Controversial ‘Prince of Pan-Africanism’ to speak at Kent State


John Jones reacts to a video of Dr. Umar Johnson being shown during a Pride! Kent general meeting

Payton Moore

Umar Johnson, a learning disability psychologist, will speak at Kent State on Monday. Johnson works with black youth to determine if they have mental disabilities at a young age, and is often criticized for his anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic views

The self-proclaimed blood relative of Frederick Douglass has appeared in several black TV shows and documentaries exposing race injustice. In 2012, Johnson wrote, “Psycho-Academic Holocaust: The Special Education and ADHD Wars Against Black Boys.” He has spoken at several colleges and universities, but is often challenged by members of the LGBTQ community.

There are several theories as to whether or not Johnson has an actual doctorate in psychology. On an episode of “Wake Up Afrika,” a black radio show, hosts called Johnson a scam artist and brainwasher. Additionally, YouTube channel “Get Down to Business so we can get things Done” accused Johnson of identity theft and fraud. Johnson’s representatives have declined to speak on the matter. 

In an interview with KTL radio, Johnson said the gay rights movement was that of conspiracy. He’s also said to have “treated” those who identify as LGBTQ as persons with a mental illness.

Johnson currently has a “GoFundMe” page, and hopes to raise five million dollars to acquire St. Paul’s college in Lawrenceville, Virginia to create an all-black male school.

Last semester, John Jones, a junior entrepreneurship major, created the group L.O.C.K.S, or Leaders of Conscious Knowledge Seekers. L.O.C.K.S. holds weekly workshops and discussions. According to Jones, L.O.C.K.S. seemed like a good idea to start because he believed individuals trying to tackle big issues in society should educate themselves as much as possible.

In October, Jones contacted Johnson. Jones resonated with Johnson’s documentaries, and was inspired and motivated to have him come to the university. 

“It really impacted me, like, the conviction he had in his voice,” Jones said. “I looked him up on YouTube after finding his (documentaries) and found out he had a goal and a dream similar to mine.” 

Much like Johnson, Jones desires to start a school teaching pan-Africanism to young black males. According to Jones, at Johnson’s planned institution, young black men will be taught the skills necessary to create a self-sufficient society. 

Kent State worked with Jones to get Johnson’s honorary fees down from $4,500. After he was scheduled to speak at Kent State, the university received a formal letter from Preston Mitchum, a Kent State alum, condemning the college’s agreement to host Johnson.

“My goal here is to spread awareness of the person coming, including his often homophobic, sexist, and hate-filled speeches,” Mitchum wrote. “This is not a First Amendment issue, but an inclusion issue and it is necessary that we figure out how to best balance the two at a campus as diverse as Kent State University.”

Mitchum first saw Johnson’s promotional flyers on Twitter and Instagram. An active member of Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government when he was enrolled in 2004-2008, he and his colleagues were immediately disappointed in a university as diverse as Kent State.

“He calls himself a veteran of black people … but he only represents the cisgender black men,” Mitchum said. 

Mitchum outlined Johnson’s hate speak, including his view that parents should “cure” their children of their homosexuality through conversion therapies. According to Mitchum, Johnson said gays are only gay because their mothers “emotionally castrate” them, and lesbians are only lesbian because they’re “masculine.”

Mitchum is not the only person to speak out against bringing Johnson to campus. At L.O.C.K.S.’s weekly meeting Tuesday evening, Austin Mariasy, a freshman journalism major and reporter for Fusion, Kent State’s LGBTQ magazine, asked Jones why Johnson’s visit was necessary for Kent State.

“Fusion wasn’t there to participate in the meeting. They wanted to ask me questions about Johnson that if they attended the speech, they could ask him himself,” Jones said. “They came off aggressive and I thought they might try to disrupt the event or hassle (Johnson).”

Hassling Johnson, according to Jones, will result in participants being escorted from the event.

“In a university, it’s about the free expression of ideas and opinions. If people disrupt something like that, it won’t be conducive to future programs,” Jones said.

Jones admits he was aware of Johnson’s stance on the LGBTQ community. This did not deter him from bringing Johnson to campus.

Shay Little, vice president of student affairs, explained how Kent State wishes for the discussion to reflect the core values of the university while balancing everyone’s First Amendment rights.

Little said that if Dr. Johnson were to be canceled, it would represent a breach of contract and would be handled primarily through L.O.C.K.S. She adds that those troubled by the speech are encouraged to reach out to the university’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the LGBT Center and the Women’s Center during or after the program. 

“If others wish to counter Dr. Johnson’s speech, I’d encourage them to get together to bring someone on campus and have that dialogue,” Little said.

Candace Taylor, a junior criminology and justice studies major and vice president of Focus on the Future, said she will be attending Johnson’s program to challenge his views with her friends.

“I do not want Johnson to come. At all. He has these hateful views and spiteful ways. So why Kent (State)?” Taylor said.

Mitchum, now an attorney in Washington D.C., said even if he was in Ohio, he would not attend. 

“I just really hope people come out to the event and share their ideas freely, and take something from it,” Jones said.

Johnson will speak at Kent State on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Kiva.

Payton Moore is a senior reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]