INTERVIEW: Ballard High School Graduate Sam Johnson on Making Your Voice Heard!

In early May, a student named JaQuay Rodgers fell to tragedy, an injury to the community compounded by the reaction of the administration at Ballard High School, where Rodgers had attended. In a bid to honor their classmate, students requested a moment of silence, which was denied on the basis that Rodgers’ death was the subject of violence. Outraged, the students led a protest, which became local news. Unfortunately, this seems to have continued on into last weekend when Sam Johnson, the student body president, was denied the opportunity to speak at his graduation ceremony. Johnson’s speech, which you can watch below, is the impassioned voice of youth, and it’s not only an important message that he shares, but a bold statement against the supposed malaise of the younger generations, a foolish and antiquated supposition if ever there were one. Johnson cares and it shows; the world needs to take note of his very simple idea -to stand up and be heard- and to just be kind. We’re honored here to give Johnson the opportunity to share his what would have been his speech, and implore you to share if so moved.

Never Nervous: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you want to do post graduation? How often do you hear that question lately and how exhausting does it get hearing about it?

Sam Johnson: In August I am headed off to U.K. To study animal science, I hope to be a vet. I hear the question a lot, but I am always so glad to answer it!

NN: What can you tell us about the student who died?

SJ: The student that died was a fantastic young man. The school did not feel they should honor him, because in the principals words he was “a drug dealer and a gangbanger.” While he was unfortunately tied into some bad circumstances I don’t think that gives us the right to judge him. The bottom line is that he was a great friend who was always looking to help other.

The students were very disheartened by the faculty’s stance, so they held a sit in to get the moment of silence and only after much pressing did the principal give a very cheap moment of silence.

NN: How was the situation handled at school initially? What was the student reaction versus the faculty/staff reaction?

SJ: Really stupid story, the night before prom a Ballard student was shot and killed. At prom I asked the principal if we could get a moment of silence and she said no because he was “a drug dealer and a gangbanger.” I told my friend Arii who told many students, and this was the main reason that I believe I was suspended, because I exposed our racially insensitive principal. The students then held a sit in in front of the principals office to get our moment of silence for JaQuay Rodgers.

“The students then held a sit in in front of the principals office to get our moment of silence for JaQuay Rodgers.”

A teacher who is usually very insensitive started talking about the sit in calling it a mess. So, Arii and I made a flier that said “Did you see that mess downstairs”- (attributed to the aforementioned teacher) in response to the death of JaQuay Rodgers (which this was a direct quote). I got suspended for three days for “harassment and intimidation,” because I put the flier in their mailbox on their door. I was never told though that I would not be allowed to speak at graduation, so when I got up to speak I was surrounded by three administrators and the principal was booed until she cried.

NN: Did/do you feel like you had any voice as a student? How would you like to see the student body should be empowered to talk about issues in their community?

SJ: I was elected as senior class president and I felt like my voice was great, but I felt for the most part that student voices were ignored.

I would love to see an administration that cares for he opinions of their staff and students, because they might have pretended to listen to the concerns, but they did nothing to change gongs at the school.

NN: Tell us about graduation day. What happened with your speech? Why do you think it went down that way?

SJ: On graduation day I sat on stage and when I got up to give my speech I was surrounded by three administrators, the principal tried to threaten me and tell me that my scholarships were on the line. I was really disappointed. But most of the graduating class stood up and chanted “let him speak” and they booed the principal until she was in tears. I am thankful for all of the students who stood up for me.

“I hope the community can see this as an example and are inspired and that the young people in our community are never scared to stand up for what they believe in!”

NN: What do you hope the community takes away from this? How has it changed you?

SJ: I hope the community can see this as an example and are inspired and that the young people in our community are never scared to stand up for what they believe in!