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Mrs. Taylor's grandson: Living his best life

January 03, 2018

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Francys Johnson has a great life in Statesboro. If you sit down to talk with him, he’ll tell you just that.

Johnson was raised in Sylvania, Georgia, on his grandfather’s farm. After he finished high school in Screven County, he attended Georgia Southern University, and then went on to the University of Georgia to attend law school.

Since then, Johnson has worked as legal counsel with the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association in New York. He says he is quite proud of the work he did there, as he helped to set up programs that were aimed at helping Latino and African-American people, and the LGBTQ community.

In 2010, he returned to Statesboro to raise his family and practice law, establishing The Johnson Firm. He’s also taught courses in Constitutional Law, Race and the Law, Criminal Law and Judicial Process at Georgia Southern and Savannah State.

Johnson has worked for the NAACP as its regional director, and managed the organization’s administrative and public policy agendas in the Southeast, the heart of the Civil Rights movement. He recently stepped down as state president of the organization, after a total of 30 years of involvement, beginning with his service as a youth member.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be the trustee of that kind of legacy,” he said.

In addition, Johnson serves as pastor to two area churches: Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Pembroke, and Magnolia Baptist Church, located between Brooklet and Statesboro. Mt. Moriah was founded in 1890, while Magnolia was established in 1914. Johnson speaks fondly of both congregations and of the legacy each has in their respective communities.

“It’s such a treasure to be able to be a part of people’s lives when you are a pastor of a small church. Church means something here. It may not mean something anywhere else, but it means something here. Those relationships are pretty important,” he said.

Johnson believes that being a pastor helps him be a better lawyer.

“The role of a pastor helps keep me grounded as a lawyer, that I don’t lose sight of what really matters,” he said. “Lawyering helps me to be more practical as a preacher. I’m not always talking about the hereafter, or the by-and-by. People need a real practical ministry to help them live their best lives today. So I think one helps keep me grounded and one helps to keep me practical.”

Johnson credits his grandmother, Louise Riley Taylor, with much of his success.

“She had such dignity and integrity and purpose. She knew that her job was to push me further than she was able to go. She made a way for me to always be involved in the kind of activities that would prepare me for my future and sent me to school,” he said. “This keeps me grounded, this woman who sacrificed for me.”

Johnson speaks with much respect of his grandmother, who washed clothes for and cleaned the homes of white women, and took care of their children. He names her as one of his heroes.

“She never had the opportunity to finish high school or go to college. I don’t ever remember her having the dignity of being called by her proper name. She was always Aunt Louise or something,” he said. Her sacrifices have set the tone for his life.

“That’s a word we don’t hear enough anymore, the word sacrifice,” he said. “We have a generation of takers, who are not necessarily builders, and sowers, and givers. That’s kind of scary.”

In Statesboro, Johnson has found ways to give back to the community. One such way was serving as president of the Averitt Center for the Arts.

“Art has a great impact on the community. Making it accessible to the people is wonderful. Art is transformative. I’m really excited to be a part of it and its expansion,” he said.

Another organization that Johnson was involved with was The Teal House, which he helped to establish from the ground up. The Teal House is a local place for victims of sexual assault and children who have been abused.

“It was an answer to a problem the community faced,” he said. “The nearest sexual assault center was in Swainsboro or Savannah, an hour away. Creating that place from literally nothing, and to now have The Teal House, which is a full service facility, it’s an amazing thing to have been a part of.”

Johnson has also worked with Boy Scout Troop 357, and proudly says they have had five Eagle Scouts in the past seven years.

“It’s a wonderful program for the making of better men. I have been privileged to be involved in several projects around Statesboro, but this is what we are called to do. To whom much is given, much is required,” he said.

Johnson learned to put feet to his faith from Pastor Eddie Lee Jenkins, who pastored Lawton Grove Baptist Church in Sylvania.

“He didn’t preach like the other preachers; he preached about our responsibility to make where we are now more like the heaven we want to get to,” he said. “He understood that the gospel is about more than the afterlife. It should cause us to be able to transform the world, so he had a social gospel that I’ve been trying to emulate.”

In addition to those he looked up to in his own life, Johnson said he looked up to great leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many women whose rich legacies didn’t receive their rightful place in the history books — women like Septima Clark, Ruby Hurley and Esther Garrison.

Another woman who has made a significant impact on Johnson’s life is his wife, Dr. Meca Williams Johnson, a psychologist who is a tenured professor at GSU.

“My wife is an amazing, incredible woman. She does great work. Her research focuses on teacher efficacy, and motivation. She helps make our very good educators here better and more effective. She is very rewarded in her work,” he said.

The couple been blessed with sons Thurgood Marshall Joshua Johnson and Langston Hughes Elijah Johnson, and a third son, who passed away at just six months old. Even in that tragedy, the couple found a way to give back.

“It really solidified to me the value of a community like this because we had such an outpouring of love. We had a great avenue to pour back into the community through the March of Dimes and some other things. We were able to help some other families and mothers in the area who have gone through similar things,” he said.

Johnson is proud of his sons, and is hopeful not just for their future, but for the future their generation will help to create. He says the legacy he hopes to leave for his sons points back to an old hymn that he remembers from his childhood — “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.”

“I think that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to help each other. We’re called to do that with our gifts that we’ve been blessed by God to have,” he said, adding that you can live your best life in places like Statesboro.

“Why not Atlanta? Why not somewhere else? There are lots of opportunities in places like Statesboro, in Springfield,” he said. “Hopefully [my sons] will see these places with new eyes, and will bring their own courage, and will continue to move it forward.”

As for his own future, Johnson is eyeing a possible run for public office. When asked why, he says it is because “we spend so much on things that at the end of the day don’t move us forward.”

“I look around and I see good people leaving the public space, and I see people who have practical experience leaving the public space. Space that is filled with such shrill voices that only see the least common denominators among us,” he said. “That’s unfortunate because I think the solutions to our problems are common. We all want clean water to drink and air to breathe. We all want a safe environment to raise our children. We all want to be able to do something useful with our lives, to have good jobs that pay a living wage, and allow us to give something to our children, to get them to the next level. This is not hard. These things are common to all of us.”

While he considers that bid for office, Johnson says he finds hope in the eyes of Thurgood’s classmates.

“They are asking the right questions. They are going to call us out on our hypocrisy. They’re not going to let our mealy-mouthed answers about how we did so little with so much, stand. And I’m encouraged by that. They will construct a world that is more just than ours. So I’m very hopeful about that,” he said.

This gives Johnson hope for his community as well. He says the quality of people in Statesboro is what makes this community such a rich place.

“Every day I get to meet people in the practice of law who have real life problems and challenges and I get to leverage relationships and knowledge of the law as well as a sense of life to help them live better lives.  I really am having the time of my life.”


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