Imani Johnson

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Photo by Danny Fulgencio

It was devastating for a third-grader like Imani Johnson, who prided herself on good grades and hard work. Thanks to a new standardized exam, which she did not pass because of test anxiety, she was held back.

It would never happen again, the youngster promised herself — no excuses. 

Almost a decade later, the Lake Highlands Exchange Club selected Imani Johnson (along with Colt Brock) as Students of the Month last September. Certain teachers at Lake Highlands High School, where Imani is a senior now, refer to “the Imani effect.”  The infectiousness of her hard work and dedication influence even the adults around her, AVID teacher Matthew Morris says.

“She reminds us of why we chose our field. She’s a beacon of light in a sometimes bleak world,” he says. “She may seem overly zealous at times, but she is goal oriented and won’t stop until she achieves. And those of us who have worked with her — our lives are forever changed  for the better.”  

Imani fought hard with Advanced Placement Geography early in high school. As a freshman, she used what she learned in AVID, an academic club for students, to start an inclusive tutoring group. She now maintains the website, coordinates volunteers, provides snacks and connects students with outside resources. 

“I’ve learned a lot from creating a group on campus, from improved management skills to effective advertising. It’s my hope that this group will remain on campus long after I’ve left high school,” she said upon accepting her award. 

If that sounds exceedingly mature for a high schooler, make no mistake, it is all Imani. She is a reluctant grown up, she says, half joking. She is the oldest of  five siblings. “When you are in that position, you are no longer a child,” she says. “You have to be an adult. Not to say my parents don’t pull their weight, but I come home to all these little eyes looking up at me, wanting, needing.”

She loves them, but family is a touchy subject. “I sometimes feel a stressed relationship with my family,” she says. “I struggle with anger, depression and other things I try to numb myself from.”  She doesn’t feel they totally understand the depths of her angst. 

“I have been so down at times that I have wanted to die,” she says. “Young Life has been such a big part of healing and guiding me, spiritually.”

At Camp Buckner, which Imani attended recently, she admitted the suicidal ideations and received help. She learned that her own thoughts are all she can control. 

“You can hold the gun, but your thoughts pull the trigger,” she says. 

To an extent, Imani feels her struggles are of her own making because she holds in emotions. It is palpable when talking to this young woman with the 1,000-watt smile and overflowing energy. She rumbles, and only a slim fault line seems to exist between enthusiasm and anxiety. But she understands now the need to talk to her adult mentors — Michael Morris and Rhianna Anglin, AVID instructors, or “Ms. Meredith,” of Young Life.  

“Imani’s uniqueness lies in her dedication to just keep going,” Anglin says. “Her positive attitude, her strength of character, her belief systems and her dreams keep her moving toward her goals. … I am so excited to see her grow and change as she enters this next phase in her life because she can offer this world so much.”

Imani just received a full-ride scholarship to Bennett College. She also is interested in attending Houston Baptist. 

She wants to be a nurse. She wants to serve. She is content with seeing “where God takes me.”