Silence descended as Johnson remained on the ground. The junior Volunteer cornerback was known for his tendency to jump up after a hit. Now he remained motionless on the sidelines.
Fans crossed their arms and strained their eyes toward the field.
“At the point of contact, when I hit this guy, it felt like every breath in my body left me,” Johnson told the group of volunteers and supporters at the United Way of Bradley County’s Day of Action and campaign kick-off luncheon Friday.
“My body went completely limp. I fell to the ground and I blacked out. It had never happened to me before.”
His teammates rushed over. They urged him to get up when he opened his eyes. He told them he could not get up.
“What do you mean you can’t,” they asked.
Johnson replied, “There is a shock going through my whole body. I can’t feel anything.”
It was one of the scariest moments of the 20-year-old’s life. Medics rushed Johnson off the field on a spine board. He asked the doctor beside him to lift up his limp right arm as he pumped his left fist. The simple movement assured the anxious crowd Inky Johnson meant to persevere.
His story urged United Way’s volunteers and supporters to take up a similar spirit of perseverance in the face of trial.
The crowd listened with rapt attention in the cafeteria of Whirlpool. Many present sported Day of Action T-shirts made to look like the front of a super-hero costume. Below the “UW” emblem read, “Ready for my cape.”
Corporations, businesses and local schools provided more than 230 volunteers to work on projects across Cleveland and Bradley County Friday morning.
- Life Care Centers of America at Bachman Academy;
- Whirlpool team 1 at the Cleveland State Unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland;
- Whirlpool team 2 at the BGCC Powers Unit;
- Cleveland State Community College at Family Promise of Bradley County;
- the Rotary Club of Cleveland at Taylor Elementary;
- Belk associates at the North ReStore of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland;
- Eaton Hydraulics at the South ReStore of Habitat for Humanity;
- Life Care Centers of America at the HOPE Center;
- Life Care Centers of America at Home Delivered Meals;
- Ace Hardware at Impact Cleveland;
- Life Care Centers of America and Cleveland Utilities at Museum Center at Five Points;
- Whirlpool at Signal Centers;
- Procter & Gamble/Duracell at Taylor Elementary;
- Georgia Pacific at The Refuge;
- Life Care Centers of America and P&G/Duracell at Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center;
- and Cleveland Utilities at the Unity Center.
A majority of the projects dealt with painting, landscaping and delivering meals. All of the sites chosen for the Day of Action were either schools or nonprofits. The community service projects provided a glimpse into the needs of residents and organizations in the city and county.
United Way Chief Executive Officer and President Matt Ryerson thanked Whirlpool for hosting the event and for all of those involved in the Day of Action and United Way kick-off.
“You are super heroes for being here today,” he said. “In our community, we do not have caped crusaders. We do not have superman. We have people who give time, give energy, give money to make these causes and [offer] support for the people who are most vulnerable in our community today.”
The 2014 Board Chair Tanya Mazzolini also offered her thanks to everyone involved Friday.
“We are thrilled you made the decision to celebrate with us for our 2014 campaign kick-off,” she said. “This Day of Action is only possible because of companies that are willing to let employees go out and place some muscle in our community.”
Mazzolini added, “It is incredibly humbling and inspirational to live in a place where our corporate leaders are that committed to this community.”
Johnson dedicated his life to making a difference — first for himself, and then his family — at a young age. As he grew, he decided to make as large of an impact as possible on everyone from his neighbors in the inner city to those he met across the country.
He was not deterred from his mission by an injury that effectively ended his football career and left his right arm paralyzed.
He recalled a bracelet he once had that read, “Man of Faith.”
Johnson said he knew all of the “faith” lines.
“But,” he added, “I had yet to be placed in a situation that required me to use my faith. Can I tell you something? A faith that has not been tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.”
Johnson said he had a lot to live for: mother, father, wife, grandma, coaches and cousins. He held himself to a higher expectation than anyone else. He told the crowd a part of living life includes service.
“That is all I am doing. I am up here serving. I am honored that God chose me to go through what I went through. I am honored God trusted me with such adversity. I’m honored that God wakes me up every day,” he said. “Why wake up stressful when it is a blessing?”
He reminded the volunteers and supporters of the United Way they were not only heroes for their work Friday, but they were heroes to their families, friends and the people around them.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you,” Johnson said. “I thank you for your service, because we need it. I think you for living life the way you do. I thank you for being a part of the United Way.”