Activist Jeff Johnson discusses students leadership and the Chardon High School tragedy


Author Jeff Johnson speaks to a crowd at the Kiva on Feb. 29. Johnson talked about issues affecting the current political scene in America and how those in college could change it. Photo by Brian Smith.

Christina Suttles

Black United Students concluded their Black History Month activities at a fundraiser Wednesday night with activist Jeff Johnson as the keynote speaker.

The primary conversation of the evening was young people’s growing detachment from community involvement because of confusion and how to re-establish nation-building.

He cited the Chardon shooting as another result of this detatchment.

“I think about the vigil that is going on right now for the young people who were killed in Chardon,” Johnson said. “I think about how many young people are dying on a daily basis as a result of socio-economic and political pressure that find itself pushing on young people and those people at many times crack from the pressure, or due to lack of education or involvement.”

Johnson said that he believes the youth of today are apathetic and inactive, and that the only way to prevent tragedies like Chardon is to start to get involved in leadership positions.

Johnson then went on to distinguish between a movement and a political campaign. He said that movements are about passion and leadership while campaigns are about giving a good speech and being charismatic. He said that the two are confused too often by today’s youth.

“Your leadership is predicated on what you change; not how you speak,” he said. “On what you change, not how charismatic you are. This generation actually believes that leadership is about showing up, giving a good speech and leaving.”

He said that entertainers shouldn’t be considered leaders or role models and that most artists and athletes are waiting on the youth to start a movement.  

“Some people think that just because you stand at a podium and collect a BET award, or an Oscar, or a Grammy award that a purple cloud of enlightenment wraps around you and gives you the ability to dissect complex problems in a single bound,” he said. “That doesn’t happen.”

Lastly, Johnson discussed what he believes are the three traditional foundations for community-building in the African-American community. They were the black church, the black electorate and political organizations such as NAACP and The Links, Inc.

Johnson criticized the NAACP for having 64 board members, claiming that it affects practical decision making.

Johnson is a Cleveland native and an award-winning television journalist best known for his numerous appearances on Black Entertainment Television’s “Rap City”, playing Cousin Jeff.

He worked as senior advisor for media and youth outreach for People for the American Way and has interviewed the likes of President Obama and then-Senator Hilary Clinton.

He has published commentaries for CNN and MSNBC and has been a strong advocate for social justice, discussing such topics such as race, politics and popular culture.  

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].