KJ shoots and scores

To most sports fans, Kevin Johnson is a basketball icon, but to Sacramento’s inner-city youth, he’s a bona fide hero.

That was the inescapable conclusion on Saturday, when Johnson was the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual African American Male Youth Leadership Conference, an event that had a tremendous turnout due, in part, to KJ’s fame.

Johnson’s organization, the St. Hope Academy, sponsored the conference with help from the Kappas, the 100 Black Men of Sacramento, and the UC Davis Early Outreach Program. Workshops like “African American Males and the Law” were the event’s focal point, but Johnson proved to be the biggest attraction.

Once the workshops were over, young people hustled into the auditorium by the dozens for their chance to see the local boy made good. Some crowded Johnson, seeking autographs or pictures, and were obliged with a smile.

Johnson, conservatively dressed in a blue business suit, was received with thunderous applause as he took to the podium. Although Johnson began his lecture with a joke, the content of his message was serious and practical.

“You need to be a good manager of money and time,” he said.

His lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session, one with some revealing moments given widespread speculation that Johnson will at some point run for public office.

“What did you major in in college?” one kid asked.

“I majored in political science,” KJ said. “Political science is about understanding what’s going on around you.”

Johnson has certainly paid attention to the world around him. While growing up in the Oak Park community, he was exposed to violence, drugs and poverty. He decided at an early age that, with the help of his grandparents, he would beat the odds.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have sidewalks,” he recalls. “I wanted to know why there were no sidewalks in my community. … You have to understand the political process. You have to know who your city councilmen are.”

Johnson went on to deliver the message of self-empowerment. Many of the youths live in neighborhoods where they are taught that power comes from a police officer’s badge or a gangbanger’s gun. That wasn’t the lesson offered last weekend.

“You can get anything done in your community,” he said. “All you have to do is go out and work at it.”

Johnson also announced specific plans for neighborhood progress.

“We’re gonna jumpstart the Gill Theatre,” he said, referring to his main current community revitalization project. “We’ll be giving jobs.”