The product of a public school system that labeled him as “Special Ed” until the third grade, Francys Johnson was a pawn in an education tracking system that put him in a class where he didn’t belong. It took lawsuits to end the tracking and labeling which often identified poor or African American children as underachievers. The real lesson that he learned early on was about institutional inequality and discrimination. But, he also saw that the law could improve the condition of man.
He was raised in the church by a devoutly Christian Grandmother and Grandfather who both worked hard to provide a living for the family. Only two generations away from slavery, his grandmother took in laundry and ironing, while his grandfather was a sharecropper.
“I saw my grandparents work harder than anyone and at the end of the day have so little to show for it,” Johnson said. “Other farmers had better equipment, but African Americans couldn’t get loans. The system was built like that. I thought - someone has to rebuild it.”
Johnson’s passion for helping people through law, education, and faith, is a byproduct of his humble beginning in rural South Georgia. His belief system is built on faith in God and in an uncorrupt and democratic system of justice for all men.
“The law and the church are two important institutions for a good and orderly society,” he said, “one to press us to our highest hopes and dreams, and the other to keep us from descending into the basest of beings.”
As a young lad in church he was a member of the Youth Council of the NAACP. He graduated from Screven County High School, and attended Georgia Southern University where in 2001 he was president of the Student Government Association. Accepted to the University of Georgia’s School of Law, Johnson earned a Juris Doctor degree and met his wife, Dr. Meca Renee Williams.
After law school Johnson began work as legal counsel with the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association in the New York area assisting in the overcoming of racial, ethnic, and gender health disparities in the policies and the operations of the organizations.
Johnson eventually returned to Statesboro and opened a private practice, The Johnson Firm, PC, Attorneys and Counselors of Law. Dr. Williams began work as an educational psychologist and is now a tenured professor at Georgia Southern.
Diamond Life Member of the NAACP, Johnson continued his involvement with the organization serving in leadership roles including State Legal Redress Director, State Executive Director, and Southeast Regional Director. As Southeast Regional Director, Johnson was the chief manager of the NAACP’s public policy agenda and administrative activities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He is currently serving as president of the Georgia Chapter, a role in which he has worked to affect change and end disparities for Georgians in areas such as healthcare and voting rights.
A natural leader and gifted orator, Johnson has testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the importance of strengthening the Voting Rights Act of 1965, advocating for reinforcement of the rules on any pre-clearance requirements states may attempt to enforce.
“We need the tools inherent in a pre-clearance requirement fully intact and operational in order to tackle head-on the numerous attempts to silence us in a democratic system that requires the voices of all its eligible citizen partners to be a successful Democracy,” Johnson testified.
At home in Georgia, Johnson is a leader in the NAACP’s Moral Monday Georgia movement. “A coalition of citizens working for positive change for the public good.” The MM movement was launched in 2014 on the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Fighters of 1964 to “demand pro-labor, anti-poverty economic sustainability; well-funded, quality public education for all; comprehensive healthcare, and environmental justice across all the state's communities; criminal justice reform that ensures equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation status or sexual orientation; and to protect and expand voting rights for traditionally marginalized peoples.”
A statewide tour of the organization includes a stop in Statesboro on August 4th at 6:30 p.m. at the Averitt Center for the Arts.
“We need to be creating a more just society, to finish the work given to us by our founding fathers,” Johnson said. “Each generation has an obligation. Our founding fathers understood that democracy was an ideal that we needed to work to maintain. It is the job of each generation to draw us closer to the ideal. In America it is not by blood of nobility, but by hard work and tenacity that we rise.
“It is not about race, not about black and white, it’s about red, white and blue. We all must work to do our part to truly establish justice where it does not exist,” he said.
A committed servant-leader, Johnson has also been an ordained minister for 18 years. He is the Senior Pastor at two area churches: Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Pembroke, GA, and the Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church in Statesboro.
He has a deep and abiding appreciation of the Church. “The Church should stimulate man’s highest ambitions,” he said, “our greatest inspiration.”
Johnson believes the church is traditionally a vessel for social change. His prayers and sermons are often calls for mercy and equality for the disenfranchised and the underserved. Invited by the University of Georgia to deliver a TED talk for alumni and students, Johnson’s presentation began like a sermon, “I greet you in the spirit of Moses, Harriett, and Sojourner…” He inspires the audience by proclaiming “Race is a fiction, there is no biological meaning. We all belong to the same species with a common origin.”
But, Johnson believes institutional racism is real. His fight for social change is also motivated by a desire to leave a better society, a legacy for his children, sons Thurgood Marshall Joshua, Langston Hughes Elijah, and the late Frederick Douglas Caleb. For his sons and their future families, he wants a good education, fair justice system, and economic sustainability.
“I believe we should have good schools for everyone. That’s good for all Americans – a world class education to meet global opportunities,” he said.
“You know my grandmother used to say, ‘when you get, you got to give,’ which was her way of expressing the scripture ‘to whom much is given, much is required,’” said Johnson. “I am a living testimony to that, I am living proof. My grandparents put me through college.
“This came from a woman who was probably never called by her proper name. Imagine who my grandparents would have been if they could have done what they wanted to do instead of what they had to do just to get by,” he said.
“I have had many opportunities. I have lived in Atlanta and New York. I returned to Statesboro to be close to home. It is a good place to raise my family. I feel I can make a difference here. I feel very strongly about making a meaningful contribution with my life, it is very important to me,” he said.
“If I live another 50 years I want to be worn out, not rusted out. Tomorrow is not promised,” Johnson said.
“We need men and women of courage. This is America. We are to look at big problems and tackle them. We rebuilt the world after World War II. We didn’t know how to go to the moon, but we figured it out and went. That’s who we are as Americans – we tackle the big problems,” he continued, “Our job is to move this country forward. I feel we are all required to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.”