For Rockdale County High School, February was marked not only with a celebration of black history month, but also a celebration of the human spirit.
On Thursday and Friday, the students of GIFTS (Girls In Focus To Succeed) honored one of their own — Raven Johnson, a RCHS student that passed away last September after a three year battle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis — as part of the fifth annual black history show, "Stand Up," which looked at the challenges faced by blacks in the past and the challenges teens face today.
Johnson was remembered for her unyielding spirit and her will. When her disease left her too weak to attend the prom, her classmates brought the prom to her at the hospital. She fought through complications and was able to walk across the stage to accept her diploma last summer.
"She never complained," remembered Graduation Specialist Monica Baros, who coordinates the GIFTS program. "Once I said to her, ‘How do you do it?’ She said, ‘You know, who has time for complaining? It’s been given to me so I can handle it.’"
"She loved education, she loved people, she loved community service," said Yolonda Johnson, Raven’s mother. "Which is one reason I think the young people have been so inspired… She made a daily decision, regardless of what she was feeling or how her disease was doing, to live and make and impact, in her school and in her church and in her community."
The show, "Stand Up" presented skits, staged discussions, video clips, dance, song and music presentations. The show focused on the challenges blacks faced "back in the day" especially to get an education, and the pressures and issues teens face today, such as drugs, alcohol and peer pressure.
At the end of the show, Raven’s mother addressed the students in the audience, asking them if they died, would they be remembered, and how would they be remembered. "What would be your contribution?" she asked.
"There was not a dry eye in the house," said Baros.
Yolanda Johnson said she was tickled to know her daughter would have enjoyed the show. "It was a program and a message that embodied who she was. I think she would have been thrilled to pieces."
The proceeds from Friday night’s show will go towards purchasing benches in Raven’s name to put around the school.
Baros hopes the message to "stand up" will be heard by the students. "I think if even just a handful did, then our mission was accomplished."