Amazing Teen in Tampa Bay-Ja’lon Johnson

17 Jul

We were blessed with an opportunity to pick the brains of some of Tampa Bay’s most talented and influential teens.  We will feature their stories over the coming weeks and hope that you enjoy learning of their accomplishments as much as we did.

Ten community-minded high school students from the Tampa Bay area were chosen to receive a paid eight-week summer internship at Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay,Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast and the StrazCenter for Performing Arts as part of the 2013 Student Leaders program, a national initiative by Bank of America to provide young people with the opportunity to earn and learn while working at a non-profit that meets the needs of the community.

The students chosen for the program in the Tampa Bay area form a diverse group. They’ve overcome numerous obstacles and are now recognized among their peers, educators and family as leaders. Some have even started non-profits that help make a difference.  All ten students have either graduated from high school this year or will be entering their senior year this fall. They began interning throughout the Tampa Bay area this week.

ja'lon johnson

Ja’lon Johnson of Jefferson High School is a youth leader at the Riverview Boys and Girls Club.  Ja’lon saw firsthand how a little leadership goes a long way in effecting how children are positively influenced. Ja’lon’s dream is to start a national organization to inspire youth to effect positive change in their communities and aspire to becomes respectful, smart young adults. Ja’lon will be interning at the Straz Center for Performing Arts.



At what age, did you really decide to become successful and go above and beyond?  What did that mean for you? What did the plan look like? 

I always told myself I would be successful in whatever it was that I did starting at a very young age. It meant a lot and means just as much now because I now will be able to take care of others, myself, and my family but I must say that my first successful vision was to become an actor right out of high school.


What activities did you do to avoid becoming stressed out and ready to give up?  

I stayed busy volunteering and kept a balance between hanging out with friends and work. I would go to the movies or the mall with friends but I would also go to hear guests tell their success stories whenever I would get the chance.


What is the best advice your parents ever gave you? 

My parents always told me “Keep your head up, your chin high, and stay confident but most importantly… Never Give Up”


What qualities of leadership came naturally to you?  Which were hardest to learn?

Communication skills, a sense of humor, confidence, listening, and honesty all came naturally but learning to “lead from behind” had to be the hardest thing for me to learn.


How would you change the current high school curriculum to better challenge and motivate our freshmen?  

I would be sure that the students going into high school start taking classes that will actually help them in the field of work they plan to go into rather than making them wait until junior or senior year to take them.


What did you do differently than your peers?  

I took opportunities to listen to people speak and took volunteer options whereas my friends on the other hand thought it was too “boring” to go to.


Where will next year find you?

At Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, Florida studying communication and hospitality.jalon johnson


What could your parents have done differently to make it easier for you to excel?  What did they do well?

My parents could have let me stay out with friends for a little longer.  They did help me keep balanced with friends and work opportunities.


Is there any particular issue/concern that you’d like to change in Tampa Bay right now?  How would you do it?

I would like to change the way the youth in Tampa portray themselves and show them that they don’t have to be like what they see on the media, so letting them know about programs like the Bank of America Leadership Program little by little will hopefully make a big change over time.


What adversity did you face [if any] that seemed too big to overcome?  How did you manage to get through it?

It’s always a challenge being African American facing stereotypes and coming from a single mother household.  But I did what my mother always told me which was to “keep my head up, my chin high, stay confident, and to never give up”


How did you keep your eyes on the “prize” while avoiding the pressures of growing up?  [dating, just say no, etc]

I always asked myself “what if” and thought about the consequence before doing the action.


How would you motivate another student that may be in trouble, to see that all the hard work is worth it?

I would simply tell them my story and all the good things happening to me but also let them know that it wasn’t an easy road. I would show them that they have two different paths to decide from; either the road to success or the road where you can’t see where you will end up.


 This is what Ja’lon’s mom, Phekila, said about her blessed life with Ja’lon.


At what age, did you notice the drive to succeed become prevalent in your child’s life? How did you foster that?

I noticed Ja’lon always had a drive to be the best at whatever he was doing but I’d say around age 13 when he was spokesperson for the Central City Y.M.C.A. Giving great speeches in front of huge crowds of people and actually keeping them interested in what he had to say. I simply let him make his own choices and told him to never give up.


What did you sacrifice along the way in order to assist your child(ren)?

I would have to tell my friends I wasn’t able to hang out or I would have to take off from work to be sure I was there at a table in front to support my son and network for him. I would have to say no to those new shoes I wanted to be sure my son had everything he needed for the multiple events he was invited to.


Would you consider yourselves overprotective or lenient?  Did your child’s [extraordinary] nature affect the way you raised them?

When Ja’lon was younger I would say I was more protective of him versus when he was older but, I was also still pretty lenient at the same time however, he was always kind of his own person.  I would just guide him and tell him right from wrong and trust that he would listen to me.


What did you do differently from other parents when raising these amazing teens?

I wouldn’t allow him to wear his pants low or hang out with the wrong crowd of people. I tried to do things as a family and actually show him that the choices he makes today would affect his tomorrow.


How can parents make a difference in the schools that would better help their children succeed?

They should get involved. Make visits to guidance and check up on their child without them even knowing that you went there. Email the teachers often to be sure that their child is actually doing what needs to be done and whenever there is an event their child is involved in, they should be sure to be there.


A very special thank you to Ja’lon for sharing your story with us.  We feel blessed to have been put in your path and know that God has great things in store for you.  You have made TampaBay very proud!

A very special thank you to Salter Mitchell for extending us the opportunity to interview these phenomenal teens.  They totally rock!

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