At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we watched the changing of the guard ceremony, where they replaced the old wreath with the new wreath.”
Since returning to Savannah, Johnson has visited by phone a couple of times with one of his roommates, a boy named Chad who lives in Pennsylvania. The Washington trip has added a personal dimension to his school studies.
“We were talking about Abraham Lincoln,” says Johnson. “He thought slavery was a social and moral crime. When we talked about him I thought about being at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a long walk up the Lincoln Memorial—a bunch of stairs.”
Participation in the People to People World Leadership Forum will provide Johnson with “some credit and connections for colleges,” he says. His long range academic plans include Savannah Arts Academy and Georgia Tech, with career aspirations as a video game designer.
And what about a future run for elected office? “Maybe city council, but not president,” says Johnson. “It’s too much pressure.” cs