When Inquoris “Inky” Johnson was just 7 years old, he told his family he was going to the NFL. Growing up in the inner-city of Atlanta, riddled with crime and violence, his parents told him “that doesn’t happen to people like us.” No one in his family had gone to college before, and some had even been incarcerated. Yet not even his family could dissuade him from his dream.
Determined, Johnson invited his cousins and other neighborhood kids to play tackle football in the street every day after school until it got dark outside. One day, an unfamiliar blue pickup truck came to a stop on their street. The driver got out of his car and asked the boys if they wanted to play football in an organized league.
“Man, I’d love that, we get pretty beat up out here on the street,” Johnson recalled thinking.
Trae Hurst, who Johnson later would come to know as a coach, spoke with his uncle about the boys playing on an organized football team across town. His uncle said they didn’t have the money for it.
Hurst told Johnson’s uncle, “It’s a great opportunity that will help them later in life. I will pay for them if you bring them to the park tomorrow.”
Johnson’s uncle took him up on the offer. Johnson played organized football from that day on. He and his cousins ended up going to college as well. Hurst’s act of charity broke the curse that had been in Johnson’s family for generations.
Johnson, who spoke to more than 5,500 middle- and high-schoolers from 88 schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the 6th annual Christian Service 4LIFE “Be A Rebel” event at downtown LA’s Microsoft Theater, told the young audience that he wanted to know why his coach lived the way he did. One day when his coach dropped him off after practice, Johnson asked him just that.
Hurst said, “As long as you can live your life to make sure that someone else is OK, your life is always going to be OK.”
From that moment on, Johnson’s purpose in life changed. He decided that if he made it to the NFL, it was inconsequential. He challenged the young crowd to search deep and to ask themselves, “What is it that you want with your core?”
Johnson told the students, “When God tells you no, you have to have the courage to accept it and realize that God has a greater plan for you.”
Johnson, who played football at the University of Tennessee, knows all too well that God had other plans for him. He was being looked at as a first-round pick for the NFL draft, when he suffered a tragic injury during his last season.
“I blacked out. My whole body went limp,” said Johnson.
He left the game on a stretcher.
At the hospital, a doctor said he was about to die if he didn’t get into surgery for a ruptured artery. When he woke up from surgery, his dad said, “How can God let this happen to you?”
His dreams of making it to the NFL were over as he lost the use of one of his arms, but as a devout Christian, johnson trusted that God had bigger plans.
His father, who did not believe in God and wasn’t in his life much, decided to stay with his son for 30 days to help him with his recovery. He even drove him to church. On the 29th day, while his son prayed on his knees, his father entered his room, and said, “You know that God you pray to, I want to give up my life to Christ, too.”
Johnson’s testimony to put God first and to put his own ego aside is a true testament to his character. “I would do it all over again, if this brings my dad to salvation,” he said.
David Calavitta, head of Marketing and Design for Lifeteen, a national youth ministry program, emceed the Christian Service 4LIFE event. He, like Johnson, encouraged the students to stand against the status quo of pop culture.
“Our lives change when we recognize the greatness of God. Our hearts are made for God. When we encounter the greatness of God, we have the freedom to love the unlovable,” said Calavitta.
Some of the students who attended the Christian Service 4LIFE event received awards for student-athletes best representing the virtuous life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati by displaying a zest for life and serving God. The award winners were “rebels,” putting God first in their lives.
Nick Russo, who attends Our Lady of Malibu School and just recently converted to Catholicism, played on the Varsity baseball team as a sixth-grader. He also is an altar server.
“No one can take away your faith from you,” said Russo at the event.
Archbishop José H. Gomez led a moving Benediction service where he told the students, “Jesus is asking you and me to love him with all your heart.”
Altar servers from St. John Chrysostom and the Knights of Columbus helped to lead the Benediction procession. The sign language group from St. Paschal Baylon in Thousand Oaks signed “The Divine Praises” using sign language while the Mayfield Senior School choir sang along.
During the event, students had the opportunity to go to confession and visit 30 different Christian service booths to learn more about opportunities to better serve God.
The “Be A Rebel” event culminated with a live performance on stage with students from Thomas Aquinas College dancing in the dark with lights communicating the message of being a rebel.
“It was something you didn't expect,” said Michael Grumbine, a sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College.
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