Free college education awaits Jumoke Johnson Jr. after he gets out of jail

photo Jumoke Johnson looks up the schedule for his senior project presentation in the library of Brainerd High School.

An 18-year-old Chattanooga man whom police have described as a gang kingpin has a chance at a free college education.

First, though, Jumoke Johnson Jr. must serve about two months in jail, a sentence he agreed to as part of a plea deal in Hamilton County Criminal Court on Wednesday.

"I am going to do this time, and get it over and not let anything get in front of me," Johnson said.

He is the third generation of men in his family going down the wrong path in a poverty-ridden neighborhood, but the only one with a chance still to choose the right road. Critics say it's a slim chance.

But now he has help.

After the Times Free Press featured Johnson in a Page 1 story, a donor stepped forward with an offer.

The donor, who wants to remain anonymous, agreed to foot the bill for four years of college. Johnson has been accepted to Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. As a part of his probation, he will have to attend classes on his scholarship.

Kevin Adams, pastor at Olivet Baptist Church, said the church will oversee the scholarship and provide Johnson with a mentor.

Adams said he, too, was moved by Johnson's story.

"You can't just throw these kids away. You can't act like you don't see it," Adams said. "We've got to do something."

Adams said community leaders have warned him not to help Johnson because of his street reputation.

"I've never had so much heat from trying to help somebody. You wouldn't believe it," Adams said. "Of course nobody wanted to touch it."

Johnson, who graduated from Brainerd High School on Saturday, said he never thought he would have the chance to go to college.

"It means a whole lot," Johnson said Tuesday night. "I never thought I would make it this far. Period."

Johnson wants the donor to know how grateful he is.

"I want to say thank you. Not just for taking me out of Chattanooga, but for allowing me to go to college," he said.

The plea agreement means Johnson will serve jail time as part of a six-month sentence with credit for time he already served. He'll be on probation for another six months until he goes to college.

Johnson faced 12 charges. An aggravated assault charge stemming from a jail fight involving about five men was downgraded to a simple assault. He also will take a conviction involving an assault of his daughter's mother. The remaining 10 charges will be expunged from his record.

Johnson has been associated with numerous shootings and homicides, according to Chattanooga police. He's been labeled as a Rollin 60 Crips gang leader. And although he's never been charged in any of the cases, police have cited his influence over others as a way of committing crimes.

However, school officials at Brainerd High said Johnson is a student with the potential for a promising future.

"I will go to bat for him on what he's done inside this building any day," Mark Hamby, Johnson's English teacher, said during a previous interview. "He's been one of my best students. I think Jumoke can accomplish anything."

In court on Wednesday, Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman wished Johnson luck.

"It gives you an opportunity to go to a new place and break old ties. ... I'm confident you can make changes in your life if you want to. You control your destiny at this point," he said.

As Johnson left the courtroom, he gave a small wave to his grandparents, Arthur and Anna Johnson, while wearing handcuffs.

"This is like a cliffhanger," Arthur Johnson said. "You have to wait and see what's going to be the next thing to come along."