Xeryus Johnson, 21, was born in Chicago, but moved to Gary, Indiana, when he was five-years-old. Housing was more affordable, but quarters were cramped with other relatives and his father’s mother occasionally lived with them.
Johnson now lives in Fort Wayne and is responsible as the family head for his sister and younger brother. He works a full-time job and is a junior at Purdue University Fort Wayne where he’s studying political science. Home is where the heart is, and Gary is his heart.
Johnson is active with the Allen County Indiana Young Democrats and instrumental in getting Historic Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church to participate in the Young Democrats’ Clothing Drive last December 11th and 12th. As a guest the following Sunday, he told the congregation about his political aspirations and his involvement in community activities to increase the inclusion of African Americans in politics. Johnson was active in the 2020 Election, getting out the Democratic vote in Precinct 262 in Fort Wayne.
Putting political affiliations aside, Fort Wayne Ink Spot sat down with Johnson to talk about his interest in public service and supporting greater representation of Black voices in Indiana politics.
Q: Did you find reluctance in getting folks in Precinct 262 to come out to vote in the 2020 Election?
XJ: We did not have a precinct chair. (I was elected to that post and will start this year.) We really couldn’t do any canvassing because of the pandemic. I had to figure out a way to basically get out the vote.
The older generation of Black people understood the importance of voting while young Black voters didn’t understand what they were up against. They kept saying that their votes didn’t matter. I can understand that, but your vote helps select electors that vote for him (in the Electoral College). Young Black voters were too hung up on, ‘This is an old man who is promising us things that we will never see.’ And I get that because in politics everyone says things that we want to do, but we can’t do because of others, which happens quite often.
Q: It’s been said that “All politics are personal.” What sparked your interest in politics and activism?
XJ: I went to a performing arts school back in Gary that closed after my senior year. That’s when I really started to get into politics because it affected me personally. It was a performing arts school that did a lot of good things for the community. We were able to perform at the White House for President Obama. That same year we were invited to perform at Disney World. Our orchestra performed in China twice. Our dancers have become Alvin Ailey dancers. We had the highest graduation rate in the city. It was closed due to a lack of funding.
The state legislature voted for a consultant group to take over our school district, who recommended certain schools to close so that funds could be allocated to buildings that they can try to maintain, which was kind of a slap in the face to us.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Or maybe five years?
XJ: I want to run for office. I am friends with State Senator Eddie Melton of Gary, Indiana.
Q: Tell us about him.
XJ: I surround myself with mostly African-American politicians because we are the ones that I know are true to who they say they are. Senator Melton has done so much for Gary. He has helped bring a casino to Gary which will help to bring jobs, and the bill that they proposed in the Senate, the casino would have to pick from Gary’s citizens first before outsourcing for the jobs. I see myself running for office as state senator because I really want to work for our community. I would respect and love everyone whether we have differences of opinions or not. I met with several Republicans around the city, and that’s one thing that we can all agree on is that I am willing to sit down and have a conversation with you to get an understanding as to what you want and help you understand what I want, and we can reach a compromise. And that is what we have forgotten in politics.
Q: In a couple of years, you will have graduated as a political science major. What's next for you?
XJ: I want to get my bachelor’s degree, and then I really want to focus on what I can do for my community. I was always under the impression when I decided to get into politics that you must have a law degree, or you must have a master’s, or you must have something to get into politics, and I have learned you do not. You just have to have a willingness, a hunger to help other people.
A version of this article originally appeared in Fort Wayne Ink Spot.