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Building a Legacy: Keshawn Johnson, student-athlete at RCTC and Legacy Scholar

'I’m going to break the cycles in my family'

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Where are you from? How did you end up in Rochester?

I grew up in Demopolis, Alabama. I came to Rochester to play football at RCTC. I’m a Liberal Arts major and transferring soon to a four-year university.

Tell us about yourself and your family.

I love my family, I love being around them. I love my blood brothers, but we aren’t as close as we should be because of some of our life decisions, I separate myself from that because I know that isn’t the path I wanted to go. Most of the time when I talk about my brothers, I’m talking about the guys I grew up with: Shakari, Quad, and Jeremy. They’re my chosen family. But me, I love basketball and football. I’m cool, I’m laid back, and I’d consider myself an older soul.

What makes you say you’re an older soul? 

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When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be this and that. I had anger issues and would get into fights about small things. But I quickly realized that wasn’t the life I wanted to live. So I started to hang out with older people in my neighborhood, like Richard, a mentor of mine, and Charles, who was my teacher and coach that I lived with for a year. They’re in their 50s or 60s. They kept me on the right path and schooled me about life. They have a lot of wisdom and taught me about what’s important. They did it all before me and told me what to look out for, what to do, and what not to do.

What made you realize it was time for a change?

By going to jail. It was over something stupid. I used to make a lot of bad decisions. I was only there overnight, but I knew it wasn’t life for me. I knew I couldn’t get used to that, so I started to change. I started channeling my anger, started putting my energy toward the good stuff. I stopped going out. I stopped smoking. I started going to church. I got baptized in eleventh grade. I found my people—my chosen family. I just started doing better, I had to. I wanted to do better for myself. I’m going to break the cycles in my family. I want to be like my auntie Jennifer, she made it out. She’s a travel nurse, she’s been to different countries, and she just built a house. She definitely motivates me and I’m so happy for her. I look up to my big brother too. He introduced me to football. I’ve been passionate about it ever since. Football has created many opportunities for me that I never thought I would have.

keshawn johnson.jpg
Keshawn Johnson.
Contributed

What is something that you’re doing that you didn’t think you’d be capable of a year ago?

Playing football. I never thought I’d be here, I was homeless. If you told me I’d be in Rochester to play ball in 2020, I wouldn’t have believed you. It's crazy how my life changed like that.

What has that journey been like for you? 

When I graduated high school in 2018, I realized I didn’t have any offers to play football. So, I decided to get certified as a Communications Technician. I worked in that trade for two years, but was making the wrong decisions with money and was in an unstable relationship, so I ended up homeless. My parents and I weren’t on good terms at the time, so when my ex-girlfriend told me I had to leave I had nowhere else to go. I was homeless for a month in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But I knew something had to change. I started reaching out to coaches to get back into football. The school I went to first was Minnesota State, but when I got there in 2020 the season was canceled due to COVID. 2021 came around, and I got hurt. Then I transferred to RCTC to play in the 2022 season. Now, I have multiple full-ride offers to play at four-year universities, and I make my decision in December. I’m leaning toward playing at Waldorf University in Iowa. But I’m going to keep grinding.

What keeps you going?

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I believe you can make it out of any situation if you stay focused and do the right thing. I recently went to the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. It was crazy, it was like a movie with all of that Black success. I’ve never been in a room with so many people that look like me doing amazing things. What was said by the keynote speaker, Harold Epps, stuck with me: “doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.” I’ve seen that happen, where everyone does the same thing and thinks they’re going to change their situation. But I decided to go a different route, and it's working out for me so far. But I wouldn’t be here without the people who supported me: Melvin Childers, Audrey Haskins, Nelson Haskins, Shatarius Williams, and my mom, Temeka Johnson. There’s blood family, and there’s the family you choose. I’m thankful for them all.

This interview is part of the Building a Legacy series by Alysha Carlisle and Mackenzie Rutherford, highlighting Rochester’s youth of color.

About the authors:
Mackenzie Rutherford is a native of Rochester and a graduate of Rochester John Marshall High School. She spent her recent years attaining her B.A. at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and her M.S. at SOAS University of London. She is a staff member at Project Legacy and a freelance Social Media Strategist. 

Alysha Carlisle is originally from Oakland, Calif. She graduated with her BSW in 2021 and now serves as a social worker at Project Legacy and a research coordinator at Mayo Clinic.

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