Jaheim Johnson: A Community Role Model and Advocate for Success

Asheville native Jaheim Johnson and his mom teamed-up with OpenDoors while he was in elementary school. That mutually-rewarding relationship continues while Jaheim attends the Gow School, a college prep boarding school near Buffalo, New York. All graduates of Gow attend college, and OpenDoors has sent three boys there plus more kids for Gow’s summer programs. Jaheim, who is in his sophomore year, has attended Gow for just over two years, thanks to an OpenDoors scholarship. OpenDoors had a chance to catch up with him recently, as part of the OpenDoors 10th Anniversary “10 Years10 People” series.

Question: Was it hard to adjust to living so far from home?

JJ: At first, but we have to adapt to the environment we are in and I still talk to my family a lot. They’ve been up there to see me.

Q: Did you have difficulty in school before going to Gow?

JJ: Yeah, and I didn’t know I was dyslexic. When we went outside the school system and found out I was, the school was still like,  “It’s not a real problem.” But it is a big problem.

Q: What’s changed?

Jaheim (left) with fellow students at Gow School

JJ: Gow is a school for learning disabilities. That’s the specialty. So my confidence has changed. I don’t feel scared to turn in my homework.

Q: Scared how?

JJ: Scared I’m going to fail, because I can’t do the homework.

Q: If you don’t turn in homework that can be interpreted as a behavior problem and things just snowball downhill, right?

JJ: Yep.

Q: How’s Gow different?

JJ: Our classrooms are small, with no more than seven students in a class. That small environment really helped me. The teachers teach and still have time to answer everyone’s questions and help everyone out one-on-one. You really get to process what you are learning. I really like my teachers.

Q: Do you have a favorite subject?

JJ: Spanish and science. Science is my go-to.

Q: What about sports?

JJ: I do soccer in the fall and in the winter it’s basketball. That’s my zone sport – the one I really like. In spring I did lacrosse. That was a brand new sport for me like a mixture of soccer and baseball and football. But this year I’m doing track and field. I’m a fast kid.

Jaheim going in for a lay up!

Q What surprised you most about Gow?

JJ: The people and some of the friendships I have there. There’s a really cool thing, that Gow accepts people from all over. So I get to meet people from Japan, Barbados, Ireland, Africa, all over. We get the opportunity to find out how other people live. We become like a family.

Q: A global family?

JJ: Exactly. My roommate is from Turkey, and my friend group is mainly from the islands, the Caribbean. We have kind of the same personality, outgoing people who love to have fun and like the same music.

Q: Do you get to be a teacher, in a way, helping others learn English?

JJ: Yep, and they teach me how to say things in all kinds of different languages. We have a lot of fun with that.