Harry E. Johnson, Sr.: From CBC to MLK
On October 16, many will gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the dedication ceremony of his memorial. Harry E. Johnson Sr., who has led the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation as president and CEO since 2002, will address thousands.
But before that important date, he made sure to address the students at Christian Brothers College High School, his alma mater. On September 29, Johnson told CBC students at a school assembly that when they leave the school, they will lead a life of service.
“I was at CBC when I learned discipline,” Johnson said. “God puts or sends you somewhere, and you learn how to lead.”
Later that evening, CBC inducted Johnson, a lawyer and entrepreneur, into the CBC Alumni Hall of Fame.
Under Johnson's leadership, the MLK Memorial Foundation has raised $109 million of the $120 million needed to complete the memorial; positioned three boards (Executive Leadership Cabinet, Governing Board and Honorary Board) for the foundation; and garnered support from all living U.S. Presidents, Congress, members of the corporate and nonprofit communities, and celebrities.
“I am humbled to have the opportunity to organize the support and contributions made on behalf of millions of people to stand up a memorial to a man who was a citizen of the world, whose messages of democracy, justice, hope and love transcended racial barriers and resonated around the globe,” Johnson said.
On the National Mall, the memorial sits adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and on the direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 70 authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on September 28, 1996. The Senate followed soon after, and on July 16, 1998, President Clinton signed a Joint Congressional Resolution authorizing the building of a memorial.
From 2001 to 2004, Johnson served as national president of Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity to which Dr. King belonged. In this role, Johnson oversaw over 700 chapters located throughout the country and abroad; increased the number of chapters in good standing; and was credited with enhancing the national image of the organization with fraternity members, business leaders and political officials.
Accompanying Johnson at the assembly was his longtime friend and former CBC classmate Ty Christian, who now serves as chief marketing strategist for the memorial project.
Christian showed the students a photo of the two as CBC students sitting at the National Mall on a field trip in 1969. He said he never thought in a million years that he would be helping a CBC classmate build a monument for a man who helped them get into CBC.
Christian was one of 17 African-American students in his 1972 graduating class, and today 18 percent of the student population is African American.
“You are going to be a change agent from the day you graduate to the day you are put in the ground,” Christian said. “CBC gave us the courage to be change agents.”
Many students said they didn’t know CBC alumni where orchestrating the memorial project.
“It makes me want to do something as powerful as Harry did,” said Robert Hamilton, a CBC senior.
Johnson said CBC also taught him about integrity and brotherhood, the lessons of Dr. King.
“No matter what color of skin you have, you are brothers to the man sitting next to you,” he said.