Black Leaders Spotlight: Keith Anthony Johnson

Throughout your lifetime comes moments when you recognize and honor a person that isn’t popular or famous for his contributions to society, and just like many others we know who aren’t mentioned their influences and impacts to their community were great. In the leadership arena, Keith Johnson comes up humbly because of his consistency to display and build qualities of truth, loyalty, and love with his family, friends, co-workers, and other people he would meet.

Keith was born in Kingston, Jamaica February 10, 1932. From the day I was born I can remember my dad saying, “take care of your mother”. From the beginning my dad’s love and connection with his Mom was his foundation. He loved his Dad just as much, but his Mom was his favorite. And from the day my sister was born I can remember my dad saying, “take care of your sister”. This came from the respect he had for his younger sister. My dad stuck by his sister and throughout their childhood developed a close bond.

He enjoyed his early childhood and spoke about his mom being close to the church and his dad playing the organ for Sunday service. His sister was athletic and played softball for school. He used to go out with his Mom’s brother a lot, who was a mechanic and would fix cars. With all these good vibes going on, you could imagine how hard it was to know that, my dad’s father past away before he was 16 and his mom right around 21. Growing up and helping to raise his younger sister, while attending school for accounting and carpentry were some of the major responsibilities that molded him into being a loving, strong, proud, and independent black man. Even though at these times racial and ethnic injustices were still happening around the world, he and his sister finished high school and shortly after their mother pasted, it didn’t take long before he decided to follow his sister who had moved to England.

In England he started a 20 year adventure into experiencing the best of what he could put his mind to. He loved jazz so much he practically went to see every major jazz artist that performed on a live tour to London. Literally all the greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn he read about and followed throughout their careers. And as that scene was growing, he was witnessing their success and enjoyed it with them. Being an avid reader, there wasn’t much he would miss and there wasn’t a story about any Jazz artist he couldn’t tell you about. I believe as jazz artists and black people had it hard, my dad saw how he could relate with them and he read as much as he could to help his focus and determination to being successful against the odds.

He stayed in tune with news, sports, educational programs, and had nature and world awareness delivered to his door step. His favorite magazines were Readers Digest, National Geographic, Ebony, and Jet. He read every New York Times newspaper, from the day I was born, to when he eventually stopped getting papers in the 2000’s. Really incredible to me. He also chose to learn how to be a botanist and take care of plants and fruit trees with expertise. His gardening skills were on point and fashioned the best flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and trees he could grow. Lots of fun food was on the ready, all year round from his different harvests.

Amazing to me after loosing both of his parents how his resilience and focus allowed him to grow into an intelligent black man, who at the time was still being treated unequally in the US. Which is why he stayed in England until 1970.

Though England had its own racist issues, it was more inviting for blacks and he was able to earn a living and buy a home in a nice neighborhood. He was studying and working as a train mechanic in London. He was into good food, woman, tea, a little bit of liquor and milo. He always looked after his health and ate good and plenty, while always maintaining an athletic figure. He played a little soccer in Jamaica and loved watching that, cricket, track & field, boxing, tennis and horse racing. Those were his go to sports and a couple of them he would compare to American sports. One of his favorite things to say, was how baseball isn’t as skillful because you have to wear a glove to catch the ball, where is in cricket, you have to use your bare hand. lol

He really studied history, politics, math, economics, and electronics and used the knowledge of those to teach to my sister and I about our black ancestors, inventors, and scholars. He also shed a lot of truth about how the Europeans or the white man period, enslaved our African people. I mean he instilled so much pride in us to know they tried to break us and couldn’t and how we still rose up and did great things they thought were impossible. Inventing the cotton gin, the refrigerator, the traffic light, the blood bank, down to peanut butter and astronomy were just a touch of how truly amazing we became in an environment that tried to impede our social equality, our education and our financial well-being. My dad was part of the resilient and focused black people who were inspired by this. Leaders like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X and writers like Fredrick Douglas and Langston Hughes were also among those that were in his library to inspire him as well. This type of energy is what inspired me to write this blog. And the simple fact that knowledge is power. These three words can extend the meaning into spiritual and physical confidences, which is what I think my dad shared without actually saying it.

These are the principles that Keith grew and lived with all his life. He was always nice to people and polite to women. Even though my mom and dad divorced, they did get remarried about 15 years later and showed me what true love is all about.

After moving to America in 1970 is when my dad met my mom, who was also from Jamaica. At a wedding reception in New Jersey, amongst friends, they fell in love. My sister and I had a great childhood and up bringing in Baldwin, Long Island. They both worked really hard and my dad led the family in having a 100% work attendance record with Path for 30 years unless they were on strike. Wow, yes he did not miss 1 day of work for sickness or take a day for himself. Now that’s some hard shoes to follow but, we here, we ready, and we up. My sister and I have made my dad proud in many ways and will continue to shine.

Keith would want all the children and everyone to read, write, dream, and take care of their family. With god and faith everything else will work out ok. Even if things get rough, he would say, “don’t look for any stimulants or substance escapes, try to deal with all your problems head on”.

In terms of being a leader, I think many of these qualities can be taken into consideration and used as inspiration.