Willie Johnson - Communication Instructor

"I remember when I was in high school my dad would sit and watch me do my homework because he was just amazed by how fast I could read and write," said Normandale Communications Instructor Willie Johnson.

Along with being a Communication Instructor at Normandale, Willie was a first-generation college graduate. He grew up on the south side of Chicago after his parents migrated from Alabama to Chicago. Willie's dad worked long hours at the railyard and his mom held various service jobs. His mother also made it a priority to teach Willie and his three brothers.

By the time Willie was 3 years old he could say his ABCs, and he could write by kindergarten. Although Willie's father made it through third grade and his mother through high school, furthering his education was an expectation he grew up with.

The Chicago public schools by in large hadn't prepared Willie much for the journey, but Mrs. Mason sure did. Mrs. She was Willie's fifth grade teacher, and was more like a second mom then a teacher.

"On the weekend Mrs. Mason would round up some of the kids in my neighborhood and bring us to her house," said Johnson. "She would lure us there with breakfast, but then she would make us do more schoolwork."

Mrs. Mason was exactly what Willie needed in his life at a young age, someone who was nice but stern. He knew he had to act correctly around her. Mrs. Mason also taught him about African American history and sex education at a time when that was not heard of in the school setting.

"I remember she would have one of us posted at the door to make sure nobody was coming than she would teach us about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas," said Johnson. 

Willie wants you to know that you can be the Mrs. Mason in somebody's life. He decided to attend Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota, when he left for college. "Chicago where I grew up was very segregated, people walked around with an edge on them, in Saint Paul, I had never been around some many white people with blue eyes before," Johnson laughs. Then I discovered Minnesota Nice and that was a little scary."

During his first year at Hamline, he found it to be hard, but Dr. James Ching, his advisor, would not let him steer off course calling him if he even thought about missing a course.

Willie's father passed away during his first year of school and he thought about stopping college. However, his mother wouldn't have it. She said "First of all I can take care of myself and secondly son the day after tomorrow you are heading back and finishing up school." That is exactly what Willie did and when he graduated both his mom and Mrs. Mason were there to watch.