Like most people, Alexander Johnson will spend some of Black History Month reflecting on the central figures who helped impart change on the country during the era of the Civil Rights Movement.
But he'll also think about his ancestors who have made history in their own ways. There's his grandmother, who started the first Black Boy Scouts troop in his hometown of Gainesville, Georgia, and who was the city's first Black insurance seller.
And there's his great-grandmother on his mother's side, who Johnson says was the only Black person who could get loans in Gainesville during her time.
"My great-grandma got loans and then went back to Black communities and gave them loans," Johnson says. "… She was the only Black woman who was able to get loans in Gainesville at that time, and that was not too, too long ago. … The only reason she got in that position was because she was cleaning bankers' — white men's — houses and cleaning other men's houses, and stuff like that. And went in their houses, so she was able to get a network just by cleaning their houses, and then they were able to give her a loan."
That this history is not that far behind us is something that resonates with Johnson. In his own work over the past year in the Denver community for racial justice, Johnson is continuing the push for justice and equity in the same spirit as his ancestors.
"I feel like it's just in my DNA," Johnson says. "Like, they was doing stuff for their communities, so I know my grandma, she was a real patriot. I know the stuff I do, it is for some of what she would want me to do. I know a lot of things that I do, she's looking down on me and is proud of me just trying to help, help a cause that's bigger than just one person. I feel like that's something pretty powerful right there."
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