Reformed and Ready?

Last week I found myself defending and explaining a string of endorsements the Michigan Chronicle made for the Aug. 4 primary.

Aside from being peppered for our support of some incumbents on the Detroit City Council, one particular endorsement created the biggest firestorm.

Our support of Raphael Johnson, a 34- year-old Detroiter who at the age of 17 went to prison in a murder case for 11 years, had some listeners on the Mildred Gaddis show on WCHB AM 1200 riled up.

Some of the callers on the show that I periodically frequent, asked in rhetorical deftness, how dare we endorse an ex-convict, a murderer?

They could not understand the rationale behind our support for a young man who made a terrible mistake growing up, but has since repented and dramatically transformed his life for the betterment of Detroit.

Since my appearance on Gaddis’ show last week, I have been confronted by those who believe that Raphael Johnson does not belong to the Detroit City Council. Ironically they do not object to his transformation, but according to their own standards it’s too soon for him to be part of the biggest civic institution in Detroit.

Currently, the City of Detroit has no clear set standards for those running for office. That is why the Charter Revision Commission is crucial in making it clear who is eligible to run.

But for now Johnson, like anybody else, can run.

We did not endorse a murderer. We endorsed a changed man.

Raphael Johnson paid the price for the crime he committed. The family of the victim could make a legitimate argument that there is no price to compensate for the loss of Johnny Havard.

And I fully agree with that, as in all such cases.

But Johnson, unlike many, came out of prison and changed his life and obtained a formal education from the University of Detroit Mercy. He is married and the father of two children. He is an example of the power of transformation and what can happen to those who were in the dark but now see the light.

He wrote his autobiography, “To Pose a Threat: My Rite of Passage,” the foreword of which was written by former Detroit News senior editor and ARISE Detroit! founder Luther Keith.

In the book, Johnson explains his mistakes and takes the reader through the difficult period that eventually made him a productive member of society. He knows very well he’s made a crucial mistake and continues to regret it as he acknowledged in an e-mail to me last week. “Lord knows I’m still paying for it,” he said.

Because of the power of his story, Johnson’s book was inducted into the African American Literature Special Collection at Wayne State University.

He was the national winner of Steve Harvey’s Best Community Leader Hoodie Award and has been a teen advisor for “The Maury Show.” He is a business owner who runs Total Package Lifestyle, LLC.

But there is something in life called “second chance.” It is a tool that we have always used to allow those who’ve made serious mistakes to repent and become a great asset to society.

However, as I listened to some of the callers on the show vehemently opposing Johnson’s candidacy, I asked myself if it was their own son that has changed his life so positively and now making a run for City Council, would they be putting forth much opposition?

Why can’t we accept the idea that everybody deserves a second chance without limits when they’ve shown evidence to justify it?

Why do we have to push to close the chapter of someone’s life after they have shown remorse for their mistake and moved on with their life?

Am I condoning the mistake?


And if it was someone else who had committed a similar crime and subsequently changed their life as Johnson has, I would still push for a second chance without limits.

All I am saying is that the human heart has the capacity for genuine transformation and remorse. And when that transformation happens it behooves us to give that person a second chance without any limitations that will hinder their growth and potential for the advancement of our community.

Last year, Johnson testified before the United States Congress during the passage of the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Recovery Act of 2007 HR 4300, which allows for young inmates to be considered for release if they’ve shown considerable progress in transforming their lives behind prison walls.


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