The selfless acts of Lance and Carrie Johnson are unseen by most, but are greatly appreciated by the many they helped
Many Minnehaha students know Lance Johnson as the man in Nike attire who patrols the halls and makes jokes with the basketball team. Similarly, they may be familiar with his wife, Carrie Johnson, as the woman who takes pictures at every basketball game and delivers hugs to her past lower school students. However, unrecognized to many, is the Johnsons’ life after the last bell rings.
For years, the Johnsons have welcomed anyone into their home who are in need of food, a place to sleep or even just someone to talk to, whether it be for a few hours or for a few years. Because of the Johnsons’ connection to the school, many of these individuals are Minnehaha alumni.
Bible teacher and Lance’s close friend, Dan Bergstrom, reflected on the times he has seen the Johnsons make such meaningful differences at Minnehaha.
“I have witnessed them step in and ‘parent’ students when there wasn’t a strong parental presence in these students’ lives,” said Bergstrom. “[In] no way do they do it for show or for recognition. That means everything from meals, transportation and all the love and time they have given. They sacrificially give of themselves.”
An example of someone who has benefitted greatly from the hearts of this family is Minnehaha alumnus Marcellous Hazzard (‘13).
Hazzard first met the Johnsons in eighth grade, doing something both he and the Johnsons are passionate about: basketball. Just two weeks after Hazzard applied to Minnehaha, his middle school basketball team happened to play the Redhawks in an AAU tournament.
“My basketball team destroyed Minnehaha Academy, and I’m proud of that,” he said with a deep laugh. “After the game, I talked to Mr. J who’s the coach and the dean, so I thought, this is my chance to make a statement for myself.”
Lance noticed that Hazzard immediately socialized and blended naturally with the Minnehaha team. Carrie also reflected on her first impressions of Hazzard and explained that he was an absolute gentleman, soft spoken, classy and full of character. This judgement remained true throughout Hazzard’s high school career, especially when it came to his demeanor on the court.
While attending Minnehaha, Hazzard was a valued player on the basketball team, a team that was coached by Lance.
“Marcellous was totally unselfish,” said Lance. “To him it was all about his teammates. He was out to have fun and to be out with his brothers. He was the ultimate teammate.”
However, during his junior year, Hazzard suffered from a couple of serious injuries causing him to not be able to play and help his team.
It was his first game back after a long recovery from a hip injury. Excited to be back in the game, he tested out his healed hip during warm ups. As Hazzard came down from a rather graceful lay up, he felt a pop in his knee. Similar to his hip, he had an avulsion fracture of knee, meaning the muscles in his knee quickly tightened, pulling off a part of the kneecap. As people started to crowd around, an ambulance was called, and Carrie came to Hazzard’s side.
“I’m lying on the ground and everyone’s looking at me, and Mrs. J is like, ‘Don’t look at them, look at me,’” Hazzard said, reflecting on the moment. He explained that as he was laying on the ground, Carrie’s comforting words revealed that she understood that the sadness he was feeling was not from the physical pain, but of the pain of not being able to help his team.
Hazzard’s mother was not at the game, so Carrie followed the ambulance to the hospital.
“We sat in the waiting room and he cried and the tears came down,” explained Carrie with a soft voice. “I don’t think he cried because he was hurt. He cried because he was sad that he was letting his team down.” Carrie held his hand as he was wheeled into surgery and she remained in the hospital until he was released.
At the end of Hazzard’s senior year, like many other students, he was bombarded with graduation party invitations. However, the concept of a graduation party was unfamiliar to him.
He explained that his mother could not afford to throw him a party, plus his mother was also unfamiliar with the concept, because she had never finished high school. When the Johnsons heard about this situation with Hazzard, they reacted immediately and threw a grad party at their house for both Hazzard and their son Jesse.
After Hazzard graduated, his family moved to Arizona. Hazzard, whose friends and job were in Minnesota, naturally did not want to leave his hometown quite yet. Fortunately, Hazzard had a close relationship with the Johnsons and, without even asking, was welcomed into their home without hesitation and with warm and welcoming arms.
“They always gave and never asked for anything in return,” exclaimed Hazzard. “They gave me heat, water, you name it. I didn’t have to ask, I just had to receive. It was a blessing.”
Hazzard explained that during his time living in the Johnsons’ home, he shared his story with the Johnsons, and in turn, got to know theirs. They had deep conversations about everything from each other’s pasts to each other’s struggle in their faith journey.
“Everyone has their own story and I’m blessed because it can be worse,” he said. “There’s people out there that don’t have the things that I have, so I really can’t complain at all.”
However, these grateful statements are coming from a man who has seen the worst of times.
Hazzard was in middle school. He was smiling on the car ride home after winning a basketball game, but as he pulled up to the familiar neighborhood in Bloomington, his life turned around as he saw what used to be his home – in ashes.
Hazzard and his family were then homeless for about two months and had to move into Sharing and Caring Hands shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Hazzard described those two months as one of the saddest parts of his life.
“It taught me to be humble,” said Hazzard. “It taught me that everything you have can be taken away within a matter of seconds.”
Then, in eighth grade, Hazzard’s class took a field trip to serve at the Sharing and Caring Hands shelter while his family and he were still residents there. Hazzard and his brother begged their mother to skip school, and for the rest of the day, they didn’t leave their room.
“It was just sad, because you’re put in a situation where your friends are going to give back, and you want to as well. But in reality, you are the people who are receiving the gift,” he said. “How can we really give back to the community when we are the community?”
When Hazzard shared these stories with Carrie, she was quick to show him the love and advice she gives to her family.
“One of the things I always do with the kids,” explained Carrie, “is help them develop a picture of what life could look like, because a lot of times, kids come from environments where they haven’t seen a picture of what life could be like.”
Carrie also gave a lot of advice to Hazzard regarding his faith. Growing up, Hazzard had a strong connection to his uncle, and because of this strong admiration of his uncle, Hazzard felt drawn to obtain his uncle’s religion of the Nation of Islam. As Hazzard began to attend a mosque in North Minneapolis more often, he began to realize that this denomination suggested black superiority.
However, this mosque of all African Americans gave Hazzard a sense of connection to his community.
“That really just pumped me up just understanding what they believed in,” said Hazzard. “I’ve never known about my history and what they taught was really about where they thought we came from; however, it was all theory based.”
Because Hazzard’s mother was Christian, he attended both a Christian church and the mosque. He struggled to identify himself in one or the other, but his conversations with the Johnsons gave him the knowledge he needed to find his own beliefs.
Although the Johnsons are Christians, they still supported his tie to Islam, because they yearned for him to explore his own faith.
“If you just tack yourself on to Mom and Dad, it doesn’t belong to you, so dig deep, ask the questions,” said Carrie.
“He would just think and think and think and just mull things over, and it was a relationship which he could ask me these things. I personally believe if you get your questions answered, that they all lead to saying there’s a creator that loves me.”
Hazzard can now reflect on the knowledge that he has gained from not committing himself to only one religion.
“I don’t care who you believe in or what you believe in,” he said. “We just choose the best religion to reach that god. Right now I don’t have a title. I’m in a situation where I’m not going to put myself in any category because God knows my heart. I love all people and that’s all that matters for me right now.”
As the Johnsons have helped countless people over the years, they explained that these people have helped them just as greatly.
Accepting everyone as they are into their home has enriched the Johnsons’ lives by giving them new perspective every day.
“Lance and I absolutely have a belief that we be in each other’s lives,” Carrie said with intensity in her eyes. Her gentle voice grew louder as she tapped on the table with each statement and said, “You sleep over in my house, and I sleep over at your house, and we eat meals together, and you tell me your stories, and I tell you my stories, and then I experience your stories, and you experience my stories. We don’t understand each other until we sit down together. Let’s sit down and have a meal together and start being in each others lives.”