Lloyd 's Essays


Table of Contents


By |January 31st, 2021|

To Dad and Alijah  * If you are standing out in a crowd it is only because you are standing on the shoulders of others.  –Desmond Tutu     * I’m in the sunset of a pretty good life, and despite some mistakes, I’m in a good place.   I’m blessed with a loving wife, a wonderful daughter, granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter who’s got a bright future. I’m not worried about my next meal or a [...]

1. Early Recollections

By |January 30th, 2021|

I’m what was called a “Depression baby,” born on August 5, 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. America. The world, was in a free-fall. Stock market had crashed. Massive unemployment, no “safety net”, soup kitchens, riots. My parents, Clarence and Louise (Dixon) Johnson were Jamaican immigrants, important roots for my life, as it turned out. I was the “baby” of our family, preceded by my older brother, Calvin, [...]

2. Childhood Beyond The Schoolroom

By |January 29th, 2021|

  Lloyd Johnson, c 1936 Toward the end of my kindergarten year at the Nathan Hale School, Ma summarily announced that I wouldn’t return there in the fall, supposedly because my first-grade teacher was “deaf.” Her rationale escaped me then, but at age 4 who was I to question her decision. Since then, I have come to think that, from Ma’s point of view, “deaf” meant that that teacher was wearing a hearing aid.   She declared that [...]

3. My Family

By |January 28th, 2021|

Lloyd c. 1942 My childhood was marked by screaming and what seemed like perpetual ongoing arguments between Ma and Dad. Their fights never became physical. But, no matter. Their relationship was angry, vitriolic, and liable to erupt at any time. Their arguments contributed to my shyness. I often contrasted my parents’ dysfunctional relationship to the perceived loving relationships of my friends’ parents. Eventually, I even avoided bringing my friends by our home, fearful of exposing them to my family demons.   Ma and Dad were like oil and water. They didn’t mix. They seemed to have little in common other [...]

4. Troubles & Mixed Blessings

By |January 27th, 2021|

Ma c. 1985 Los Angeles, CA To say that Ma and Dad didn’t get along is an understatement. Yes, they both loved us unreservedly, but their frequent verbal altercations, though never becoming physical, scarred us all. They seemed to argue almost incessantly, at all hours. More than once, in the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by their loud, bitter arguments. I have no idea what [...]

5. Becoming Socially Aware

By |January 26th, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey Toward Servant Leadership    Lloyd c. 1942 By the time I was 8 years old, Dad and I often engaged in conversations about politics and social inequality. Dad seemed to take quiet pride in our spirited one-to-one political conversations. I loved the opportunity to test my ideas – no matter how flawed -- in healthy debate. I still do.   Once I had the temerity to challenge his political judgment; Dad supported Boston’s Mayor James M. Curley, a Democratic political icon in the [...]

6. Church

By |January 25th, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey Toward Servant Leadership  St. Cyp’s Church. Roxbury, MA   “St. Cyp’s” and “Fergie.” They were the loving nicknames of our mother church, our family church -- that is St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church --and our pastor there, The Rev. David Leroy Ferguson. Those nicknames speak to the extent that our faith community was our community, an integral part of our extended family, our village.  St. Cyp’s was a product of white racism. As former British colonials, almost everyone in Boston’s West Indian immigrant community was a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion and had an unwavering tradition of Sunday worship. However, these early 20th century Caribbean immigrants worshiped in the evening, unlike most churches.    Why? A large number of Boston’s [...]

7. Gathering Storm & World War II

By |January 24th, 2021|

EUROPE’S WAR  We had no television during much of my childhood and certainly no internet or social media. We got our news through the radio, several of Boston’s daily newspapers, and the weekly newsreels at the movie theaters. And it was through those weekly newsreels that I learned about the horror of the World War II in Europe and Asia, especially Germany's bombing of London and other major cities in the United Kingdom, known as the “Battle of Britain.”  We dehumanized the [...]

8. The Dudley School 

By |January 23rd, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey Toward Servant Leadership  Lloyd's 4th grade clessLloyd, top row, 5th rightDudley SchoolRoxbury,'MA   Completing the third grade at the Louis Prang School in June,1939, was like I had “maxed out” of -- that is, completed -- a three-year prison sentence. In the fall, I rejoined many my friends at the Dudley School, our neighborhood’s fourth through sixth grade elementary school.   The school’s demographics reflected our Roxbury neighborhood – overwhelmingly white - my “normal” throughout my public school career. The terms “integration” or “desegregation” were non-existent for me and other Black kids in our neighborhood   It was simply “school”. Black teachers were a [...]

9. The Hill

By |January 22nd, 2021|

Street sceneBlue Hill Ave. & Quincy St.Roxbury, MA C. 1947Note demographics I was apprehensive about our move to this strange new neighborhood. It was called “The Hill” and its residents were overwhelmingly white, predominantly Jewish. I didn’t know anyone there and we were the only Black family on our new street, Walnut Park. I was afraid that this move would replicate my experience at the Louis Prang School [...]

10. The Threshold of High School

By |January 21st, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey Toward Servant Leadership   THE ENGLISH HIGH SCHOOL   Boston’s English High School (EHS) was huge, with a 2,000-plus, all-boys student body from every one of the city’s ethnic neighborhoods: East Boston (Italian), Dorchester (Irish), South End (Black), South Boston or “Southie” (also Irish), Roxbury/Mattapan (Jewish), and so forth. From my jr. high school, seven  of us went to EHS ; a few other entering 10th grade students transferred in from Boston Latin School for sundry reasons.    The school was then on Montgomery Street in Boston’s South End. There were relatively few Black students at EHS – [...]

11. Lasting Friendships

By |January 20th, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey to Servant Leadership    THE SPARTANS & LASTING FRIENDSHIPS  Jimmy Galloway1949 Jimmy Galloway, another Black kid from The Hill, and I became fast friends as we rode the trolley to and from English High School.  We especially liked our route to school because it was also taken by girls attending the nearby Girls High School. We wanted to flirt with them, but at 14-years-old, we really didn’t [...]

12. Meanwhile, Back at Home

By |January 19th, 2021|

A DOWNWARD SPIRAL  At home, in the fall of 1948, a confluence of of events, in no particular order, contributed to an increasingly dysfunctional family situation and the disintegration of my world.   First, Ma, despite the steady rental income from the two tenants in our triple-decker apartment building on Walnut Park, might have been struggling to maintain our home on her low salary as an attendant at Boston State Hospital. But, for reasons that totally escape me, she sold the income-producing building to Calvin, pocketed the [...]

13. Transition,Secrets & Misplaced Loyalties  

By |January 18th, 2021|

 In January 1949, soon after Ma moved to Brooklyn, New York with my sister, Eleanor, she found employment at a hospital for the mentally ill. Then, a month or so before I graduated from Boston’s English High School (EHS)she purchased a brownstone house at 669 Park Place in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Eleanor enrolled in a nursing school, where she earned her certificate as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Calvin served the entire nine months of his sentence at the  Deer Island House of Correction for stabbing his former wife, never expressing remorse for his conduct.   In the weeks leading up to my relocation to Brooklyn, I was apprehensive, to say the least, about my future. I didn’t want to leave my lifelong friends and familiar Roxbury surroundings. How would I adapt to the unknown and uncertainties of life in Brooklyn.  [...]

14. Summer of 1949

By |January 17th, 2021|

My Truth: My Journey Toward Servant Leadership    Situated between Bedford and Franklin Avenues in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, our new home at 669 Park Place was a converted two-family home, including what I later learned was an illegal one-bedroom apartment on the top floor. Tenants, customary in those days, were necessary to help Ma to meet the expenses of our new home. But unlike my childhood home on Linwood Square, in Roxbury, MA, these tenants were not family members or friends, but total strangers, referred by a local realtor.   Transportation-wise, my new home had several distinct advantages  We were [...]

15. The Mecca

By |January 16th, 2021|

WELCOME  Racism was my introduction to Washington, D.C., my nation’s capital. Arriving by train at the cavernous Union Station in early September 1949, I had all my worldly belongings in a single suitcase. It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day outside and I easily found my way to the taxicab stand to begin the newest chapter of my life at the Mecca for Black college students, Howard University.   There were two lines at the cab stand and, of course, I chose the shorter one – only to be told by the white dispatcher that, “your line” (AKA the line for Black people) was the longer line off to the side. He said it as casually as if he was directing me [...]

16. Big Mistake and Reckoning

By |January 15th, 2021|

  I had bad vibes about Howard University’s College of Pharmacy (COP) almost from the moment I sat in my first class. Physically, the College was situated in the “Valley,” Howard’s medical complex, four or five blocks downhill from Howard’s main campus. It was surrounded by the colleges of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing, and the former Freedman’s Hospital.   The other pharmacy students in my entering first-year class all seemed older, more mature, businesslike than me, and many were using the educational benefits of the GI Bill.  The overall atmosphere of the COP was dry and somber, unlike the fun-filled atmosphere of Cook Hall and the main campus. It was also a much longer walk to class, especially in inclement weather.   In COP, we weren’t called “freshmen”; we were [...]


By |January 14th, 2021|

RETURN TO CAMPUS  I returned to Howard’s campus in the fall of 1951 armed with a newly-discovered sense of purpose. I was determined to complete my college education. It didn’t bother me that I was a returning third-year student among newly-admitted freshmen, most of whom were my age -- 19. The kid who started school at age 4 was finally among college students his own age.    Clarke Hall, a decrepit, wood-frame building (later demolished), was the newly-designated dormitory for upperclass undergraduate male students. It faced south overlooking the main campus. My roommate was my good friend and fellow Bamboola, Herb Hannahs, from Evanston, Illinois.    Herb, now a junior, and I became confidantes. He was [...]

18. Who Killed Michael Farmer? 

By |January 13th, 2021|

 GRAD SCHOOL & WORLD OF WORK  I wasn’t at all surprised that Adelphi University was the polar opposite of Howard. It was situated in Garden City, New York, a wealthy, white, suburban community, and, other than the School of Social Work,  its student body was predictably almost entirely white. I wasn’t distracted by the demographics. I knew it beforehand and was there for one reason: Earn the master’s degree. I was focused and empowered.     Remember, this was a joint sociology/social work program. I had a great relationship with my sociology faculty advisor, but I was increasingly drawn to the School of Social Work’s training in direct services to marginalized people. Graduate social work education, then and now, consists of three weekdays of field work training in a reputable social [...]

19. Accountability & All in for Equality

By |January 12th, 2021|

ACCOUNTABILITY    Any expectation that after two stints in jail, my older brother had left his violent criminal behavior behind him were for naught in May 1959.   Late in 1958, Calvin’s second wife executed a carefully choreographed plan and left him for parts unknown because of his long-term abuse. She and I had had a close relationship, and I never for a millisecond doubted her when she finally told me about his abusive behavior. Like so many such victims, she had kept his abuse to herself for many years.   In the early evening of Saturday, May 31, 1959, Calvin burst into her brother’s home and murdered him, shooting him six times before his mother, wife, and child. We never learned specifically what had motivated [...]


By |January 11th, 2021|

SERVANT LEADERSHIP  Lloyd A. Johnson1963 Beginning in the early 1960s, I joined thousands of other Americans, Black and white, in “The Movement,” massive, nationwide, nonviolent, direct-action attacks on racial injustice. At the same time, I assumed leadership of two well-funded community action programs. I learned the meaning of servant leadership; a leader who empowers others.  I believe that it is better to lead from behind, empowering others and thereby ensuring the likelihood of lasting change.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorable sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” captures the essence of servant leadership. It’s my all-time favorite sermon.  The Movement, widespread national demonstrations, began when four Black students from North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat-in at a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in an [...]

21. What to Do with the $10 Million? 

By |January 10th, 2021|

PROTEST & THE URBAN CENTER   Protests over civil rights and the Vietnam War dominated the U.S. in the 1960s and Columbia University’s Urban Center was a direct result of its student uprisings in 1968.  Black students of the Student Afro-American Society (SAS) were outraged by the University’s planned construction of an arguably segregated gymnasium in adjoining Morningside Park. With strong support from the nearby Harlem community, hundreds of Black students occupied the University’s Hamilton Hall classroom building and took a University administrator hostage. White students of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were outraged by the University’s complicity in the Vietnam War, and occupied Lowe Library, the administration building.   Thousands of arrests were made and the protests attracted worldwide attention and sparked student demonstrations elsewhere.  The University discontinued classes, the president resigned, plans for the construction of the gymnasium were [...]

22. New Directions

By |January 9th, 2021|

AT THE URBAN CENTER  Inwardly, I was apprehensive about succeeding Franklin H. Williams as the director of Columbia University’s Urban Center. Physically, he had a commanding presence. He exuded self-confidence. He had been the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, and he was used to dealing with people at the highest levels of government, nationally and internationally. A lawyer, he had successfully argued several civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.   I had none of these, nor the academic credentials to compete inside an Ivy League University. I wasn’t the product of the Ivy League nor had I earned the Ph.D. -- the gold standard of academic degrees and very important in [...]


By |January 8th, 2021|

A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME  My return to D.C. in 1974 to meet with Congressman Gus Hawkins and talk about a job, was very unlike my arrival there in 1949, 25 years earlier, when I came to enroll in the Mecca, Howard University. This time, the U.S. Capitol wasn’t just a landmark; it was my likely place of employment. I carried a briefcase, not a suitcase. There was one taxicab line at Union Station, not two segregated ones – and the dispatcher was Black. The mayor, Walter Washington, was a Black man. A college friend had told me that, within the Black community, the District of Columbia was now called Chocolate [...]


By |January 7th, 2021|

HATCH ACT REFORM  The federal Hatch Act of 1939, prohibiting federal employees from participating in partisan political activities, was intended to ensure a fair and impartial federal civil service. In 1975, in an effort to loosen those limitations, my new boss, Congressman William L. “Bill” Clay, introduced legislation to reform the Hatch Act.  It was designed to remove all restrictions on off-duty political activity by federal employees.   Enactment of the legislation was the primary focus of Congressman Clay’s subcommittee on Employee Political Rights; proponents and opponents quickly fell into place. Supporters included organized labor, civil rights groups, and most Democrats. Opposing the bill was the business community, a few [...]


By |January 6th, 2021|

MONTGOMERY COUNTY  The atmosphere of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, Maryland, was unlike the hustle and bustle of Capitol Hill and Howard University. It was slow-paced and relatively quiet and the courthouse was situated in the judicial plaza of a genteel, tree-filled suburban city.  The drive to work was an almost-pleasant commute against traffic.   But the superficial calm of the courthouse masked its pathos. Over the years, I came to regard this courthouse and others as “Palaces of Pain.”  I found that the pain and suffering of victims, defendants, families, and others to be silent but palpable throughout America’s courthouses. Lives are changed forever in court.  The law exists for one reason — to resolve disputes. What greater dispute could there be than whether a person will find freedom or imprisonment? I was about to become a [...]


By |January 4th, 2021|

 UPPER MARLBORO  County CourthouseUpper Marlboro, MD I was struck by the differences between the cities of Rockville in Montgomery County and Upper Marlboro, the Seat of Prince George’s County. I now worked in Upper Marlboro; it was originally a sleepy Southern country town. Its Main Street was bounded by the County Courthouse on one end and a huge tobacco auction warehouse on its opposite end. It had rapidly grown to include the county administration office and aburgeoning residential population.   It was an easy commute and as I drove the last few scenic miles to the courthouse, I sometime thought about how far I had come since being bullied and whipped at the Dudley School, sleeping on [...]


By |January 3rd, 2021|

EXPLODING MY COMFORT ZONE  I was snatched from my comfort zone early one morning in November 1993 by an excruciating pain in my left flank. At Connie’s urging, I immediately called my physician, Hector Collison, M.D.. When he returned my call shortly afterwards, the pain was gone, and I was preparing for a busy day in the office. However, when he suggested I see him. I did. Believing I had a kidney stone, he almost off-handedly ordered an ultrasound.   Hector called me later that afternoon and somberly  told me to see him “right away.” Scared, I asked the usual, “What’s up?” He replied with the usual, “We’ll talk when you get here.” Our too-brief exchange wasn’t encouraging at all. No wonder he wanted to see me. It wasn’t good. The ultrasound had detected “a suspicious mass of some complexity.” Likely kidney cancer.   I was scared [...]


By |January 2nd, 2021|

My serendipitous Maryland playground meeting with Safi Ingram, the Savannah real estate agent, turned out to be a life-changing event for Connie and me. We’d already decided to explore Savannah as a possible retirement home, having been  somewhat smitten with its history and charm during our occasional day visits from our time-share in nearby Hilton Head, South Carolina.  As we began our “exploratory” trip, in early September 2005, I emphatically decreed to Connie that we were only going “to look it over; we’re not going to buy anything.”  Famous last words. I was wrong, very wrong. We met with Safi, warm and exuberant, and looked at several possible future homes. We never intended to buy on this exploratory trip, but – by the end of our second day [...]


By |January 1st, 2021|

I’ve never been known as a “potted palm” -- that is, a passive observer -- so, it was no surprise to anybody that as soon as we moved to Savannah, I immersed myself in the community. I became just as active here as I had been in Maryland. I was still trying to change our crazy world.  I was twice elected to leadership positions in our church. The bishop of [...]


By |December 31st, 2020|

None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody …. bent down and helped us pick up our boots. --Justice Thurgood Marshall   Lloyd, 5th grade. 1941 Midway through these essays, a dear Savannah friend, Ezra Merritt, referring to my early challenges -- beaten by teachers for minor infractions; bullied by Olly Sanders; and sleeping on a folding cot in my aunt’s kitchen, nights that left me feeling superfluous -- asked, “Lloyd, how’d you do it?” His seemingly simple question mirrored my own thoughts [...]


By |December 4th, 2020|

If, before the Covid-19 pandemic, anyone had told me that I would be writing a 30-essay memoir, I would have suggested that they were under the influence of an illegal substance.  Yes, I often tested the patience of family friends with stories about things I had seen and done.  Yes, mentees often rolled their eyes when I told them “just one more story” to make a point.  Yes, a few [...]