Typically, an economics class meets in Room 110 of North Dallas High School.
But on Fridays after school, finance takes a vacation. It’s time for the Action Team to meet.
Members don’t talk profits and losses, but public service. Charles Johnson – he goes by ‘CJ’ – created the school club 11 years ago, when he worked at the school. On this day, he’s the volunteer leader of this session.
“So how many jobs have we gotten done?” he asks the group. “Are we still serving our community?”
CJ is a proud North Dallas Bulldog, class of ’88. He left a prison security job 18 years ago to become a monitor at North Dallas High. He also became a coach for the wrestling team. He wanted to help his old neighborhood and school.
“Our community is in need for volunteers,” he said. “We also appreciate our school, and we’re proud of our school. Some families needed help and everything like that, and I couldn’t do it by myself. So I needed other people to volunteer.”
CJ’s done more than volunteer. He also helped launch the school’s African-American and Latin-American culture clubs.
‘CJ Is Everything’
North Dallas High has a weekly drop-in center for homeless kids to stop by before school. The center offers students food, mentors, information about health insurance and resources about shelters.
Inside the center, Rafael Rodriguez, the school’s community liaison, talks about Johnson’s impact.
“CJ, when he started to work here, he lived with just him and his mom,” Rodriguez explains. “So he had a couple extra bedrooms available and I think at that time, it was probably 15 or 16 years ago, we had one young man and he needed a place to sleep and CJ provided a roof over his head.”
CJ hated seeing that boy in a homeless shelter living with adults.
“Because you have other people dealing with mental problems, just got out of prison and also staying there,” CJ says. “My first kid experienced that really bad where all his stuff was stolen, and also he came here with lice. I told him to get his stuff and let’s get out of here.”
That was more than three dozen students ago. He’s offered these kids a room, when the alternative was the street, a shelter or shattered household.
He calls the kids his sons, although he has no biological children.
“I just tell them … ‘I got a lot of rules and regulations,’” CJ says. “If you want to come, and just grow up in the house and everything like that, you go to the same school. … You just come here. We live here. You graduate. That’s what our focus is going to be.”
Angel Rivera, who’s 21, started living with CJ in 2009, when he was an angry student at North Dallas High — and homeless.
Read the rest of the story here.