The impact of a grandmother who instilled a sense of self-belief was the game changer in guiding Dr. Darrell Johnson from his small home in the public housing sector of Clover to beginning his 13th year as superintendent of Greenwood School District 50.
"Even though I was raised in the projects, I had a praying grandmother who constantly told me that 'nothing or nobody is too good for you.' She never said I was better (than anyone); just that no one was too good for me, and I never forgot that," Johnson said during a presentation to Lander University students in the Grier Student Center. The program was the first in a series of monthly community forums organized by Lander's Diversity Advisory Council.
Throughout the presentation, Johnson energetically shared his own experiences in overcoming obstacles during his meteoric career as an educator and as a NCAA Division I basketball on-court official. "I didn't wake up one day as the school superintendent. In fact, as a student, I was sent to the office many times. My first job while earning my teaching credentials in the school system was as a full-time custodian. You have to do what you have to do, to be what you want to be, at the appropriate time."
For Samuel Elliott, a Lander graphic design major from Newark, NJ, Johnson's message hit close to home. "I understood everything he was talking about, and in a way, I was able to stand in his shoes. I, too, grew up with a praying grandmother and I was also a problem child," he explained. "I'm still figuring out what it is God has planned for me, but after listening to (Johnson) speak, I no longer worry."
Before Johnson launched his career as an educator, he was a business reporter for the Rock Hill Herald newspaper after graduating from Winthrop University as the school's first male African American English major. He later returned to Winthrop to earn his Master's degree in Education and ultimately obtained his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from South Carolina State University.
Johnson taught language arts at the secondary level before being named principal at a Rock Hill elementary school and assistant superintendent for the Rock Hill School District. In May 2006, he was named superintendent for Greenwood's District 50.
Using a basketball analogy, Johnson made the point of being prepared when it is his time to make the shot. He made sure the Lander students took his message to heart. "When the game is on the line, do you want the ball? And when you've got the ball, are you going to take the shot? It's like that with education; once you have your degree, what are you going to do?