After drugs and violence killed Toriq Johnson Sr.'s 19-year-old son last spring, Johnson decided to commit his life to helping youth make better choices.
Like his son, Toriq Jr., half of the 28 homicide victims in Chattanooga this year died under the age of 25.
"My thing is to help change these cycles, these hereditary curses," said Johnson.
The father of five and certified HVAC repairman plans a mentor- and job-training program that teaches middle- and high-school students trades in construction and air-conditioner repairs.
He will host his first fundraiser tonight. Reality TV personality Momma Dee and her son, Lil Scrappy, will headline LLQ Entertainment's Dreams Come True Black & Gold Affair. The event will be held at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Doors open at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $30.
"This is about saving lives," said Johnson.
Deborah Gaither Bryant, known as Momma Dee for her appearances in VH1's "Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta," will speak about empowering women. Her son, Darryl Richardson II, known as Lil Scrappy, performs.
If you go
› What: Dreams Come True Black & Gold Affair
› When: 7-11 p.m. today
› Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.
› Admission: $30. Must be age 21 or older to attend.
› For tickets or more information: 423-493-3870.
Johnson calls his foundation Dreams Come True in memory of his son, who had many dreams including being a rapper. Johnson had connections in the music industry and planned to help his son before the teen was fatally shot in March.
LLQ Entertainment stands for Long Live Que, his son's middle name. Johnson will play Toriq Jr.'s music at the Dreams Come True launch.
"I had things that I was setting up for my son, but he didn't know it yet. That's why I'm continuing on in his honor with his dream and letting his music be known," said Johnson.
His son rapped about how he felt, said Johnson.
"When I was in prison for five years, he was going through being alone. So he was basically rapping about the things that he was going through," said Johnson.
"Was I proud of it? No, but I wasn't here to comfort him and lead him in the right direction, either. I take responsibility for that. He had great talent."
Johnson isn't acting alone; a team of people support his vision of giving youth skills they need to get jobs. Seals Productions is providing lighting and funds for the event. Lamplight Package Store and Rick Davis Gold and Diamonds are also sponsors.
Board members include attorney Thomas Bible, Brewer Media Group on-air personality Chee Chee Lazenby Brown, EPB electrician William Spears and community advocate Deborah Maddox.
"Toriq Johnson is a man with a vision," Maddox said via email. "He's reminded me that life skills are not hereditary, that they must be taught. His vision for training and intervention programming is right on time."
UTC Economics Professor Peggy Douglas is a board member and is helping write the foundation's business plan. Douglas also manages Scenic City Angels, a foundation that helps inner-city youth.
"He has a vision and he's willing to do the hard work," said Douglas.
Johnson believes teaching youth to work in industries where they can earn livable wages will keep them away from drugs.
After getting out of prison, Johnson changed jobs 11 times in two years in order to find work in his field where he could earn enough to support his family. He started out working at a Goodwill warehouse for $7.15 an hour. He ended at Callahan Mechanical, where he earned more than $16 an hour.
He wants his own children and youth to benefit from his experience.
"When I was in prison and I got that HVAC certification, I was determined to work in that field because my instructor constantly drove in my head how much it paid and how he put four kids through college," said Johnson. "I always wanted to put my kids through college and do something to help them."
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.