Johnson returns to boyhood home

Published 2:37 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
For Jerry Johnson, a member of the White House Fellowship program, the chance to speak at Liberty Missionary Baptist Church was a homecoming. "My grandfather, Nathaniel Holt, helped found this church," Johnson said in an exclusive interview. "He even helped build the original pews out of lumber from the mill."
According to several church members Liberty just celebrated its 98th anniversary.
Johnson's speech was part of the festivities of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day program.
Johnson, a former resident of Atmore, is currently working on a national defense initiative with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield.
Johnson graduated from Escambia County High School with honors before going on to study at the University of Tennessee where he also graduated with honors. Because of his achievements he was accepted to Harvard Business School's masters program, Johnson said.
It was at Harvard that he found out about the Fellowship Program. "I had a friend that was roommates with Colin Powell during [Powell's] term in the Fellowship program," Johnson said. "He told me I would be good for this program."
Johnson, then an investment banker with McKenzie and Co. in Atlanta, entered the one-year program to find out how government works, he said. "This is one of the very few venues where a person can learn the internal workings of government in a short period of time while engaging in the political process and making changes for the good," Johnson said.
Part of the knowledge he has gained in the Fellowship program made him realize why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was so important. "Working with this program helped me realize what made Dr. King great," Johnson said. "He did three things really well; He set forth a plan of engagement, he energized his vision into a plan involving the inner workings of our system of government, and he set ways to implement change within that system," Johnson said.
According to the White House Fellowship web -site, The White House Fellowship program is a one year program designed to train leaders how to work with the political process. "The Fellowship program is a three-part program," Johnson said. "In the first part you learn how to do things within the system, in the second part you learn about diplomacy and the third part is an educational part where you speak to officials and learn what their plans for government are."
Johnson said he has completed two parts of the process, he is currently working under the secretary of defense and he has meat with President Bush to discuss the president's views on where he hopes this country will go. "The president is a very down to earth guy and he's very easy to talk to," said Johnson. "Talking to a lot of politicians is like talking to a brick wall but he listens very well and he gets involved with the conversation." The next step of the process is to go to India and China around Christmas this year to try to build up a relationship between America and those countries, Johnson said.
Johnson's speech was primarily about his relationship to the Atmore community and how important it was to get involved. A lot of Johnson's speech was about Liberty Missionary Baptist Church and the lessons he learned there and around this community. "I grew up coming to Liberty," said Johnson. "I remember being so little my legs dangled off the pews."
Johnson said he learned more about human nature and more about finance and what it takes to succeed in life in Atmore than in all of his studies at Harvard and all of his time in Washington.
"This place will always be home to me and I am glad I had this chance to come back home," Johnson concluded.

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