Ex-Texans WR A.J. Johnson Inspires Change with reading program

Former Texans and Canadian Football League wide receiver A.J. Johnson is determined to give back.

The Alvin Independent School Board of Trustees Member is helping students and the community with a summer reading program called HYPE Freedom School through a grant from the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative.

“I think making it a focal point, emphasizing the importance of literacy and education, it helps us transfer that skill set to kids,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “Being a former NFL player definitely helps get in the door. They listen to me with the NFL intro instead of tuning me out. It brings credibility. The education instilled in me early in my life from my parents, I try to pass that on. It’s a tremendous help, anytime the NFL can pour resources into the local community, it helps you expand your outreach.”

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Johnson, who played for the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Texans from 2001 to 2003, and had stints with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders and NFL Europe, and HYPE co-founder Brandi Brown built a comprehensive six-week literacy-based summer learning program at seven locations across Texas. The curriculum was developed by the Children’s Defense Fund and was established as the first CDF Freedom School site in Houston.

“The program that Brandi started with kids and reading helps us continue to grow across the Houston area,” Johnson said. “My own kids went through it and now their peers and mentors are teachers in the same school district. That’s an amazing accomplishment. That really helps us.”

Since 2017, more than $160 million in grants have been awarded to social justice organizations, including over 1,500 grants awarded to current and former NFL players involved in philanthropic work and community involvement.

“Especially in this time with so much uncertainty with our young people, HYPE Freedom School has a consistent program and activity for our scholars in the community we live in,” Brown said. “This gave our parents a sense of relief. They had a program to turn to for the summer for their literary enrichment and it addresses the emotional and social support they need. Literacy isn’t just about reading. It’s a gateway to so many areas of our lives.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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