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A Salute to Rev. Nelson Napoleon Johnson

Akua Johnson Matherson and Ayo Samori Johnson / April 27, 2018

Ayo Johnson, Joyce Johnson, Akua Johnson Matherson, Rev. Nelson N. Johnson, Josiah Johnson and Alise Matherson.

The Rev. Nelson Johnson is our father. He will be celebrating retirement from 25 years of pastoring at Faith Community Church and his 75th birthday on Saturday, April 28, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Dad’s good friend, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, will be the keynote speaker at the celebration. As we expected, he wants those whom he has worked with and worked for over the years to join in celebrating with him. In a sense, we have grown up in the shadow of our Dad’s public life and activism. We, as his daughters, want to share a different perspective, a more personal perspective of the life of this wonderful man.

His entire life has been dedicated to helping others: he has always been an advocate for the underdog, what he terms as “the least among us.” Early in his career, he came to the conclusion that the pain and suffering experienced by an overwhelming majority of people grows less from their weaknesses and more from systemic injustices. He has challenged any and all injustices throughout our lives. Although he has often been projected publicly as a “militant” and an unreasonable man, in actuality, he is a soft and compassionate man, going out of his way to help others.

In addition to the stories we have all heard about and read in the paper over the years from the K-Mart worker struggles, the Truth and Reconciliation Process, and more recently the effort to guarantee a living wage for all, we personally know him as a man who will put all of that aside to support and be there for his family. We know him as a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. But did you know, he fashions himself a crooner (in private only), a family comedian and the best ‘Pony’ dancer this side of the Mississippi (for those who remember that dance). Our dad, along with our mom, went out of his way to make our lives normal in the middle of fighting for the underprivileged. And not only did he do it for us but for all of the friends and extended family we have in Greensboro. He was one of the most involved dads among our friendship group. Everyone thought our dad was cool. This is something that a news article could never illustrate and why as our dad attempts to step away from the pulpit, we find it important that everyone knows the whole picture.

We can recount countless stories of him picking us up from Tot’s Haven Daycare and helping out at Peeler Elementary School. We remember him meeting us at basketball games and dance recitals in junior high school. We still recall him walking into the Depot (teen hangout) and speaking to everyone when he was supposed to wait outside to pick us up – talk about embarrassing.

Everyone knew Rev. Johnson. When Ayo participated in all day track meets with the Greensboro Champions, there he was in a straw hat, toting a Bible to read between events donning a pair of Adidas sneakers, and walking around checking on everybody. When Akua became a Pantherette at Dudley High School, both he and our mom instantly became not only Dudley parents but many assumed they were alumni because they were present at everything and so involved. Then of course, we were taught the importance of N.C. A&T State University to our family history. We heard about our dad as Vice President of the SGA, but we also heard about his father who attended N.C. A&T as a Negro Normal School for Boys.

Because of our dad, the two of us have grown up to be caring and compassionate young women who in our own way continue to carry the banner of our father’s work. Akua, the oldest, is a passionate advocate for historically Black colleges and universities and works diligently on behalf of students, particularly first-generation students to make sure they grow to their full potential. Ayo, the youngest and a nurse by trade, works to set up community nursing in churches providing services to underserved populations. While neither of us is on the front lines of a march, both of us have advocated for the least of these and spoken publicly in our fields of expertise on behalf of others to insure fair and equitable treatment for all. This is something that our father instilled in us that will always be with us.

We want our dad to know, we love him and are so proud of all he has accomplished and will continue to do. And we want the Greensboro community to know our dad is so much more than a political activist and minister, he is one of the best fathers in Greensboro and we are honored to be his daughters. Finally, we want him to know how much we appreciate all that he and our mother did to make our lives as normal as possible being the children of a nationally known activist and a recognized minister. We love and salute you, Daddy.

Special to the Peacemaker by Akua Johnson Matherson and Ayo Samori Johnson – Daughters of the Rev. Nelson N. Johnson


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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