With five Pro Bowls before his 30th birthday, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson Jr. has made a heckuva name for himself. But you probably don’t know that his mother is quite a superstar in her own right.
As a professional educator, Dr. Arica Johnson has garnered national recognition for designing unique school programs and helping students, teachers and fellow educators reach their full potential. Dr. Johnson, who encouraged Calvin and his siblings to read before they even entered kindergarten, is a big believer in education. She incorporates that core belief into her leadership of the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation Inc. (CJJFI), which offers financial assistance and mentorship through its annual leadership conference, scholarships, football camps, and pen pal program, among other offerings.
On the cusp of Father’s Day, with role models and mentors very much on our minds, we spoke with this vivacious woman, who courageously survived a bout with pancreatic cancer last year, about the importance of education and having a fatherly presence in our lives.
“A fatherly image doesn’t always mean that the child’s father is present in the home. It can mean anyone who has the child’s best interest in mind and attempts to support the success of that child — just a positive, caring, just and loving relationship.”
Education is a key theme in your life. Tell us about its importance in life and for a career.
Education is the key. When I was a child, not just my parents, but also my relatives, teachers and mentors taught me the value of a quality education. They did it through “modeling” the way and sharing education values. If you get an education, there are career opportunities, you become more intellectual, you can interact more socially throughout your life. You’re more involved in relevant, realistic, rigorous learning opportunities that stimulate you to go to higher heights and provide the confidence you need [to succeed]. You gain knowledge and skills—and social and economic stability comes along with that.
How early should this understanding be instilled in children?
It has to start early because if they’re not staying focused in school, they’re not going to have the educational success they need. We taught our kids how to read at age 3 and 4, so they were reading when they went to kindergarten. You need to set in stone that when you go to school, this is how you act as a student. Come home with your books, we can talk about what you learned and I can help you and provide you with tools.
How have you transferred your faith in education to your work for Calvin’s Foundation?
It’s been a community effort. My husband and I, relatives and educators that came along my children’s path taught them about the importance of education. The transfer to Calvin’s Foundation was automatic, since the core Foundation efforts pretty much revolve around fostering social, economic, physical, intellectual and generational change.
Explain more about this theme of generational change?
Once I teach my children, they’re going to teach their children, and that becomes an inter-generational change. It’s not something that’s happening on the surface, it goes way down into them, receiving and believing in these values, and then transferring them to their own children. In both Atlanta and Detroit, the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation is dedicated to the education, training, and social development of at-risk youth — to assist youth with realizing their college and career dreams — and [then] hoping that sparks an interest in them to go back and do the same for their children.