It wasn’t Mother’s Day, but that didn’t stop NFL pro football veteran Michael Johnson from honoring his mother — Tuskegee University alumna Thomasene Johnson — with a special gift that will benefit Tuskegee University graduates for decades to come.
From the 50-yard line of Sept. 7’s Labor Day Classic matchup between the Golden Tigers and Alabama State University, Johnson informed his mother that he was making a $100,000 donation to her alma mater and creating a scholarship in her honor.
Johnson’s dad, Samuel, an ASU graduate, found out at the same time that his son was doing the same in his honor to benefit Alabama State students. Michael made the announcement alongside Tuskegee President Lily D. McNair and ASU President Quinton T. Ross Jr. in front of a record crowd of 27,838 Golden Tiger and Hornet fans.
“As a mother, I know what it means anytime one of your children makes a special gesture to acknowledge the role you play in their lives. What Michael has done in honor of both his parents is truly a heartwarming example of the impact parents have on their children — and the impact donors can have on making the gift of education possible for others,” McNair said.
Johnson, who retired from the NFL in August 2019, has made forging new educational and economic opportunities for others in and around his native Selma, Alabama, his new full-time job. He’s doing this through his MJ 93-90 Foundation — an organization he founded in 2009 during his rookie year, and that his mother ran while he played in the NFL.
Rooted in the biblical philosophy that to whom much is given, much is expected, Johnson and his foundation are focused on helping youth capitalize on their talents and abilities — with an emphasis on education, technology, and proper health and nutrition.
To achieve those goals, Johnson is working throughout Dallas County and Alabama’s Black Belt on leveraging community, corporate and educational partnerships to better opportunities for area youth. The foundation’s earliest efforts — which have included an annual Youth Empowerment Summit, Kids and Technology Day, Michael Johnson Football and Cheer Camp, and Veteran’s Day breakfast — have paved the way for his latest venture.
In late August, Johnson opened Alabama’s first Best Buy Teen Tech Center, located on the Wallace Community College-Selma campus. It provides area teenagers with a safe, after-school learning environment where they can interact with the latest technology as they prepare for college and careers beyond it. Although there are 30 such centers in the country, Johnson’s is the state’s first — and the only one in the nation not connected with a local Best Buy store.
“After just a few moments of speaking with him, you know that education is Michael’s passion,” McNair said. “In many ways, he is emulating our own Booker T. Washington through his efforts. He recognizes — like Dr. Washington did — that access to competitive and contemporary educational and social experiences is so vital to one’s personal success.”
To support those efforts, Tuskegee University began working with Johnson and the MJ 93-90 Foundation even before this scholarship contribution. During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, students, faculty and administrators volunteered with his Empower Music Festival in Selma. The three-day event — designed to enrich the cultural, economic and social vitality of the Black Belt region — featured street artists, food vendors, a battle of the bands, main stage performances, and informational venues focused on health and wellness, entrepreneurship and investing, and living history forums.
Through conversations with Tuskegee nursing students and faculty as they volunteered at the festival, Johnson learned of needs in the School of Nursing and Allied Health that would better expose students to high-tech and high-touch learning resources. Just before classes began in August, Johnson surprised the school with a donation of high-fidelity patient simulation mannequins capable of replicating real-life scenarios for nursing students, as well as modern hospital beds, medical equipment and supplies.
Johnson’s collaboration with the university is not limited to his philanthropic support. He is already discussing with Tuskegee’s leadership ongoing academic, entrepreneurial and athletic empowerment initiatives that will benefit students and enhance degree programs.
Johnson began his professional football career in 2009 when he was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals. After five seasons with the Bengals, he spent one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before returning to the Bengals in 2015. It was around that time that he also completed his degree from Georgia Tech, where he played as a defensive end during the 2005 through 2008 seasons.
By: Tuskegee NFL