Tech’s Outstanding Alumni Award winner shares his school pride with the children of Knoxville.Kent Johnson works as a mentor to about 80 children at the Cecil Webb Center in Knoxville where he also serves as center director for the City of Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department. He started working there in 2001 because he felt “it was something that needed to be done.” The center also works in other areas of the community with all ages, but Johnson’s main focus is on the children because he feels that is where the biggest need is.
In mentoring these kids, Johnson is trying to instill a sense of family and belonging in them. They come from different economic backgrounds, but this center brings them all together as one. The main tool Johnson uses in fulfilling this need is Tech pride.
“I believe in our school. I believe in our school’s ability to help everyone reach their full potential,” Johnson said.
Through this sense of family, Johnson is also giving many of them a sense of direction in their lives.
“We take kids with no ties to a university and no expectations of going to college, except through sports, and give them a family,” Johnson told Karen Lykins, news bureau director at Tech.
One of the kids has already been accepted to Tech and will be here in the fall. Johnson says, “I honestly believe that when someone comes to our school they will leave better for it.”
The main principles Johnson tries to teach kids are simple, yet profound:
“Be better today than you were yesterday.”
“You are only truly strong if you protect and take care of people who are not.”
“Excellence is a habit.”
“Greatness has a price.”
“Success is easy, you just outwork everyone else.”
“Do everything the right way every time.”
Johnson fully believes in the ripple effect.
“You make the world a better place one person at a time,” he said.
When talking about the kids he said he may not see the immediate effect that the center is having on the kids, but it is one that will show up later and last. What they are doing is something that could affect generations to come.
Johnson gets the kids excited about Tech in many different ways. The entire center is decorated in purple and gold. He also bases quizzes, contests, and rewards around Tech. Occasionally he is even able to bring the kids on field trips to the campus.
On their latest visit in the fall the kids had the opportunity to meet with President Bell and the First Lady. Dr. Susan Elkins, Vice President for Extended Programs and Regional Development, talked about how excited the kids were to meet the president and first lady.
Elkins also said the kids really enjoyed showing off all the fun facts they knew about Tech, some of which she and the president did not even know.
Johnson said the kids always get really excited when they see the golden eagle atop Derryberry Hall.
“The Golden Eagle lets them know they are where they need be and shows them the direction they need to go,” Johnson said.