The 1960 Olympic gold medalist and current member of
Ambassadors’ Board of Directors experienced poverty and a serious foot
injury as a child. Yet he went on to achieve greatness, gaining the
recognition now associated with sports heroes like Michael Jordan, due
largely to a personal philosophy to be "The Best That I Can Be." Not
surprisingly that is the title of his autobiography.
In the early 1960s, Johnson first became familiar with the
People to People vision of promoting world friendship and understanding
through one-to-one contact between individual citizens. Through his
earlier experiences overseas he had realized, "When we meet a specific
person, our attitudes and our feelings in most cases will change." So as a young man he traveled throughout the United States to set up People to
People chapters on college campuses.
"That first year we spoke at 400 colleges in twenty-four
states. In some places it was unusual to see a black man and two white men
traveling together," Johnson writes in his autobiography. "We were
gaped at, and in some cases ostracized."
Johnson persevered and his hard work was rewarded when he was put in
charge of People to People’s West Coast office. With that background, it
was a no-brainer in 1995 when Johnson was invited to serve in an advisory
capacity for the Ambassadors’ Board of Directors. "From the very
beginning, I thought it was great," he said. "Seeing the impact that
[international travel] made on the lives of others convinced me."