James Johnson, MKA Class of l979 addresses MLK Assembly at the Upper School
Former Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement in the Clinton administration, member of the Obama transition team, MKA Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and member of the MKA Athletic Hall of Fame, James Johnson ’79 was able to give his young audience a unique insight into what might be going through the mind of President Obama during the Presidential Inauguration.
With responsibility for the oversight of, among other things, the Secret Service, Customs and Security departments in the l990’s, Johnson had the opportunity to stand with Ray Kelly at the Presidential Podium prior to the Clinton Inauguration. Looking out from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Jefferson Monument, the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial and the site where Dr. King addressed thousands, “Gives you a vast sense of the transfer of power,” explained Johnson. “President Obama will see millions of people in front of him, and among them he may see the ghost of Lincoln and the ghost of Dr. Martin Luther King. Indeed, but for King’s speech that urged us to judge people not by the color of their skin but rather by the content of their character, he wouldn’t be taking the oath of office today. I imagine it will be a hugely powerful moment for him, and it represents a real change in opportunity for each person in this room.“
Johnson went on to explain that Dr. King spoke not only of opportunity but also of service. “MLK Day could have been one more day of store sales but that would have been totally antithetical to what MLK was about. The best way to honor him is in service … Take the moment that this represents for all of us … We are all facing huge, huge challenges, but don’t say “How can one person make a difference? The problems are too big for one person.” You can alleviate local pain by working in your community in food pantries and in schools. You can come together and inspire others … act your age, act now and don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t make a difference.”
After taking questions from the floor, Johnson had a final question himself: “Why doesn’t George Hrab age?” he asked, recalling that science teacher Mr. Hrab is the same weight, has the same hairline and is wearing similar clothes to when Johnson started at Brookside as a first grader in l967! It was a question that no one could answer.