By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Thanksgiving marks 15 years since Rodreckus Johnson was shot to death in a Birmingham neighborhood. Rodreckus was a 20-year-old son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin and father of a son. On Nov. 22, 2003 he was killed as he parked his car to go to a party. There was a group of guys who had been in an altercation earlier that night and as Rodreckus was parking gunshots rang out from the group.
A stray bullet pierced his windshield and killed him instantly. His killer has not been identified.
For the Johnson family, holidays are hard, especially Thanksgiving because it was Rodreckus’s favorite holiday, but more so this year since Thanksgiving falls on the same day that he passed.
“I’m just dreading that day,” said his mother Carolyn Johnson. “People say, ‘enjoy your Thanksgiving’ . . . and you’ll be like, ‘okay same to you’ but you know you have to go home . . . and there’s this empty void.”
Johnson said her son was a good person on his way to building a life for himself and for his son. “He was hard working; he really was, to be 20 he was working…. I miss my baby so much, he wasn’t perfect, no one is, but his spirit. He was just so mannerable and a quiet young man; he was a good young man.”
Johnson looks back on the days with her son and said that the things she would be upset over then are now memories she keeps close. “Sometimes the little things we fuss about turn out to be the things that mean the most,” said Johnson.
Johnson not only has her memories but in some ways has her son in Rodreckus’s 16 year old, who is just like his father, she said.
“I just want people to remember that his life was very valuable and he was a good person. I also want them to remember how he was taken so that when they’re out facing a conflict or mad and want to pull out a gun, think about it,” said Johnson. “Don’t do it, think twice before you take somebody’s life because whoever they were shooting at, they missed that person and shot my baby and killed him. They killed an innocent person and just devastated the family that’s left to grieve.”
Parents Against Violence
Although she still feels great pain, she has taken her pain and turned it into something that could help others. She founded Parents Against Violence Foundation, Inc. to help those who deal with the loss of a loved one as well as educate the youth on the consequences of violence.
“I just wanted to do something to get people involved and bring people together who know exactly what it feels like to have a child murdered,” said Johnson. “That’s when I thought about a lot of the parents because I just kept hearing parents complaining about the violence, complaining about their children being bullied . . . that’s when I had a community town hall meeting and we had probably over 500 people come out and that’s when Parents Against Violence was formed.”
The group offers meetings for families who are grieving which helps her as well. They have the chance to talk about their feelings and their stories.
“I’ve seen parents just give up because it’s just too much, I’ve seen parents turn to drugs and alcohol, I’ve seen a lot of that, I’ve seen them admitted to the psyche ward, and it could have been me, it almost was me,” she said. “I wrote a book about it and the title of the book is ‘When Your Child Is Murdered’ and I had to write it because I did attempt suicide, I did not want to live, I didn’t see how I could live without my child, but it was the grace of God that sustained me, that kept me and helped me and He made me understand that I had a purpose.
“Your life is not just about you it’s about others, and I had to understand that I had to help other people,” said Johnson.
She also has the “Who Killed My Child” Campaign to help families find suspects. Johnson said they put the child who died on a billboard and offer $10,000 reward for justice which came from the governor’s office.
As Thanksgiving approaches Johnson said “it’s hard to say, ‘well at least you had him for 20 years,’ 20 years is not a long time for life,” she said. “It’s a long time to have a friendship, or a long time to be on a job, or a long time to be married, but 20 years is not a long time for life. That’s short, that’s young, he didn’t get to do anything for real. He didn’t get to experience much at 20, but he served his purpose in those 20 years, he made a huge impact on people’s lives with his spirit.”