Patrick Johnson tends to compare racism to a virus, or a cancer: unseen and unnoticed save for those it affects.
“The difference with racism is that Black people can see it clearly, and because they’re the victims they can often see it and feel it,” Johnson said.
As a teacher, Johnson has opened the eyes of many.
Over the last 20 years, the Utica native has taught hundreds of Mohawk Valley residents at his racism awareness seminars. From business people and those in law enforcement to community officials and everyday citizens, many have achieved surprising realizations of the systemic racism that pervades our community.
Johnson also is a man of action.
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How Johnson is helping the community and more
Under the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, Johnson serves as the program director and community liaison for Save Our Streets — a position designed to help end gun violence in Utica. This also involves working with individuals and groups/gangs who have some history associated with guns.
Johnson serves as a liaison between the community and police — acting as a communication bridge to foster understanding for both groups of one another.
For example, when talking about police reform, Johnson often refers back to systemic racism that becomes a blockade to understanding.
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“Many Black people will tell you, sometimes it wasn’t the physical act, it was the tone, the mannerisms and the attitude, and the way the police officer talked to them,” he said.
He and volunteer members of the Street Team, part of Save our Streets, combat crime by using their own experiences to connect with people, especially the ones who may be the victim or the perpetrator of gun violence.
Johnson’s contributions to the community don’t end there.
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He has helped lead the charge to guiding the futures of many with programs that offer mentorship and opportunities to young people of color. In 2002 he began Hoops and Dreams, which combines a basketball league with a mentorship program. While originally designed for young Black men, it also hosts younger teams, and includes a program called the New Life Institute, designed to offer life skills to young people.
Johnson is also one of the founding members of Rebuilding the Village, which has a goal of establishing a cultural community center.
Each program is connected and much of it grew out of painful experiences — both his own and that of the racially-diverse Cornhill community in Utica.
“When things are dangerous in this community, it’s really going to be the people who live all up and down James Street and in Cornhill in West Utica who make the difference,” he said.