Paul Fanlund: Racist crime from long ago drives local leader today

2014-02-11T08:15:00Z Paul Fanlund: Racist crime from long ago drives local leader todayPAUL FANLUND | The Capital Times |

One recent afternoon in his south side office on Taft Street, Michael Johnson described how, two decades before, he was terrorized by an outrageously racist crime as a college athlete in Minnesota.

The incident was so egregious it made national headlines, but Johnson told me he had never spoken publicly of his role as victim.

Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, has become a widely respected community leader during his four years in Madison and is at the epicenter of efforts to serve the city’s children.

Readers of The Capital Times know we sparked a flood of attention in December with our cover story by the Rev. Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church, headlined “Justified Anger” — his deeply personal experiences about the city’s racial divide.

Our cover story this week, in print and online Wednesday, was written by Johnson, who grew up in Chicago public housing he says was infested by gangs, drugs and prostitution before he moved on to attend a small, almost all-white Minnesota college where the crime occurred.

Going forward, the Cap Times plans to delve deeply into four major racial themes that the African-American community has helped us identify. They focus on the subjects of education, incarceration, employment, and what we see as a profound social separation between races in everyday Madison life.

We have received much support for our direction, but the loudest criticisms of it are twofold: that our bright spotlight might exacerbate white flight from the city, and that we need to move on to strategies and solutions because race problems in Madison have been sufficiently noted.

Given that, why would we devote another cover story to a topic like Michael Johnson’s personal odyssey?

Because we have promised two things that will distinguish this Cap Times project from standard newspaper endeavors. One is that we will leverage our strengths as a digital-first media entity to make our work dynamic and interactive.

The other, more important element is a promise that our path will be most influenced by the voices, experiences, and views of African-Americans, not white politicians, journalists, nonprofit leaders or academics.

So, consistent with that pledge and admiring Johnson’s decision to share such a scarring memory, we chose to highlight his story and his prescriptions for Madison. Given what he’s endured and who he’s become, we think they’re worthy of our full attention.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. patriot75
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    patriot75 - February 12, 2014 7:56 am
    Retired and happydays you guys are pathetic. Just take the story for what it is. Why does it have to be "well they did a story for them, now they need to do a story for us". Plain ignorance.
  2. retired
    Report Abuse
    retired - February 12, 2014 7:32 am
    WHAT'S wrong with his comment ?? I DARE you to walk through Allied Drive at midnite. That's all happydays is asking. You as well as I know the answer to that. BUT of course that's a white's fault some how.
    Can we please get off calling all people of color African/American because I would bet 99% were born here. I happen to be Irish/German, do you see any where we are addressed as such ??
    One more thing, your people of color are THEIR own worst enemy.
  3. Kenya's Dream
    Report Abuse
    Kenya's Dream - February 11, 2014 9:26 pm
    How sad that anyone would read this article and hear Mr. Johnson's story and then make this kind of a comment. On the other hand, it is comments like this that prove how important these articles truly are, how vital it is that we continue to uncover the covert and insidious racism in our community and highlight the impact it is having on our youth.
  4. happydays
    Report Abuse
    happydays - February 11, 2014 12:07 pm
    Do you mean you had to find a niche? Okay - good point of view in a capitalistic society - I applaud you. Are you also going to do articles on how non-blacks are treated in all black neighborhoods?
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