By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT –  While The Messenger covered some of the main parts of the recent celebration of Juneteenth, we were unable to cover the whole story. For those who attended the afternoon ceremony, they were able to hear from Sharonda Taylor Johnson, who had a message which went beyond any one holiday, race or group, and is a message of hope in a divided city. 

Johnson is Assistant Pastor at New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Crockett, with over 20 years in education as teacher and administrator, as well as author and conference speaker. The Messenger was able to speak with Johnson and hear not only her message at the Juneteenth celebrations, but for the community as a whole. 

“My messages was, ‘We are better, together.’ I am all about community,” Johnson said. “We’re stepping on the shoulders of our ancestors, but somebody’s going to need to step on our shoulders, when we leave.”

Johnson noted a lot has been done, but there is so much more to do. She said Juneteenth is about more than just one day, and should be a learning experience for the youth in the community. 

“You should appreciate where you come from, but also contribute, become a productive citizen and then give back to your community,” Johnson noted. “It’s not enough to just get an education and that’s it. No, get an education and then find out what God wants you to do. What is your purpose? And then fulfill it.”

Pastor and Educator Sharonda Taylor Johnson shares the message she gave at the recent Juneteenth ceremony, a message centered on personal accountability, love of community and being productive citizens.

Johnson pointed out while we must know and study our history, we should not forget we, ourselves, are making history, every day. 

Johnson spent many years working in Crockett schools, but now spends her weekdays working in Huntsville schools in administration. She joked she is married to Houston County’s “most frugal man,” Tim Johnson, who works for Houston County Electric Co-Op.

Asked about the racial divisions Crockett suffers, Johnson said the issue is about more than race. 

“We can divide, but we’re the United States of America, and one of my daily prayers is how to bring us together as a community. We’re black or white or blue or purple, but at the end of the day, we’re American. And if another country was to attack us, we would already be defeated, because we’re divided by devices that really don’t matter much,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said each person should be held accountable, regardless of race.

“I’m all about being accountable for your actions. I don’t care what color you are, but let’s deal with it. Let’s handle it, but let’s not divide our community because everybody makes mistakes, regardless of your ethnicity,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s made mistakes, but we’re still better together. So we need to heal. We need to come together. Let’s talk about it. Let’s address the elephant in the room, and then let’s move forward, together.”

Johnson used her experience in education to point out how behavior is passed on from generation to generation, whether it be positive or negative. 

“Have you ever noticed when kids are two or three and you put them together on a playground, they don’t separate themselves? When you get junior high, high school, do you see they divide themselves? That’s because of what has been spoken into them. I’m not talking about a color. I’m talking about what we do to divide people,” Johnson said. 

“If you don’t have people that are passionate, that will send a message that you’re not going to divide us. And then somebody has to say, ‘Okay, I’m not a part of this. I’m going to be part of unity. I’m going to be the part I want to make.’ I want to make Houston County great again, school systems great again, and that’s what it takes,” Johnson said. “We’re still enslaved in 2024 – we’re enslaved by biases. We’re enslaved by our mentalities, our prejudice. What that’s doing to the United States is putting us at the back. We’re not number one anymore, but we’re not number one because we choose to divide ourselves, and that goes from the top to the bottom: our judicial system, our presidential system. What does it matter whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat – who is going to stand up for the country.”

Johnson echoed the dream of many, to unite the people of the county and set race and other issues aside, once and for all. As President Kennedy once said, “In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Johnson said race is among many biases often used to divide people, even though there is much more to unite than divide. 

“Everyone has their own biases and hang ups. But at the end of the day, aren’t you just proud to be an American, the country you live in?” Johnson concluded. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]