By DENISE DICK
Jamail Johnson helped eighth-grader Jerrell Shorter grasp fractions as well as taught him about the importance of staying focused in school.
Johnson, the Youngstown State University senior who was killed in a weekend shooting near campus, tutored Woodrow Wilson Middle School eighth-graders in math.
“I’d describe him like an older brother to me,” said Jerrell, 14, who will read a letter he wrote to his mentor at the Saturday funeral.
He acknowledged that presentation may be difficult.
Johnson told the younger student how things were on the streets and how they were in college.
Johnson instructed Jerrell not to act up, to pay attention in class and to stay in school. Early in the school year, Jerrell had suspensions, but Johnson’s influence taught him to behave.
Jerrell and many other Wilson students, who called their tutor Mr. Jamail, wrote letters, created posters and made cards to send to the family.
School librarian Violet Simpson and seventh-grade science teacher Andrea Lewinsky put the letters onto nice paper and put them on the school’s website so other people may see them.
“He was a great man, and he was a hero,” said Allen Torres, 14. “People should be proud of what he did.”
Reports from those at the off-campus party have told police that Johnson was ushering other party-goers from the fight that led to the gunfire when he got shot.
“He was a cool dude in school and out of school,” said Lynell Lockhart, 14, adding that he misses him.
“Mr. Jamail” taught the students, but he knew how to joke around with them and have fun too, he said.
Dan Smith, behavior-intervention coordinator at the South Side school, said Johnson started tutoring students at the beginning of the school year. Johnson’s fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, had adopted the school, Smith said.
Charles Dorsett Jr., 15, said he’s easily distracted in math class, and Johnson told him to just block other things and people out and concentrate on class.
“He was a great role model,” Charles said.
Johnson taught Jo’Nell Jackson, 14, about positive and negative numbers, she said.
In a prayer in Johnson’s memory, Jo’Nell wrote about how Johnson helped her through her frustration with math work.
“I was getting so frustrated, and I said, ‘I quit!’” she wrote. “Jamail said, ‘Don’t quit. Try it. You are not bad in math, you have to try. As long as you try, you will get better.’”
She wishes he were still here.
It’s Time To Say Goodbye
Dear family and friends,
It is so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. It seems like I just saw Mr. Jamail at work. When I walked into Finish Line his words were “Hey boy, how you been?” Then we had a little talk. His last words were, “Keep your head up!” I said, “All right, Mr. Jamail, I will try.” But, at the time, I was not thinking. I should have said, “All right, I will, Mr. Jamail.” Mr. Jamail was a great guy. He helped me with my math. He would pull me out of class just to have ONE-on-ONE men talk. Mr. Jamail was a leader, not a follower. He wanted me to be a leader. He would tell me to stop hanging with the thugs and hang with the books. And, the reason that I had respect for him was because he treated me like a little brother. He stayed on my back and now I am glad because it worked out. A lot of things changed after we had that talk.
Now, the whole town is in tears because somebody took Mr. Jamail’s life away from all the people who loved him. I wrote this letter because I have respect for Mr. Jamail and his family and friends. So, farewell my brother. I will see you at the crossroads so you won’t be lonely.
I Will Miss You, My Brother.
Jerrell Shorter 2-8-11 Woodrow Wilson Middle