Anthony Johnson – “AJ” to just about everyone – grew up in Fort Worth, but it wasn’t
until he was 17 that he was introduced to TCU.
“I didn’t know much about TCU, but when I was awarded a role model scholarship, one of the provisions was to pick a local school,” he explained. “When I visited TCU, I made up my mind right then. I liked that it was small, and people were really happy about being there. It was just a good place.”
After earning a bachelor’s in psychology in 1998, a master’s in educational leadership and administration in 2005, and his doctorate in educational leadership in 2010 – all from TCU – it’s still his good place. Today he’s on the Board of Visitors for the College of Education, providing feedback on its programs and serving as a community link.
Fostering community was always part of his plan, thanks to time he spent as a youth with the local Boys & Girls Club, which shaped his personal and professional journey.
“Next to TCU, the Boys & Girls Club has been one of my biggest life influencers,” he said. “When I needed direction, they provided it. I made my best friends there and found great mentors who gave me life skills.” His first job post-college was at the Boys & Girls Club of Arlington.
“My plan was to work for a club because it was the best way I could contribute to community,” he said.
He had found his passion in helping youth.
“You never know how it might turn out for a kid,” he said. “I tell them, ‘You may be at ground zero when it comes to economic status, education or family. You can be everything or nothing. With the right influence, you can be a solid citizen; the wrong influence, you might end up in prison.’”
His desire to serve youth and be a positive influence led him to Crowley ISD, where he serves as manager of the district’s T3 (Tarrant To and Through) Partnership. The program aims to ensure more Tarrant County students have the training and skills they need, whether entering a trade, technical or professional career or the military.
From his time spent with T3 youth, he recognized some of the challenges that first-generation college students struggle with: moving from one socio-economic class to another.
“Most of the system is not designed to work with students as they transition from high school to college,” he said. “There’s a gap.”
He’s helping fill that through Survive and Thrive, the nonprofit he founded.
“We’re teaching skill sets that adults assume kids know, like conflict resolution, having a life plan, using proper speech and developing social skills,” he said. “These kids have the same goals as all of us: succeed and be safe.”
Part of why he wants to serve society in such a positive way is thanks to his TCU mentors. That list is long, but he gives much credit to Leo Munson, former associate provost; Darron Turner, TCU’s first chief inclusion officer; Mike Sacken, retired professor of education; and Dan Powell, former associate professor.
“They’re like surrogate father figures to me. Between them, they taught me civic responsibility, imagination and creative problem-solving, and that through education, there are always possibilities,” he said. “I can’t imagine getting through TCU without them.”
Today, his journey has come full circle as he uses his TCU connections to serve the community.
“I have a deep reservoir of resources and a network across the Metroplex to help serve kids,” he said. “Mentoring hundreds of kids is how I return the favor.”
He also aims to continue to bridge the connection between his hometown and his school.
“Fort Worth has grown into a large city and embraced TCU,” he said. “As a kid, I didn’t have that exposure. Now TCU touches so many students throughout the community, and I want them and those I mentor to recognize the opportunities there are right here.”
As he meets with former students who have gone to TCU, they thank him for introducing them to a community that they may or may not have known otherwise.
“They tend to tell me, ‘I’ll make you and TCU proud,’” he said. “And they do.”