Thanks for watching me graduate Mr. Johnson

Two very important American news media figures passed from the scene over the past several days.

Longtime ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has, of course, been extensively eulogized in the media since his death was announced Sunday. Because so much has been said about Jennings I will only say that I admired his work and his intellect. He was more than just another TV pretty face, he was a reporter and a damn good one.

John H. Johnson died Monday at age 87. Johnson took a $500 loan secured by his mother’s furniture to establish “Jet” and “Ebony” magazines, the largest and most successful publications aimed at a Black American audience.

Although I have probably read either Jet or Ebony less that a dozen times, Johnson’s death has a personal and probably a bit unusual meaning to me. Johnson, you see, watched me pass in review during my Navy boot camp graduation in September 1974. He didn’t come to watch just me pass in review, of course.

Occasions such as that boot camp graduation at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, just north of Chicago, usually include some guest of honor to watch the recruits who have completed training march past the reviewing stand. We were required to salute the reviewing officer and guest while marching by with an “eyes right.” Johnson was a VIP worthy of being asked to review the new recruits, so we gave him and the senior naval officer with him our respect.

I probably had never read or even looked closely at a Jet or Ebony until after that day. Later I realized that this gentleman who came to watch me graduate embodied the spirit of the American Dream. That is the spirit of achieving what is possible as opposed to the outcome of the Dream itself, although, Johnson surely must have enjoyed that outcome.

In his autobiography, “Succeeding Against the Odds,” Mr. Johnson said: “I believe that the only failure is failing to try…and if my life has meaning…it is because millions of Americans, Black and White, have proved through me that the Dream is still alive and well and working in America.”

We could use more folks with a can-do voice like John Johnson’s. I will always appreciate his presence that day watching Company 74-209 and the others graduate.

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