CINCINNATI — A children's book author fired up third- and fourth-grade students with a visit that touched the hearts of Mt. Airy School teachers and administrators.
Dashawn "BillBill" Johnson barely cracked a smile in pictures he took with students after meeting them. But he was just playing it cool.
"I was like, wow, this is very unique," he said. "I just want to inspire."
Reading his book to 60 Mt. Airy students is the beginning of Johnson's dream.
"I feel like it's my job," Johnson said. "I went to Cincinnati Public Schools, so I know that it's important for people to come into these schools and try to have some type of positive impact on the kids."
All but three Mt. Airy students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. The children struggle so much that retired teacher Marsha Stegall Marcus came back to help. When she heard about Johnson — a 30-year-old author who found success after losing his mom when he was 10, growing up in Over-The-Rhine needing, at times, free store supplies to get by — she convinced administrators to bring Johnson into a room where students do not always give full attention to guest speakers.
"(The students) were going through his book and they saw characters that were the same as them," Marsha Stegall Marcus said. "I imagine a lot of them picture him as their older brother but what came out of his mouth, I don't think a lot of them expected. Here's a guy (who) lost his mother very young (then) turned that bad situation into a good situation. He said he started writing after his mother had passed and I thought that was phenomenal. You see, a lot of children, students or whatever that's not one of the things they want to do. They just want to mope, be sad and turn that negative into more negativity."
"A lot of kids (in the room) started off talking about they wanted to be an athlete," Johnson said. "One they (started) reading my book, now everybody wanted to be the president. I had 25 hands raised up saying they wanted to be the president. So, I just wanted the kids to feel special, to feel that they're needed in this world."
Connecting with the author also encourages students to keep reading and expand their own library.
"This is a book that they actually got to meet the author — they actually got to meet the person who wrote this book," Marsha Stegall Marcus said. "Not only did he write the book, but he read with them. Do you know how excited that is?"
The kids enjoyed the experience so much that they asked for photos and autographs.
"I'm like yes, sure, I want a picture with y'all for my memories," Johnson said. "My job isn't complete unless kids are out here succeeding. So, we want this world to keep evolving. We want more lawyers, doctors. We want more cures to things that come into the world. We (have to) make sure that we touch these children and have them on base to what the future might bring."
As Johnson left campus Monday, he sensed this dream was just a start. The school wants him back next year and hopes his books keep students motivated all summer.
"I think that (visit) is a segway into motivating themselves, saying you know what, I can do it too," said Marsha Stegall Marcus.
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