Derrick Johnson has been a father for 24 years. It's been a rewarding time, maybe even saved his life, as he wrestles with the responsibility of fatherhood and a past he's just hoping his children can learn from. Johnson has four children: 24-year-old Ramone, 22-year-old Deria, 21-year-old Tayanna and 14-year-old Elijah.
"I know it's cliche," he said, "but it's amazing, just actually seeing them go from little kids to now graduating and going to high school. I could go on and on for days and days about that, knowing they're mine and I made them."
Johnson had his first child when he was 20 and said he wasn't ready to be a father yet. He was fighting a case in court for dealing drugs and was facing possible prison time. He ended up avoiding that, but it was a wake-up call. He asked himself, was this the person he wanted his first child to see? Johnson said he started to leave that lifestyle then, but he didn't get away from it completely until his oldest children were nearing their teens.
Johnson fathered five children. His son Derrick died two years ago when he was 18 years old. He broke into a home in the Castleton area in the middle of the night. The homeowner was home, along with two other people, and fatally shot him.
Johnson, 43, said he wonders sometimes if that tragedy could have been avoided if he had left the streets sooner.
"I put it all on myself," Johnson said. "Even to this day, two years later ... I don't know what the exact words are. It felt like I should've been a better father years ago. Toward the end of his life, his life kind of mirrored exactly what I was doing. I should've done better."
But Johnson also said he grew from that experience and has turned his anger into a positive force by trying to be a better person and
"I know if I let it beat me, it'd kill both of us," he said. "In order for me to let his legacy live on, and try to make the good come out of a bad situation, I have to embrace it and move on."
Elijah Johnson, 14, is the youngest child and said his father started talking more openly with his siblings about life and the issues they were facing.
"He really took steps forward," Elijah said. "He stopped smoking. He stopped drinking. He became really positive."
The elder Johnson's advice to other parents — especially those who have children who are putting themselves in danger — is to not take their time together for granted. Johnson assumed his son would grow out of that life the same way he did. But that didn't happen. Now Johnson said one of his best qualities as a father is that he's honest with his children.
"I don't put blinders on them," he said. "I see life from all perspectives, the good, the bad. I don't send my kids out here in this fantasy world. I know the realities they're faced with every day, not only from just being kids, but especially being Black kids in the inner city. I know what you're faced with."
As much as he's given his children by turning his life around, Johnson said they've given him more. It was only because of his children that he was able to leave that life. He went back to school and earned a degree in nonprofit management and civic leadership from IUPUI in 2015 and now works for the county election board.
"I tell them all the time, I owe myself to y'all," he said. "If I wouldn't have had kids, I know I would either be dead, in prison or I'd be caught up in the streets."
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
Indiana Community Tennis Program will host its first Indy Tennis Palooza on June 29 at the Barbara S. Wynne Tennis Center, by North Central High School, in hopes of introducing children and their families to tennis and other sports that can open up a path to a healthy and active lifestyle.
With this being the first Indy Tennis Palooza, Barbara Wynne, one of the event's organizers and the Tennis Center's namesake, said she just wants a decent showing that Indiana Community Tennis Program can continue to grow on in the future.
"Do I hope thousands of kids will come? Of course I do," Wynne said. "Maybe it'll be the first time, and people will talk about it, and more people will come next year. I don't know. ... All you can do is do your best. That's what I plan to do."
Children will be able to go to age-appropriate events
across 34 tennis courts. Along with tennis, there will be basketball, soccer, table tennis, even chess. Children can collect participation stamps and earn a prize.
Part of the event will include Arthur Ashe Kids' Day. Two tennis courts will be used to teach about Ashe's life. Ashe was the first African American man to win three tennis Grand Slam titles. He was also the first Black tennis player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup team in 1963. Ashe died in 1993 when he was 49 years old.
One of his biggest accomplishments was starting the National Junior Tennis League — he later called it National Junior Tennis and Learning — in 1969. The program also has a history in Indianapolis. Wynne started the Riverside Upswing program the same year, and four years later it became the Indianapolis chapter of the NJTL. Wynne formed a friendship with Ashe and was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.
Wynne said they're trying to get someone from the Army to come to the event because Ashe served in the military in the 1960s.
"I want it to be a place where people can come together," Wynne said of the Indy Tennis Palooza. "I would love for it someday to become so important that it becomes an Indiana festival, a family festival."
The palooza is part of a string of events bringing Indianapolis' tennis history to the forefront. Riverside Park Tennis Courts were dedicated June 8 to Marion Rice, who helped Indianapolis overcome segregation in tennis so more African Americans could play the sport.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
INDY TENNIS PALOOZA
• When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 29
• Where: Metropolitan School District of Washington Township Barbara S. Wynne Tennis Center, 1805 E. 86th St.
• Cost: $5 for kids, $10 for adults, $25 for a family of four and free for kids under 3 at tennisprogram.com
The Notorious B.I.G.'s seventh commandment, as heard on his 1997 sophomore album, "Life After Death," was to keep family and business separate. He said "money and blood don't mix." But Elizabeth and Laurie Henry — a mother-and-daughter team in the McDonald's business — have been mixing money and blood since their family moved to Indianapolis in the 1970s.
Elizabeth, 75, now owns three McDonald's restaurants in the city: one in Eagle Plaza off West 38th Street, one on West Washington Street and one at the airport. Her daughter, Laurie, is the operational supervisor. Neither of them makes a decision without first talking to the other, and they try to keep their relationship neutral at work — where Laurie calls her mother "Ms. Liz" — so other workers don't see them differently. Laurie said a lot of people don't know at first they're mother and daughter. "We have to learn how to turn it off too," Laurie, 49, said. "When you're mother and daughter, I still have to respect that she is first my mom. I have to respect that piece, but also she learns that there's a lot of value in quite a bit of the input I have in the business. She has to look at me not just as her daughter, but as her partner."
The two find time for each other outside of work. They shop, go to shows, anything to keep a relationship that doesn't revolve around the business. Last year they went on an Alaskan cruise.
Elizabeth and Laurie's professional and personal relationships have been forged over time in part by tragedy.
Twenty-eight years ago, Elizabeth wasn't sure what direction her career was heading. Her husband just died of a heart attack after he woke up from a nap on the couch with chest pain. She had dabbled in the family business — he owned some McDonald's locations in Indianapolis after moving to the city to help his brother — and she was going through the training to become a McDonald's certified franchisee but wasn't finished.
She sat her three daughters down and asked what she should do, and they said she should go on with the business. Elizabeth operated what used to be her husband's restaurants with her two oldest daughters, including Laurie, while she finished her training.
Elizabeth became a certified franchisee the next year and took over her husband's locations. She sold some of them — including the ones at 38th Street and Tacoma Avenue and 16th and Meridian streets — and has since bought and sold more.
Two years ago, Elizabeth's oldest daughter, who also worked in the business, died.
"All these years we've just been making it work," she said.
Elizabeth, who recently celebrated her 75th birthday, has become known as the "queen of special sites" because, aside from the airport location, she also used to operate the McDonald's at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and Riley Hospital for Children.
Elizabeth said she's started to think about retirement, but she hasn't put a timeline on it yet. Besides, she said, her doctors have told her to keep on doing whatever she's doing.
"I have a lot of trust in the man up above," she said. "I'm very strong in my faith. I believe in God, and he has kept me this far."
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.