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Boy believes anything’s within reach

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by Christy Strawser
Macomb Daily

Even the sky is not the limit for young David Johnson, 9, of Cherokee Elementary School in Clinton Township, who was honored in a prestigious essay contest for praising an education that allows him to achieve absolutely anything.

Thanks to people who came through slavery unbowed, Johnson wrote that he can become whatever he chooses, whether it’s a heart surgeon, a professional athlete, a Supreme Court justice, even an astronaut.

“Quite possibly I might discover a product that can counteract my allergy to George Washington Carver’s invention, peanut butter,” Johnson wrote.

Those words helped him stand out in a field of more than 2,000 fourth- through eighth-grade Michigan students who joined the Ford Freedom Essay Contest.

There were supposed to be only three winners, but judges liked Johnson’s essay so much they gave away a fourth honor to make sure he got his due.

“I feel honored and appreciated that they would go to all the trouble to make honorable mention even though it wasn’t a category,” Johnson said.

Based on writing skills and the way he conducts himself in his young life, Johnson’s teacher Linda Houck is sure his lofty goals could become reality.

“I’m sure he’s going to be a doctor or something like that, he’s going to do something important,” Houck said.

For the essay, students were asked to end the sentence “I am free because…”

Johnson wrote that his freedom comes courtesy of servicemen and women, African-American freedom fighters, good education, and most of all an “endless imagination and ability to dream.”

His mother Karen Johnson gave his school credit for the many black historical references young David was able to make in his essay.

“The school does a really good job with African-American history, I’m really impressed by it,” Karen Johnson said. “It’s more than one month of history, it’s incorporated into their readings, their homework.”

Johnson won a $500 savings bond, which was presented earlier this month by Coretta Scott King’s daughter, Bernice King, at the Ford Freedom Awards in Detroit.

Johnson also joined a black-tie nighttime event at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, and he was able to invite his entire class to Orchestra Hall in Detroit for a day of learning and fun at the Ford Freedom Awards Scholar’s Lecture.

There, Johnson and his classmates met Dr. Dorothy I. Height, the 2008 Ford Freedom Scholar, and Keke Palmer, young star of the movie “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Height, now 95, worked to end segregation during the civil rights movement. Her work was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Height spoke to 1,500 students at Orchestra Hall about their responsibility to become leaders.

“One thing is that she had a really good memory because she could remember everything she did back then,” Johnson said, adding he likes to learn about his cultural history because it makes him feel “confident, like if they could do it, anybody could do it.”

Even at his young age, Johnson has plenty of personal experience with the sacrifices required for freedom.

His cousin served in Operation Desert Storm, his great-uncle served in the Vietnam War, and his great-grandfather fought in World War II.

Beyond that, he has studied African-American heroes to learn about their struggles, and triumphs. He doesn’t want to take any of it for granted.

“Because of their ‘dream,’ I was free before I was born,” Johnson wrote.

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