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Hillsborough High grad Kindall Johnson has a mission as Miss FAMU

As the new Miss Florida A&M University, Kindall Johnson will revel in the pomp and circumstance involved with being a campus queen.

Wearing a tiara and sash, she will appear at Rattler football games dressed in stylish suits. Johnson will offer a wave typically used only by dignitaries, and beam a smile that makes it easy to understand why friends and family call her Sunshine.

But her one-year reign will involve so much more than traditional pageantry. With the position, the Hillsborough High graduate embarks on a new mission of recruiting more African-American men from International Baccalaureate and advanced placement programs to FAMU, the state's only historically black public university.

You might expect Johnson, 20, to spend her time promoting women like herself. But with wisdom that goes beyond her years, Johnson said not enough is being done to help black men.

"If we want to change the black family, the black woman and the black child, we have to start with making the black man academically, spiritually and mentally sound," Johnson said. "The black family needs black men who can be positive contributors to the community.

"A lot has been done to empower the black woman, but not enough has been done to empower the black man, and sometimes I think empowering black women has come at the expense of emasculating the black man."

Johnson said she believes advisers and counselors don't encourage a lot of high-achieving black students — male or female — to consider FAMU and other historically black colleges.

An IB graduate herself, Johnson said she heard this remark more than once: "You're too smart for FAMU."

She denounces those detractors with words and actions. Johnson will earn a degree in Arabic next year with the hopes of working overseas for the State Department or a company.

Her academic success helped her land a spot as a delegate at the recent Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Miami, where she met the former president. "I've prospered in FAMU's environment," Johnson said. "It's a place where I've learned professionalism, cultural identity and a much larger respect for my people.

"I have a better perspective on my people. We're not all the same. I've learned so much about myself, my history, my purpose and what I must do as an educated person."

Johnson will work to help black men by attending university recruiting events with FAMU president James Ammons and organizing a drive in which alumni and supporters will donate suits for first-year students.

I suspect some naysayer will read this and lament that he's sick of historically black schools. Usually, the same person says blacks shirk personal responsibility and fail to capitalize on opportunities.

You can't have it both ways. Cultural identity and self-esteem can fuel young African-Americans to not only lift themselves up, but help others.

"I have to hold the door open so other people can come through," Johnson said.

Sunshine can warm us all.

That's all I'm saying.

Hillsborough High grad Kindall Johnson has a mission as Miss FAMU 05/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 6:50pm]
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