OCEANSIDE — Mentoring the youth is not a skill that happens overnight nor does it come easily to everyone, but for Darnell “DeeJay” Johnson it is a passion.
Johnson’s work as a mentor begins in his role as a coach. Over the past few decades, Johnson has coached football, track and basketball, spending the last four years working as an assistant football coach at Oceanside High School.
But sports aren’t the only things Johnson teaches his students. Besides his work as a coach, Johnson has also been educating his community on systemic racism and social injustice.
“It’s not just about coaching sports but teaching them about real-life issues and what’s going on in the world,” Johnson said.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) recently recognized Johnson for his efforts by naming him as August’s Constituent of the Month.
Levin’s Constituent of the Month program recognizes residents of North San Diego and South Orange Counties who work to strengthen their communities. He recognizes the selected constituents with a spoken entry into the Congressional Record.
Specifically, Levin highlighted Johnson for organizing a Black Lives Matter protest in Oceanside. The protest went on for days and remained peaceful, which was Johnson’s goal.
In fact, Johnson maintained the peace during one tense moment at the protest when a young, white man wearing military-style gear was flashing a knife at protesters. This made some protesters nervous — and others angry.
Johnson heard from protesters about the man and went to confront him, knowing this type of behavior could lead to harm for either protesters or the young man.
Johnson explained to the young man why he needed to stop what he was doing through a comparison a hypothetical reverse situation.
“How would people react to me as a black man if I were to be walking around in black panther gear with a knife and it was at an all-white Trump or KKK rally,” Johnson asked. “What would people have thought or how would they have reacted? I probably could have lost my life in that situation.”
Then Johnson found out the young man was only 16 years old.
“You have no idea what you’re doing,” Johnson said.
The teen eventually handed Johnson his knife.
Johnson taught the young man that he could handle the situation differently by demonstrating an act of love.
“Even with everything going on we still love y’all,” Johnson said.
Besides organizing the protests, Johnson also sits down with the Oceanside Police Department on a weekly basis to discuss changes the community wants to see. He has also spoken with Mayor Peter Weiss and Police Chief Frank McCoy on several occasions and regularly meets with the Carlsbad Police Department as well.
Johnson sees progress from these conversations with police officers, though he wants to see change happen faster.
“I’m still going to be on them no matter what,” Johnson said. “I’m still going to meet up with them until we get police reform and until they get on board with what we’re asking for, and once they do that we’re going to hold them accountable.”
Johnson said he has asked for more training, more community-police relationships and for officers to educate themselves on the black and brown communities. He also wants to see the police demilitarized, especially in the presence of children.
While changes aren’t moving as fast as he would hope, Johnson acknowledged OPD is “working with us.”
Johnson wants people to educate themselves on systemic racism and social injustice and be mindful of their actions.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is not a black versus white thing, it’s black versus racism,” Johnson said. “Everyone should be against racism.”
Johnson explained that the black community just wants equality.
“We’re not trying to be above, behind or below, we just want equality and people to look at us for who we are,” Johnson said. “It’s a shame we’re in America and people hate you because of the color of your skin or love you for the color of your skin.”
Johnson also believes the community needs to start listening to its younger members, many of whom were responsible for organizing the mass amount of protests earlier in May and June following the killing of George Floyd.
“Amidst the united uprising across the country, peaceful protesters’ voices are being drowned out by those seeking to dismantle the movement with unrest and violence,” Levin said in the Congressional Record. “DeeJay’s (Johnson) mission is to not only inspire young people to get involved in change but to emphasize using their voices and actions peacefully.”