Jovon Johnson knows what it’s like to show up for the first day of school not having what you need.
Far from having the perfect childhood, the Roughriders’ defensive back grew up in a low-income family in Pennsylvania with a mom who worked constantly and a stepdad who was a drug dealer.
With no adults at home, Johnson was a child himself when he had to become the head of his household.
“I was at home with all the kids as a 9-year-old boy taking care of the house and being a leader and setting the example for everybody that was there,” Johnson explained after practice on Wednesday.
“I had it extremely rough. I never got to enjoy all of my childhood like I would have liked to.”
His difficult childhood is at the root of why Johnson gives back. Johnson has worked with several charities over the years most recently making headlines for raising money for Hope’s Home in Regina and for Lyme Disease.
But the backpack giveaway hits closer to home for Johnson.
“Because I remember the days when I used to be back home at the environment that I grew up, at the community centre, hoping and wishing somebody could give me some school supplies because I knew my parents couldn’t afford it.”
Now, because of his efforts, 500 students in Regina and Saskatoon won’t have those worries.
The outpouring of support has been more the Johnson even expected. He’s heard from companies and offices and from Rider fans who have all embraced the cause. In Regina, he’s meeting up with the Rotary Club and Salvation Army to get some additional help with the process. He has a contact in Saskatoon helping him figure out where the greatest need is there.
“The province supports us as a team, so why not go out and try to reach out to as many people as I can,” Johnson said.
“It’s bigger than I ever imagined it to grow, but I like it.”
Johnson is still accepting donations for the project and encourages you to reach out to him via social media if you have items to donate. You can also drop school supplies off at the Riders offices and they will get to him, he said.
It’s the least he can do, Johnson added, given what he’s been able to accomplish.
“I just wanted to be more positive. To make sure I’m doing all the right things and helping those in need given the platform that I have. The success that I have throughout my career – it’s paramount that we give back as professional athletes and continue to set the standard for those that come after us,” Johnson said.