Alumnus Terence Johnson helps young people.
When Terence Johnson first saw the roadside husk of a 1954 Chrysler Newport covered in grass, it was so rusted he thought it was brown — or green, he couldn’t tell. Now the pristine red vehicle, one of seven classics he has collected and restored, sits in his garage as a glistening reminder of faith and hope.
As vice president of programs at the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) in Decatur, Georgia, Johnson, BA ’86, is also a nurturing caregiver who helps youth and families. But he once needed a little nurturing himself.
Born in St. Louis and raised in South Central Los Angeles at a time of prevalent gang violence, Johnson dreamed of returning to his home state and making football coach Warren Powers’ roster.
“I found myself a senior in high school [in 1982] without a plan and a whopping 1.6 GPA, so I called [Mizzou Director of Admissions and Registrar] Gary Smith,” Johnson says. Smith, M Ed ’65, EdD ’71 “told me to find a local college, get a 2.5 and he’d let me into Mizzou.”
Johnson made the grades, the move and the team, but when his GPA dipped again, he transferred to Dodge City (Kansas) Community College and worked his way back to Mizzou. He ultimately majored in communication and volunteered at Columbia’s Career Awareness Related Experience (CARE) program, which helps at-risk youth with education and employment.
Johnson’s professional career has since taken him back to L.A., where he earned a master’s degree in communication at Loyola Marymount University while counseling chemically dependent adolescents. He also worked eight years at Father Flanagan Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, another home for youth.
Johnson strives to pay forward the same faith and patience shown to him. For example, a UMCH resident once mouthed off to Johnson while under his care. The young man later was arrested for dealing drugs and served a prison sentence. When he was released and needed a second chance, Johnson and UMCH were there to help pay for culinary school.
The young man is now a successful chef at a high-profile Atlanta restaurant.
“Without Gary Smith, I never would have been introduced to this line of work,” Johnson says. “It’s what I’ll do until I take my last breath.”