Demetrius (DJ) Johnson, Jr. is a junior wide receiver/defensive back at University of Chicago, where he studies economics. He is the founder of BLAC, the Black Letterwinning Athlete Coalition, which started at UChicago in June.
The UAA “Conversations About Race and Racism” series seeks to lift the voices of people of color and recognize the challenges faced in both athletics and academics at the collegiate level. By sharing personal stories, we hope to elevate the conversation about race to raise awareness and bring about change.
Adjustment Being at UChicago
“The first quarter (UChicago is the only UAA institution on the quarter system) of my freshman year, I went to my first football practice and saw there were only five Black kids on the team,” Johnson reported. “I played high school football at Piscataway Township (NJ), where 90 percent of the football team was Black. It was a real culture shock.”
Conversations he heard left him with doubts as to whether he chose the right school. “At one of our fall camp practices, the freshmen were discussing their ACT scores. Two people had a 36, another scored 33, and one other guy had a 32. I am in the corner of the locker room thinking about my 28 and wondering why I was recruited,” he acknowledged. “I wondered if I was a pawn, just someone who could produce on the field. I almost transferred after my freshman year, but when I decided to stay, I made it a point to change the Black experience for others who come after me.”
Although he is a junior now and well-known on campus, he was plagued early in his time at the school by assumptions about him being a football player. “In my freshman year and part of my sophomore year, I would meet people at a party or in class and they would ask if I was on the football team,” he recalled. “Why do you ask me that before you ask me my name? Even though I am on the football team, what does that question mean? Is your perception of me based on that?”
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