Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson hosts Kids and Technology Day at WCCS

Published 11:32 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

More than 40 high school kids from Dallas County, Keith, Selma and Southside High Schools had the opportunity to learn about coding, robotics and the tech space Friday morning at Wallace Community College Selma as a part of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson’s Kids and Technology Day.

Johnson, who graduated from Dallas County High School, usually hosts a football camp this time of year.

But in his 10th year giving back to the Selma community through his MJ93-90 foundation, Johnson wanted to expose the local kids to a new experience that could open the door to a future in the growing tech industry.

“We’re just trying to expose them to as much stuff as we can. That’s the goal,” Johnson said. “Not everything is for everybody, but it’s something for somebody. We just want to provide many different opportunities for them to see things, and just get their feet wet.”

Johnson also invited some friends from the NFL to assist him with reaching as many kids as possible.

His teammate Carlos Dunlap, Denver Broncos defensive end Clinton McDonald, retired players Jeromy Miles and Cordaro Howard joined Johnson in learning and interacting with the kids through the different learning sessions.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap helps Quintavious Blevins work on his coding project during Michael Johnson’s Kids and Technology Day at Wallace Community College Selma.

“I just want to help be the difference. Michael’s doing a great job going into his 10th year. He’s been consistently trying to make a difference in his community,” Dunlap said. “This year, he took another big step – a leap of faith¬ – and changed his whole camp that’s been very successful. He decided to take it into the classroom to teach the kids how to code, how to build a computer and how to live a healthy lifestyle because that is our future.”

The kids built their own Kano computers with the assistance of Johnson and his colleagues to get the day started. They followed the step-by-step process to assemble their computers, and each kid was able to take the computer they built home at the end of the day.

The Kids and Technology Day brought new experiences to kids like Johnathon Bell, a senior at Keith High School.

“I really got to experience a lot of new technology, and do things that I usually wouldn’t have done at school,” he said. “I learned how to build my own laptop. I never thought I’d be able to do that, and I also learned about plugging servo motors into a cortex dealing with robotics.”

After building the personal computers, the kids were given a free coding class at the WCCS coding academy.

The Business, Economics and CIS department chair Dr. Marilyn Hannah walked everyone through how to write code to create an app.

“I taught them how to do a simple flashlight app,” she said. “They finished the code, and learned different things about the apple iOS device.”

Hannah informed the high school kids that more than 800 coding jobs were created in Alabama alone to give them an idea of the demand for the skill they were learning.

“If a student comes in, they make anywhere between $60,000 up to six-figures just building apps,” Hannah said. “This is a valuable education that they can get and it only takes three semesters.”

The value of that education also prepares kids for opportunities outside of sports, where their chances of becoming a successful professional is much higher. Even the football players were impressed at the opportunities made available just from the coding class.

“With everything going on in sports, talking about the safety issues, there’s a lot more jobs out there where you can be a lot safer,” Dunlap said. “In the classroom, Dr. Hannah mentioned earlier 800 coding jobs opened up last week alone. The opportunity is there.”

Johnson stressed the importance of giving the kids a chance to experience something they may cross paths with in the future.

He remembers his first two years of rigorous classwork at Georgia Tech, and having to face concepts and subjects he had no prior experience with.

“I took a lot of [classes] that I had no idea what was going on stepping into it. I hadn’t been exposed to it,” he said. “Had I had something like this, it wouldn’t have been as foreign to me. Maybe we’re exposing somebody to a field they may want to work in. At the minimum, if they see it in college or if they see it again, it won’t be a foreign language to them. They would’ve had some exposure to it and feel comfortable.”

The Selma community knows Johnson is no stranger to community service, and his reputation in the NFL is no different. Dunlap and Johnson’s other colleagues know his history and were fully engaged with the students.

Michael was the Bengals organization’s Man of the Year, and was nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

His teammate commended him for taking his annual camp in a new direction in order to reach more kids in his community.

Students like Bell, who are fans of Johnson and his teammates for what they do on the football field, were also appreciative of them coming to Selma and being engaged with them.

“It’s always cool when you meet somebody face, especially somebody from the city,” Bell said. “It was good to interact with Michael, and speak with him and his teammates.”