At 22, Alan Johnson has experienced a lot in life.
The Morris College senior has seen adversity and uncertainty, but he's also discovered opportunity and refuses to allow his past to determine his end, he says.
For his personal fortitude and passion for education, the United Negro College Fund awarded Johnson its Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship on Thursday.
The national award recognizing the life of the American social reformer, abolitionist, writer, and statesman is given to one student annually at a historically black college and university and was considered a perfect closure to Morris' Honors Day Convocation.
The award, established in 2018, commemorates the bicentennial of Douglass' birth in 1818. Born into slavery in Maryland, Douglass largely taught himself how to read and write as a young teenager. At 20, he escaped and gained his own freedom. Seven years later, in 1845, he wrote his first of several autobiographies, which became a bestseller.
Like Douglass, Johnson has had to overcome his own adversities.
Just a few short years ago at the age of 15 and living in inner-city Irvington, New Jersey, Johnson was removed from his home and placed in foster care.
But with personal determination and the help of a loving foster family, Johnson learned the importance of education and found his path.
"It was tough and an adjustment," Johnson said, "but I had a good foster mother who helped me. She and her family opened up their home out of the kindness of their hearts."
The family moved Johnson and his two younger brothers to Sumter several years ago.
Johnson has a 4.0 GPA for his four years at Morris and will graduate in May with a bachelor's in history.
He holds academic achievement and cultural enrichment in high regard, enjoys history, literature, and "good conversation" and says he wants to become a high school teacher and "pay it forward" by helping others.
In receiving the $10,000 scholarship at Morris' Neal-Jones Auditorium, Johnson said he felt honored and blessed.
After the ceremony, he said Douglass is a role model for him and a hero.
"For me, as a person who came from a foster background and was expected to fail, he's a great inspiration," Johnson said, "because as a slave he was expected to fail and not succeed. But, through his perseverance, foresight, and everything he did, he became successful, and that's why he's inspiring to me. He was a hard-working person, who didn't let his background determine his destiny."
United Negro College Fund Regional Director Warren Williams was on hand to present the scholarship to Johnson and also a limited-edition oil painting of Douglass. Since the award was established in 2018, Johnson is just the second scholarship winner.
Scholarship program donor Tony Signore also attended.
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Also, at the Morris Honors Day Convocation, college leaders recognized about 125 honor students for their achievements in the fall semester. The event's keynote speaker was Stephen Middleton, professor emeritus at Mississippi State University and a 1976 graduate of Morris.