Education was paramount in Craig Johnson’s home in Louisiana.

Craig’s mom, Lenora Robinson, graduated high school in just three years. She went on to college and embarked on a long career as a biologist and educator. She wanted her children to be just as successful.

“One of my mom’s favorite sayings was ‘Academics comes before athletics in the dictionary, and in my house,’” Craig said.

When he was 15, Craig was on track to finish high school a year early – the same trajectory as his mother, grandmother and four of his older siblings. He wanted to attend a historically black college or university, which his mother urged him to do since several family members were alums of the schools.

“You have to know who you are and where you are from before you can reach your true purpose and inspire others,” Lenora told her children.

Craig also excelled as an athlete. He was a member of the high school baseball team and was a standout soccer player. He played on the varsity team his freshman year and was named co-captain the following year. He wanted a soccer scholarship and worked hard toward that goal.

But at the start of the 2008 school year, his academic and athletic goals took an unexpected turn. During soccer practice, Craig was knocked down by a teammate. He was in pain but continued to play, even scoring a few goals. Yet the pain persisted.

“When my coach brought me home, he called my mom and told her that I was feeling off after practice,” Craig said.

Lenora did not seem too concerned at first. She sent Craig to take a warm shower to soothe his muscles. He felt a lump in his abdomen the size of a tangerine and yelled for his mom.

“It seemed like when I screamed it got bigger,” Craig said.

After a phone call with the family’s pediatrician, Lenora drove her son to several doctors, ultimately ending at a local hospital in Baton Rouge. Many tests later, Craig was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer.

He was referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® in Memphis, about a five-hour drive from his family and friends.

Craig began chemotherapy at St. Jude right away. Some days were harder than others, but he always stayed positive. It was easy to do at St. Jude, which offered him more than medicine.

“I always had hope, even when I didn’t know what the next result was going to be,” he said.

In between doctors’ visits and chemotherapy sessions, Craig hit the textbooks and worked closely with teachers at the St. Jude Imagine Academy by Chili’s.

Craig’s perseverance never waned. At times, he sprinted to class on the St. Jude campus after receiving chemotherapy.

Despite sick days and setbacks in his treatment, Craig graduated high school a year early, just as he planned. He was accepted to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he resumed playing soccer. St. Jude arranged for him to receive his last year of chemotherapy at Howard University Hospital on his college’s campus.

Craig finished chemotherapy in March 2011. He graduated college with a degree in elementary education and in 2018 earned his master’s degree in special education. He has been cancer-free for more than a decade.

He currently works at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, where he spent summer days as an intern and volunteer while in college. At ALSAC, he leads outreach efforts to the HBCU community, sharing the mission of St. Jude and its founder, Danny Thomas.

“I’m part of Danny’s dream, and I was one of those children that didn’t die at the dawn of my life, and in turn I want to continue his dream forward,” he said.



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