Do the Write Thing Challenge (DTWT) is a unique organization that has spent the last 20 years shining a spotlight on the impact of youth violence in the lives of middle schoolers. Through classroom discussions and writings, students communicate what they think should be done to reduce youth violence. In addition, they make personal commitments to do something about this problem. Several of our athletes have participated in local annual events for DTWT. One of those athletes, Samantha Johnson, shared with us her speech from last night’s event in Chicago. We invite you to read her story. Thank you to Samantha Johnson (Chicago Red Stars), Awvee Storey (retired NBA player), Toby Baker (New York Jets) for participating in the Do the Write Thing Challenge and helping to bring attention to youth violence in America.
My name is Samantha Martel Johnson. I am from Palmdale, CA in Los Angeles County. Sports and extra curricular activities were a way to keep kids focused and stay out of trouble. For me soccer did just that. Growing up in Palmdale there were plenty of opportunities to get distracted in the worst way possible. My middle school was on the east side of Palmdale. The demographic was predominately Mexican and black at the time. I had a lot of friends in middle school but didn’t think of anyone as a negative influence, who would at that age? Now that I’m much older I look back and remember maybe bringing weapons and weed to school wasn’t exactly a good thing for my friends to be doing but it happened.
When I went to eighth grade I was 13 years old and started to realize soccer was something I wanted to put my all into. My mother would not let soccer be my main priority without an equal effort in school. Grades were her main concern not soccer but I was having a difficult time behaving at school. I was acting out getting in trouble with teachers, even though my grades were very good. I was always the friend in the group indirectly influenced by violence never at the forefront. My friends would fight in the streets after school. The police quickly became aware of the fad. Most of my middle school friends at the time were affiliated with local gangs and did not know any better. That lifestyle was the only way of life they knew and understood but I was different.
Both of my parents had drug abuse in their families. My father never met his dad and my mom was raised by her grandmother. Her mom was addicted to alcohol and that addiction eventually effected my uncle. Both of my parents brothers were addicted to drugs for most of their lives. I met my dad’s brother when I was 8 years old but never had the opportunity to develop a family relationship with him because of his lifestyle. His lifestyle eventually caught up to him and he was sentenced 53 years in prison. He was recently released from prison earlier this year. My parents were committed to providing me and my sister with a positive environment to grow up in, and they did just that. Thank you mom and dad.
One morning my mother dropped me off at school and before closing the door I said, “ I don’t want to go to school.” She asked why and I responded, “ Because I just don’t.” She rolled her eyes said, “Sam go to school”, then I proceeded to slam the car door. What she didn’t know is I had gotten into a small argument with a friend the day before. That friend, like most kids that age, consulted one of her friends and thought it was a good idea to get in my face that morning I was hesitant to go to school. I never thought I would ever be the kid who fought someone else. My parents were not the type of people to encourage that behavior. However, they did encourage me to protect myself if I ever felt threatened in any way. That day I did just that.
That morning after slamming my moms car door I walked onto campus and did my normal routine, talking to my best friend waiting for the first bell to ring. I was approached by the girl I argued with the day before. She came up to me with a group of her friends as back her up. In that moment I knew what was about to happen even though I was very educated on the consequences of fighting in school. I took off my back pack and gave it to my best friend. We both look at each other in the eyes and knew nothing good was about to occur. The girl got in my face and a fight broke out. I didn’t make it to first period that day and got I suspended from school for 3 days. That day was the turning point of my childhood. I didn’t want to be like everyone where I was from because I wasn’t. I had this talent that had the potential to take me around the world but more importantly to college. My mother taught me a valuable lesson that day I fought at school. She said, “ Sam you are not better than anyone, you are just on a different path.” Her words forever stuck with me. For me soccer is my talent and came naturally to me as a kid. I lived and breathed for the sport my entire life.
My lesson is we all have something we are good at and are passionate about. Perhaps at this moment we don’t know what that is or understand the significance of it just yet. It took a negative experience in middle school for me to realize I have the physical and mental capacity to change my life using soccer as a vehicle to create opportunity and obtain real success. It is important to open your eyes and mind to everything around you. It is all happening for a reason!
Your surroundings do not define you, they should inspire you. Learning from all negative influences and positive influences because there is a bright spot in everything. That day in middle I “failed” but I learned failure is progress.
Do not allow others to write your story based on where you’re from. You are in control of becoming great and accomplishing your life goals. Even though we cannot control where we start, we can control where we finish. That’s the blessing.