Kennard Johnson inspires youth of color through coaching, motivation

By Cierra Lemott, Multimedia Reporter


Life throws many obstacles our way, but it is up to us to decide how to deal with them. Do you run away? Do you tackle them head-on? The choice is yours, but for Kennard Johnson, his decision has always been to keep working toward a better future while inspiring others in the process.

Johnson was 18 in 1978 when he got shot and ultimately lost his arm from the injuries.

Coach Kennard Johnson poses for a portrait following a game versus Lindblom Math and Science Academy on Monday, April 10, 2023. Johnson has coached basketball and softball for the last 24 years. Cierra Lemott

Now, 63, Johnson is a senior security officer and coach of the varsity softball team at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy at 250 E. 111th St and also the coach of the girls’ basketball team at Bowen High School at 2710 E. 89th St, both on Chicago’s south side.

“I played basketball through high school. I graduated from high school and I got shot,” said Johnson. “When I got shot, I lost a lot of blood out of my body. I wasn’t supposed to make it.”

Johnson’s recovery took a year.

“I was supposed to go to college and I couldn’t because my arm was amputated. Seeing kids go to college, getting them in college, that’s the most rewarding.”

Johnson did not let go of his love for basketball or sports in general. He spread that love to others who shared it and encouraged them to do better and be better at the game.

“I love coaching kids, seeing them come up. I have three kids of my own and I just enjoy it,” said Johnson, who has been coaching for 24 years. “God has me here for a reason: to save somebody. I don’t know who but I’m still here and I’m going to help as many kids as I can.”

His love for softball drives him to be a strong support system for the Brooks varsity softball team. Coaching is not always easy, but it can be rewarding to see how much the team and each individual member grow over the course of a season.

“I have 20 girls and 20 different attitudes and so I got to deal with each of them. They say treat them all the same, but you got to treat them differently too,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s used his experience to talk to girls on his team about gun violence.

“You can be in the right place at the wrong time,” he said. He tells them they have to be aware all the time. “You got to be good to people.”

Regardless of all the obstacles that have been presented in Johnson’s life, he desires to help wherever he can.

“Just trust in God because I’ve been shot, I’ve been carjacked, I’ve been robbed, I’ve been lied on by the police. And I’m still here,” Johnson said. “It’s like I’ve had nine lives.”