Austin High School
Semaj Johnson was diagnosed with sickle-cell disease (SCD) when he was only two weeks old. Since then, he has undergone 24 surgeries, 53 blood transfusions and has been in and out of the hospital more than 87 times. SCD is a hereditary blood disorder characterized by an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecule in red blood cells. It is estimated that SCD affects 70,000-100,000 people, mainly African-Americans. It occurs in about 1 out of every 500 births.
In his nomination of Semaj as a Young Hero, senior army instruction Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker wrote, “He is always weak and in constant pain, but he has one of the most sunny dispositions I have seen in twenty years of teaching.”
Semaj has not allowed a crippling disease to define him. Rather, he has defined himself as an amazing go-getter who is constantly seeking ways to better the lives of his fellow SCD sufferers. In 2012, he founded Semaj’s Sickle Cell Warriors, an organization devoted to raising money to diagnose and treat SCD in young children.
At school, Semaj is a whirlwind of activity. He is a JROTC Staff Sergeant with the responsibility of assisting with the leadership and development of forty JROTC cadets. He is also a member of the award-winning color guard team in which he has participated in more than twenty presentations of the American flag. “His most impressive accomplishments as a cadet,” wrote Lt. Col. Walker, “are as a two-time graduate of the rigorous JROTC OCS/NCO Course. This is a challenging two-week course that puts the cadets through a series of tough physical and mental activities.” Semaj is also a member of the JROTC drill team.
Last year, Semaj was heavily involved with Relay For Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. He was named “Most Valuable Player.”
In addition to his JROTC activities, Semaj is an active member of the Austin Ambassadors, the student council, the Thespian Club, and the Austin Accent newspaper staff. Recognizing his community support, teacher Heather Tucker said, “He recently participated as a member of HOSA in our Christmas community service activities at a local nursing home and helped make blankets for foster children. He also led his class in collecting toys for children at the Children’s Hospital.” Throughout this service, Semaj has maintained a 3.7 grade point average and is ranked in the top 20 percentile of his graduating class.
Mrs. Tucker wrote, “Semaj has been dealt a hand that would cause most people to fold, but he chooses to play the hand with perseverance.”
Refusing to allow physical adversity to deter you from the path of success and achievement – for this and many other reasons, Semaj Johnson is recognized by his school and our state as a 2015 Young Hero of Alabama.