LOS ANGELES, CA, March 1989—The phone rings in Jim Johnson’s UCLA office. On the line is Jack Kasarda, a UNC sociologist and director of Carolina’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. Kasarda had been on a review panel for a grant proposal Johnson wrote; it’s a 10-year project on urban inequality in four U.S. cities, involving 8,000 households, 4,000 employers, 40 researchers from 15 universities, and contracts for several books.
Kasarda’s impressed; but he doesn’t want to talk about the grant. He’s been following Johnson’s career as a UCLA demographer for a decade. And he knows where Johnson is from.
“Let me ask you something, Jim,” Kasarda says. “What would it take for you to come back to North Carolina?”
Johnson, surprised at the idea, sits up in his chair. He knows Kasarda’s at the top of his field, one of the most cited sociologists of his generation, an unbelievable researcher. But Johnson loves UCLA—it’s become his home. And where better to study urban poverty than the City of Angels?
Johnson tells Kasarda he just got a full professorship at UCLA. To move someplace else, he’d want an endowed professorship, eight trips a year to Los Angeles to finish his urban-inequality study, and money for his four graduate students. Johnson thinks he’s putting himself safely out of Kasarda’s price range.
But Kasarda answers, “Anything else?”
Johnson doesn’t know what to say, so he bails. “I’m sorry, Jack, I gotta run to class. I’ll think about it.”
A few days later, Kasarda calls again. Johnson fesses up: “Let me be honest—I’m not really interested in leaving UCLA.”
Kasarda refuses to take no for an answer. “Why don’t you let us fly you back to North Carolina?” he asks. “Visit your family, and just meet with us while you’re here.”
Johnson agrees, and when he comes to Chapel Hill, Kasarda tells him how he’d have a home at UNC’s business school. He could link his work on urban poverty to social entrepreneurship—creative business solutions to entrenched poverty. They could team up on demography projects vital to Johnson’s home state and the country.
It’s all intriguing. But Johnson sees no reason why he couldn’t do all those things at UCLA. He turns Kasarda down.
CHAPEL HILL, NC, March 2013—Jim Johnson stands in front of a room full of UNC researchers and administrators who’ve gathered to hear him speak. He’s a demographer with an uncanny knack for linking population trends to the economy, to you and me, to our grandparents and kids, and to our collective future.
Photo by Donn Young
Jim Johnson, outside the Global Scholars Academy, a K-8 experimental charter school in the heart of Durham, N.C. The school is based on the latest research in social, economic, and educational theories.
Click to read photo caption. Photo by Donn Young
He says he just finished a report on a mostly urban N.C. school system that produces about 6,000 high-school graduates a year. Typically, between 1,200 and 1,800 of those students go to community college.
“This past year,” Johnson found, “71 percent of those students couldn’t pass developmental math one. That’s addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. There are four levels of developmental math before college-level math.”
It’s a tough statistic to stomach.
“These kids spend all their tuition trying to get to college-level math,” Johnson says. “Or they just drop out.”
But then Johnson asks his peers: “What if we fixed all that?” What if all high-school students entered college ready to take college courses?
He clicks on another PowerPoint slide. During the recession, he says, the long-term jobless rate increased more rapidly among college-educated people than it did among people with a high-school education or less.
“Now, someone told me that if you go to school, graduate, stay out of trouble, and go to college, life is gonna be good,” he says. “We’re in a white-collar recession, folks.”
Then he says, “This doesn’t mean kids should drop out of school. It means they need something else in their tool kit.”
Training college graduates for particular jobs and narrow career paths might be necessary, he says, but it’s not sufficient. “Who’s to say which jobs we’ll need to fill in the future?” he says. Right now engineers and architects are struggling to find work because the global supply of well-trained talent is high.
Aside from health-related jobs, it’s hard to know what sorts of careers will be hot in the future.
“But we’ll definitely need people with strong analytical skills—reasoning,” Johnson says. “We’ll definitely want people with entrepreneurial acumen—when one door shuts in your face, you can cut another. We’ll need people with contextual intelligence—the ability to use the full power of every smart technology at our disposal and see around corners before we get there. We’ll need people with impeccable soft skills—the ability to move through one cultural context to the next.”
Johnson eyes his audience full of white, middle-class academics. “I could drop you off on a corner in Durham, and you’d be dumber than hell because you don’t understand the code of the streets,” he says. “Likewise, I could bring in some kids from Durham, and they’d be dumb here. We need to be able to move between the suites and the streets without missing a beat. Same thing globally. We’ll need people with cultural elasticity.
“We’ll need people who are agile and flexible—people who can constantly reinvent themselves, who can think creatively. That’s the nature of society—the only constant is change. And it’s now happening at breakneck speed.”
But can K–12 schools foster such skills in kids? Johnson is betting on it.
DURHAM, NC, October 2006—Union Baptist Church is so quiet that Johnson can hear his knees crack when he kneels to pray. It’s the same church where he was married. The same one he attended when he was an undergrad at NC Central University.
He’s deep in thought about a problem that’s been on his mind for a long time.
He’s sick of inner-city kids falling through the cracks, falling into drugs, into violence. He knows there’s only so much a community can do to help. But he thinks we can do more. He thinks he can do more.
After church he approaches the minster with an idea.
“I want to build a school,” Johnson says. “Right over there.” Johnson points to a vacant lot on the corner of North Roxboro and Dowd streets. It wouldn’t be a typical school, he tells the preacher. It would be mostly for low-income kids.
Courtesy of UNC News Services
Reverend Kenneth Hammond of Durham’s Union Baptist Church and UNC professor Jim Johnson teamed up to start the Union Independent School in 2007. When the school recieved its charter, the board renamed it the Global Scholars Academy.
Click to read photo caption. Courtesy of UNC News Services
“We’d feed them breakfast, lunch, and healthful snacks,” Johnson says. “We’d raise enough money to attract the best teachers.” Class sizes would be small. The kids would play outside. They’d garden and learn life skills. The entire school would have a code that kids would be expected to abide by. Teachers would stress morality; they’d engage with parents. Students would have access to technologies they’d be expected to master by the time they reached college.
“We’d protect the students,” he tells the preacher. “We’d love them. We’d provide them with tutors and mentors from colleges. The curriculum would be infused with lessons on entrepreneurship, financial literacy, global awareness, health, and wellness. It would be a laboratory school based on the latest research in educational theory. A community hub. It would stay open until 6 p.m. and on weekends. It would be the jewel of the community.”
The minister is sold and pitches the idea to his congregation the following Sunday.
“We need a new school for our kids, a school that succeeds,” the preacher says. And the voices answer, “Amen!”
The congregation, some 6,000 strong, raises $300,000 within a month and commits to raising $10 million more.
Johnson secures more funds from the Kenan Charitable Trust and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The church buys two blocks’ worth of Durham, a tract of land with a past. Johnson knows its history—building a school there, he thinks, will be more than fitting. Construction begins the following spring.
DURHAM, NC, June 1957—Six black youth and their reverend gather at Union Baptist Church. Some of their friends don’t want them to do what they’re about to do, but they believe that God is on their side and history soon will be.
Courtesy of the Durham Herald-Sun
Protests outside the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in 1962, five years after seven youth were arrested for entering under the whites-only sign and sitting in the whites-only section.
Click to read photo caption. Courtesy of the Durham Herald-Sun
The seven—the reverend goes with them—cross Dowd Street and enter the Royal Ice Cream Parlor underneath a sign that reads, “White only.” They sit and wait for service. The waitress refuses to serve them. The manager comes out and tells them to leave. They refuse. They give him their order. The manager shakes his head and walks away to call the police.
Bystanders glare, hurl a few slurs. Police show up and tell the seven that if they leave now, the manager won’t press charges. The seven refuse. The police arrest them. They appear in court and are found guilty of trespassing, which carries a fine of $10. But they refuse to let the issue drop. They appeal.
At superior court, their lawyer challenges the constitutionality of segregation. The all-white jury doesn’t buy it. The seven are found guilty but refuse to let it end like that. They appeal to North Carolina’s supreme court, which upholds the lower court’s ruling. The seven appeal again, this time to the Supreme Court of the United States. But the highest court in the land refuses to hear their case.
The protestors pay their fines. Segregation laws stand firm.
But the sit-in stirs something in the community and among civil-rights activists. Three years later, the Greensboro sit-ins gain national attention and become a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
~ ~ ~
Today, at that same site—the intersection of North Roxboro and Dowd—there’s a historical marker commemorating the sit-in. The Royal Ice Cream Parlor is no longer there. Instead there’s a school—the brainchild of a man who understands the legacy of Jim Crow and why too many kids from our inner cities still struggle.
FARMVILLE, NC, July 1959—The balmy morning breeze gives way to an enduring heat on the tobacco fields. Thirsty and hungry, farmhands gather under an old oak tree and whistle for Jim Johnson. Four years old and raring to go, Jim Junior comes running, takes their lunch orders and their coins, and runs to Pap’s Grocery to fetch drinks.
Click to read photo caption.
He hands the store clerk the money, takes back the change, and counts it. He’s not yet in school but can add and subtract quite well. His uncle taught him. He pockets a few coins for himself and waits for the drinks. The grocer hands him a bag and little Jim runs back. The workers are pleased. They always are.
With his coins and under the guidance of his uncle, Jim starts a savings account at the local bank.
“Don’t spend all that money,” his father tells him. “You never know when you’ll really need it.”
Running errands for cash at four years of age is a good thing for Jim Junior. He prizes work. To him, it’s a kind of freedom. To his parents, though, his chores and paid errands are just good ways to build character. To them, it’s school that equals freedom. They tell their three kids that they’ll be going to college. They’ll achieve great things. It’s a given. Get used to the idea.
They do. The notion of going to college becomes entrenched.
FARMVILLE, NC, December 1965—The teacher clears her throat, signaling the students to stop talking and take their seats. She tells them to open their textbooks to chapter three, and they all do what they’re told.
Jim Johnson, 10 years old, sits up straight in the fourth row. He’s a decent student. He doesn’t love school, but he doesn’t mind it.
Click to read photo caption.
He finds chapter three and sighs. There in the margins are handwritten racist comments. He’s heard such remarks before. Now they’re staring back at him from a page. The book, he remembers, is a hand-me-down from a white school. He recalls his father’s advice: Don’t suffer fools. Don’t waste your anger on the ignorant. Just work hard. You’ll be rewarded.
After school, Jim Junior meets with his friends. They ride their beat-up bikes to Lee’s Snack Bar. They speak excitedly of Christmas. Each of them wants a new bike—a Schwinn. They can’t wait. They’ve primed their parents. They’ve been good kids.
Christmas morning, young Jim wakes up early and rushes into the living room. There’s no bike. Instead, there are a few easily forgettable toys and a shine box. Santa got him a shine box.
Jim Junior doesn’t enjoy Christmas. But he doesn’t sulk for too long.
The next Saturday he takes his shine box to Pap’s Grocery to shine shoes for 25 cents a pair. He does this every Saturday and Sunday until he saves enough money to buy himself a shiny red Schwinn.
Jim Johnson still has that bike. It hangs in a garage down east. It reminds him of his mother, who woke up at 4 a.m. to cook for family and friends. It reminds him of his father, who worked six days a week in a car-repair shop. It reminds him, still, of how hard work can pay off, and that when you work hard for something, you cherish it more than if someone just hands it to you.
That’s why, during summers as a high schooler, Johnson picked tobacco in the same fields with those same men he fetched drinks for. The work ethic translated to his schoolwork. His grades were plenty good to get into college. And his parents were plenty proud.
LOS ANGELES, CA, November 1980—The Los Angeles Forum is abuzz with new energy. His name is Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new point guard. The crowd had never seen anything like him. But Jim Johnson had. When the superstar was an undergraduate at Michigan State, Jim Johnson was a grad student who taught a course on urban affairs. In the first row every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday sat Magic Johnson.
Magic is drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Jim joins the geography department at UCLA. They stay in touch. Lakers tickets often find their way to the professor’s office. At the Forum, the professor winds up meeting some of the most influential people in the city.
Johnson begins to see a pattern—connections outside of his normal circle of friends and family matter more than he ever thought possible. He calls them weak ties—connections that hinge on much less than the love of a father or mother or childhood pal.
Johnson remembers the most important weak connection of his life—when Theodore Speigner, a professor at NC Central, tells a teenaged Johnson that he should go to graduate school.
Johnson abides and chooses the University of Wisconsin; Speigner tells him none of his students have ever gone there. Johnson’s fine with leaving the South. More than fine.
But Madison is like a foreign country. Johnson spots another black student. He hasn’t seen one for months. Johnson runs up to him and says, “Man, it’s cold as hell up here, isn’t it?” The student looks sideways at Johnson.
More than once, Johnson wonders what he’s doing in grad school; what’s he going to do with a degree in geography?
At his lowest point, Theodore Speigner calls.
“I know what you’re going through, Jim,” he says. “I’ve been there. I’ve been there when getting a master’s was the black man’s PhD. But not anymore. You’ll go on and get a doctorate; you hear me?”
Johnson hears him.
Jim Johnson, receiving his doctorate from Michigan State University
Click to read photo caption.
After two years at Wisconsin, Johnson reaches out to Michigan State demographer Stanley Brunn. He tells Brunn he admires his work. He wants to study under him. Brunn says, “Sure.” Another weak connection made.
Turns out, Brunn takes great pains to train doctoral students in how to publish their work. Johnson loves this. Every one of his papers—from a treatise on inner-city poverty to his dissertation on urban gentrification—gets published.
By age 25, he has 10 papers published. He’s turned himself into an academic.
UCLA snatches him up. California becomes home, and Johnson delves deeper into what makes poverty an entrenched part of life for millions of young Americans.
FARMVILLE, NC, June 1992—The calendar says summer is a few days off, but it’s hotter than a tire fire down east. It’s 9 a.m. Sunday. That’s when Johnson’s 82-year-old grandmother always wants him to call. She doesn’t remember or care that it’s 6 a.m. where he lives. He doesn’t mind. He’s an early riser.
“How are things in North Carolina?” Johnson asks.
“It’s so hot,” she tells him.
“But you’re inside, right?” he asks. “You have AC.”
“Oh, that,” she says. “That broke last summer.”
She’s too proud to ask someone to fix it. Johnson phones family and friends to help install a window unit until her central air can be fixed. By the time grandma is cooling off, Johnson’s reflecting on life. He’s been away from North Carolina long enough. It’s time to go home. He phones Kasarda, and by the fall, Johnson is a visiting professor at UNC.
He finishes the multiyear, multicity, multiuniversity study on urban inequality, which produces seven books. Johnson is coauthor on one of them—Prismatic Metropolis. The book explains how poverty in Los Angeles crosses racial boundaries, but cautions that minority groups such as Hispanics, blacks, and Asians face unique struggles. For instance, Johnson found that inner-city black kids often lack the extended networks of family and friends more common in immigrant communities. Black kids often lack connections, strong generational bonds, and mentors. Kids become “vulnerable” or “at-risk.”
~ ~ ~
At a business-school cocktail party full of professors, administrators, and bigwigs from the business world, Jim Johnson winds up next to Frank Kenan—the man who started UNC’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.
The two have barely met.
Kenan turns to Johnson and says, “I think kids in Durham need role models other than basketball players and drug dealers. Why don’t you come up with some ideas and get back to me?”
Kenan walks away; Johnson is flummoxed. He has no ideas.
A day later, Kenan phones Johnson and says, “Well, Jim, have you figured it out?”
“Geez, Frank,” Johnson says. “Scholars have been working on urban poverty for 30 years.”
“I didn’t ask those scholars,” Kenan retorts. “I asked you.”
“All right,” Johnson says. “I’ll get you something.”
Johnson reflects and asks himself a question: “Is there an opportunity to work with kids when no one else is paying attention to them?” In business lingo that’s called an untapped market opportunity.
His answer: weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., weekends, and summers.
Where should kids go during those times, if not home? Johnson comes up with a couple of interesting answers. The first: a midnight basketball program at the YMCA. The second answer is much stranger: the Kenan-Flagler Business School.
His pitch to Frank Kenan: connect college students who have the world by the tail with inner-city kids who are expected to fail. Bus kids from Durham to Carolina, where business-school students would tutor, mentor, even befriend middle schoolers. If the kids stuck with the program through high school, they’d receive a guaranteed college scholarship of $10,000.
Kenan likes the idea. The program, Johnson tells him, would cost between $3.5 million and $7 million, depending on how many kids were involved.
“Okay,” Kenan says. “I’ll pay half, and I’ll get my next-door neighbor to pay the other half. Sit tight; I’ll call him.”
They hang up. Johnson laughs. Kenan’s neighbor is Charlie Sanders, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. What a strong weak connection Kenan is turning out to be.
“Apparently Charlie’s in Sweden,” Kenan says. “I’ll fax him. But let’s start this up.”
Kenan doesn’t balk; he cuts a check.
~ ~ ~
Two years later, Johnson’s visiting professorship turns into a full-time job at Carolina. And for 17 years he leads the Durham Scholars program. Two hundred forty kids come through it. Eighty percent graduate from high school—double the typical graduation rate of inner-city kids. And 50 percent of those high-school graduates earn college degrees.
They lean on the business-school mentors they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. One former Durham scholar opens a car-repair shop. Another becomes an athletic director. Another goes to graduate school. Another gets a job with a law firm. The list of successes goes on and on. Instead of falling down, the kids got a leg up.
But Johnson knows that busing in kids from Durham every day can’t be sustained forever. He knows the kids need something to call their own.
DURHAM, NC, September 2012—Jim Johnson stands outside Global Scholars Academy, the K–8 charter school at the corner of Dowd and North Roxboro streets. He’s one the founders. He’s chair of the school board.
Photo by Donn Young
Students at the Global Scholars Academy, 2012.
Click to read photo caption. Photo by Donn Young
He gives tours to senators and parents, reporters and UNC students, anyone who wants to learn about this school that’s the culmination of years of studying urban poverty.
The class sizes have remained small since the school opened in 2007. The teachers are whip-smart and dedicated. And so are the students, who perform at a higher academic level than peers at other schools.
Why is that?
Johnson says it’s because typical schools operate on a deficit model—the idea that everything is wrong with these poor, minority students and we’re going to fix them. “But everything isn’t wrong with these kids,” he says. “If you look at the average poor neighborhood, not all kids end up failing. Some kids succeed against the odds.”
Why is that?
Photo by Donn Young
Students at the Global Scholars Academy having fun during a basketball drill in a physical education class.
Click to read photo caption. Photo by Donn Young
Johnson recalls his decade-long collaboration with researchers on the MacArthur Foundation Network on Successful Pathways through Middle Childhood. Johnson realizes that the vast majority of at-risk kids who do succeed have access to what social scientists call mediating institutions—the Boys and Girls Club, for instance—or they have some adult in their lives savvy enough to connect them with institutions or role models outside of the child’s typical environment.
“When you see LeBron James talk about the Boys and Girls Club, he’s serious about how much it meant to him,” Johnson says. “When Denzel Washington is asked about his secret to success, he doesn’t hesitate—the Boys and Girls Club.
“So our idea is to reengineer schools to be better mediating institutions,” he says. “That’s what we’ve done in Durham.”
The Global Scholars Academy operates on a full-year calendar—summer break is just one month, and the school actually stays open during that intercession, as well as during holiday vacations. The school day starts at 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until 6 p.m. The students get a healthful breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Johnson’s working on a study to see what sort of dinner program might work best at the school.
As for giving the kids role models, Johnson sends 120 MBA students from Carolina to the academy every year to mentor kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. “Each kid gets two mentors a year,” Johnson says. “By the time they graduate eighth grade, the kids know 16–18 people from the business world and have access to networks that extend around the globe. They’ve got those weak connections that are so important.”
CHAPEL HILL, NC, October 2011—Johnson’s at his desk at 7 a.m., already an hour into his work day, when the phone rings. It’s Rusty Duke, a superior court judge in Pitt County who, for more than 20 years, has earned a reputation as a staunch southern conservative and strict constitutionalist.
They grew up together.
“Rusty worshipped the ground my dad walked on,” Johnson says. “He used to call him ‘my other father.’ I mean, this was in the 60s. He used to tell everybody that it was my father who shaped him,” Johnson says. “He used to call me his brother.”
Rusty would hang around Johnson’s dad, who repaired cars at the auto dealership that Rusty’s dad owned. Old man Johnson would treat Rusty like his son, give him nuggets of wisdom, keep him out of trouble.
Duke never forgot. Now, years later, he hears of Jim Johnson’s work with inner-city kids. He calls and tells his old friend, “I’m tired of locking up black boys. I want to do something to help these kids before they land in my courtroom.”
“All right,” Johnson says. “Why don’t you come visit me in Durham?”
As the two old Farmville natives tour the Global Scholars Academy, Johnson tells Duke, “We’ve taken what we know—the best evidence about how to improve educational outcomes for vulnerable kids. We’ve promised parents that we will protect their kids, show affection for their kids, correct their kids when they’re going the wrong way, and connect them with people who will become assets for them during school and later in life,” Johnson says.
Duke thinks of his father, of Johnson’s dad, and the debt he owes them both. Some kids, Duke knows, don’t even have one father they can depend on. Some have no one. In fact, too many kids are often surrounded by people who are detrimental. They get lost. They make poor decisions. And sometimes they wind up in Duke’s courtroom.
“Eight out of 10 people who appear before me have one common characteristic,” Duke once told a local radio station. “It’s not race. It’s not gender. It’s not how much money they have. It’s that they’ve had no relationship or no significant relationship with their father.”
A school can only do so much in helping raise a kid, but Duke wonders if Johnson is onto something.
Johnson tells Duke that not only did his parents do a good job raising him, but his uncle also was always there. His principal was a moral force. His high-school civics teacher was a guiding light. His grandparents and aunts played roles. It seemed like everyone in his life had a stake in Johnson’s success.
Today, so many kids have no support at all. So, Johnson tells Duke, schools have to pick up the slack. They need to play a larger role in moral education, inspiring creative thinking, and readying kids for a better reality than the streets can offer.
Duke is sold. He teams up with friend Richard Rizzuti, a plastic surgeon in Greenville who wants to start a school for disadvantaged youth. Rizzuti and his wife, Meredith, purchase an old elementary school for $290,000 and begin refurbishing it. They partner with local churches and open the Third Street Community Center in the old school. They focus on business and workforce training, youth and family development, and creative outlets such as gardening, art, sports. All of it is for at-risk kids.
Richard Rizzuti tours Global Scholars Academy with Johnson and Duke.
“I’m impressed with Jim’s vision,” Rizzuti says. “He had this insight and saw the possibility for the school and then brought it to fruition. I realized it could be done and that we could do the same thing here.”
Buying the old elementary school was a leap of faith for Rizzuti. He had no idea what he’d try to create, other than something for the community. Now his plan is to transform the Third Street Center by 2016 to include a Christian school for boys. And Pitt County Community College is interested in opening a culinary school there.
By that time, Global Scholars Academy could be home to a new high school, if Johnson’s plans come through. And so far they have.
CHAPEL HILL, NC, April 2013—The name of the school should tell you something. It could’ve been called Durham Scholars Academy. But the overarching theme of the school is to prepare students for a world beyond the place they call home.
“We know how to create global citizens,” Johnson says. “Now the question is: can we develop a franchisable model of K–12 education? A model that we build from soup to nuts and then say, ‘This is the way you do it. This is the pathway to the future.’”
Johnson says the model needs more fine-tuning before the concept can be rolled out across the country. He says teachers need more skills than what they typically get in formal college training if they want to be successful with vulnerable kids.
“So we’re testing our professional-development program at five Duplin County schools,” he says. “Two elementary schools and two middle schools that feed into James G. Kenan High School. We’ve done the training at those schools. Now they have grants from the Kenan Charitable Trust to develop their own plans for executing it all.”
Johnson knows the going will be slow and probably frustrating.
“If I hear one more teacher say, ‘Well, this isn’t how we do it in public schools,’ I’m going to be sick,” Johnson says. “That’s the whole point. The public schools are designed to maintain the status quo. They’re not designed to be creative and innovative.
“We have to get people to think differently. It’s hard. It’s hard to get people to unlearn old ways of thinking and doing. But we’ve got to keep trying.”
LOS ANGELES, CA, February 1992—The phone rings in Jim Johnson’s UCLA office.
“Is this Jim Johnson from Farmville, North Carolina?” the lady on the line asks.
“Yes, this is Jim.”
“My name is Oreba Person,” she says.
Johnson instinctually sits up straight.
“I was your second-grade teacher.”
“Yes, I remember you very well, Mrs. Person.”
“Well, I’m in LA with my husband and you’re gonna take us out to dinner tonight.”
Johnson stands straight up. “Yes, ma’am,” he says. “Where are you and what time should I pick you up?”
Johnson drives to her hotel. He can’t believe that this woman from his distant past is standing before him.
“You know, we’ve been following you from home all this time,” she says. “I want to see where you live and work and everything.”
By the end of the night, Mr. and Mrs. Person are impressed.
“You know,” she says, “you turned out a lot better than I thought you would.”
She has no idea the best is yet to come.