Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Jaden Johnson

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Today’s “Spotlight” is an amazing young man who has his heart and mind set on many different goals. His personality outshines and he is easily going to make a name for himself. Let me introduce you to Jaden Johnson.

Jaden Johnson is nineteen years old and is attending Illinois State University. At ISU, he is pursuing a major in psychology and running track at the D1 level. Jaden is not only pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree, he also plans to attend graduate school to become a doctor of psychology and open his own private practice. Not only is Jaden eager to learn, but he is also an amazing runner. Pre-Covid, Jaden managed to place top five in the Missouri Valley Conference and secured a spot as the seventh-fastest sixty-meter hurdler in ISU history.

I asked Jaden what Black History Month means to him. He explained, “To me, Black History Month is a chance to appreciate one of the most oppressed races in human history. It is an opportunity to shed light on not only the great Black people who have contributed and made a difference in society, but Black people as a whole. However, I feel like Black History Month is the one month of the year that black people can truly feel appreciated and somewhat “equal” after spending the other eleven months feeling unheard, under-appreciated, and afraid. So, for the month of February (even though it’s the shortest month of the year) we feel loved and respected; which I feel is well deserved.”

Asking my spotlights what they wish those who are not Black Americans would better understand is a great way to further educate ourselves. Jaden told me, “Obviously being Black isn’t temporary. So, when we go on about being mistreated and constantly reminding people that black lives matter, it’s not only for us but for future generations to come.  Our ancestors marched and protested so that we wouldn’t have to experience discrimination and it’s depressing that we still deal with it. People who aren’t Black Americans will never be able to understand what it’s truly like, as this is something that can only be understood through experience.” I think Jaden’s words are so true, and it’s so important for us to remember this. 

When asked what steps are needed to be taken in order to get closer to true equality, Jaden said, “There are countless steps that need to be taken in order to start a true shift towards equality in our nation. I believe that systemic racism is one of the most predominant forms of racism that we experience today. Whether it’s being overlooked on a job application or making less money in the same position as our white counterparts, systemic racism seems to be the biggest factor in setting us back in life. However, I feel like my generation has the power to set a change in motion. We need to be willing to have difficult conversations and white people need to hold each other accountable when they see acts of racism being displayed. There are obviously many other things that can happen as well but this is definitely a start!”

I credit my spotlights who are comfortable enough to talk about their experiences with racial discrimination. Jaden shared, “A time that I experienced racial discrimination was after I delivered my high school graduation speech. Within a few days of me speaking at graduation, I received texts and had conversations with white students and parents saying things like, ‘Wow I’m so surprised at how well you did!’ or ‘I didn’t know you could speak like that!’ or “You got valedictorian over (blank), wow, how’d you manage to pull that off?’ Some of you may not see this as a problem, but to me, it felt like they didn’t think I was capable of delivering a speech in the manner that I did. It also made me feel like I wasn’t “supposed” to beat out the other candidates.” I was there for that speech and it was truly extraordinary.

Jaden is an exceptional young man; his words ring so true and powerful. I cannot wait to see Jaden open up his own private practice, and continue breaking records for ISU’s track team. He is going places, and there is no denying it!