Atmore native tapped for White House fellowship

Published 8:30 pm Monday, July 19, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
Recently, Atmore native Jerry Johnson became one of a select few to earn the prestigious Whitehouse fellowship. Johnson, who grew up in Atmore, credits family and the small-town atmosphere of Atmore for helping him earn the fellowship, only given to 30 people each year.
Johnson grew up in Atmore with his mother, and his grandfather, Nathanial Holt, who was one of the founders of Liberty Baptist Church.
He lived in Atmore until he was 13, when his mother, Mary Holt Johnson, died. He then moved to Mississippi to live with his brother. Despite his difficult circumstances, Johnson thrived in his studies and his carrier.
Now 33 years old, he is the vice president of securities at Wachovia. In business school, he led a year-long project with Harvard Business School students to devise a strategy for BankBoston to invest over $50 million in domestic emerging minority markets.
"I remember Atmore being a wonderful town to grow up in, where you knew your neighbors," Johnson said. "It was a town that promoted education and spirituality. I always tell people, you have to find a way to preserve that."
For Johnson, the fellowship is an opportunity to combine his interests and drives, to be able to give back to the community, by using his business acumen and contacts. The fellowship program, Johnson said, could help him make a larger positive impact in the lives of others in the future.
Much of that inspiration comes from his grandfather, Holt. "He was a big influence on my life. I remember we used to walk every day to MLK from Moseley Street," Johnson said.
Taking the fellowship means a drop in pay for the business executive, but Holt's words ring true in that decision as well. "He told me it's better to sacrifice a little for long-term gain, and I think that's what I'm doing," Johnson said.
The White House fellows program was created in 1965 by a Presidential commission, to provide gifted and highly motivated young Americans with first-hand experience in the process of governing the nation and a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society, according to White House information.
Johnson beat nearly 1,000 applicants for one of the 30 positions over a year-long application process, including being interviewed by up to three prominent government officials at a time. "I was interviewed by four-star generals, ambassadors…" Johnson said. "It was stressful, but I enjoyed it."
White House Fellows typically spend a year as full-time, paid assistants to senior White House Staff, the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries and other top-ranking government officials.

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