Monica Johnson remembers vividly the car ride home she had with her son three years ago and the conversation they had that sparked the creation of a charitable organization in his name.
Paris Johnson Jr., today a true freshman offensive lineman at Ohio State but back then just a 16-year-old at Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School, stood at Tom Ballaban Field and looked across to the other sideline one night during the second quarter.
The sophomore was surprised to see players from the other team, one that appeared to be coming from an underprivileged community, having to share helmets, shoulder pads and other equipment. Defensive players would come off the field, strip off their pads and hand them to the offensive players who were coming in. Seeing that left its mark on Johnson.
“Paris was very emotional about it, and we had a tough conversation on the way home after the game,” Monica says. “He really struggled with that, and we had to have a conversation about just resources and opportunities that certain families and communities have and don’t have, and that didn’t sit well with him.”
So Paris told his mom that he wanted to do something about it. Wanted to use his platform to raise money so that other kids wouldn’t have to struggle in that way.
“He said, ‘How can you win? How can you be successful if you have to stop and give your helmet and shoulder pad away to a teammate?’” Monica said. “He said that’s a disadvantage right there. It may not have to be a talent, but that whole mentality of not being prepared for the game can affect how a student or child performs. He didn’t like that. It didn’t sit well.”
Paris told his mom that he wanted to start his own foundation to help underprivileged athletes when he got older, and eventually another group that Paris has strong feelings toward helping – disabled military veterans – became another focus.
But Monica told him, “We don’t have to wait,” she recalls. “We can get started right now.”
So they put together the Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation, a non-profit organization run through the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code whose mission statement, in part, is “dedicated to empowering and serving disabled veterans and disadvantaged student-athletes with dignity and respect. We accomplish this by ensuring that disabled veterans, student-athletes and their families can obtain helpful resources that benefit them.”
Their founding of the organization is what became the basis for Johnson earning the All-American Bowl’s Man of the Year award last January.
“Paris wants to be able to raise money to support disabled veterans because that’s a group that is underserved, that’s a group that is overlooked,” Monica said. “He has a heart for men and women that served our country and oftentimes they come back with a physical disability or mental health issues. Oftentimes, it leads them into homelessness. He struggles with that because he feels, why is it that this group of people are homeless and don’t have their basic needs taken care of when they sacrifice everything they have so that I can play football?
“He really struggles with that so one of his 10-year goals – because he has a five-year plan and a 10-year plan – he would love to be able to provide housing for disabled and homeless veterans. That’s something we’re looking at as a board to see if we can move forward with that sooner than later. That’s one of his ultimate goals, and he wants to help student-athletes because you and I both know that it takes resources. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the exposure, the resources and the ability to train, to go to exposure camps, to visit colleges, that takes money. That takes resources. He knows how much money we’ve had to pay for him to be able to be where he is today. He wants to make sure that other athletes can have those same resources regardless if they come from a home that doesn’t have the resources or opportunities.”
In October, the Johnson family finally received a waiver from the NCAA that allows them to take the next steps with the charity, and that’s where it stands today. The foundation is now calling for donations ahead of the holiday season, in addition to handing out turkeys the week of Thanksgiving to families in need. (You can find out more information about their turkey giveaway and toy drive at the bottom of this article.)
When Paris was getting recruited by Ohio State, the coaching staff was aware of his foundation, both when he was being recruited by Urban Meyer originally and eventually Ryan Day. Due to NCAA rules, though, Ohio State is unable to promote the foundation in any sort of public capacity.
But the Johnson family has the Buckeyes’ support behind the scenes, and the foundation is being run properly through Justin Kume and the program’s compliance department. And now that the foundation has the waiver from the NCAA officially in their hands, they can move forward with the charity.
“Once Paris got on campus, we started the waiver process with the NCAA, compliance was on board and very supportive,” Monica said. “We do have the blessing from the NCAA and Ohio State, so they are aware of this. Ohio State is not allowed to endorse it at this time because the NCAA has told them they cannot. But we do have the waiver to be able to speak about it, raise the funds and things of that nature.”
Here is the information about the two upcoming events the foundation is running and more information on how to donate to the foundation:
On Tuesday, from 2-5 p.m., Bethlehem Baptist Church and the Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation are giving away 71 turkeys at Happy's Pizza in Cincinnati (1064 N. Bend Rd.)
From Nov. 30-Dec. 20, the foundation is running a Christmas toy drive, requesting new toys for families that are being affected by the pandemic. Toys may be dropped off at The Barack Obama My Brother's Keeper Cincinnati Chapter (Lincoln Heights Municipal Building, 1201 Steffen St.) from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday-Friday
Money donations for the Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation can be sent electronically to PayPal.Me/ParisJrFoundation or by mail to: Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation, P.O. Box 46215, Cincinnati, OH, 45246-0215