HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – At Thursday’s city council meeting, Huntsville City Councilman Devyn Keith addressed what he calls “the Jaguar in the room,” more specifically, the J.O. Johnson High School Jaguars.
Recent social media pictures and videos showing trophies in the rubble at the high school site have residents and alumni questioning the transparency and legality of the landmark school’s destruction.
Keith said the entire process has been legal and public. He also said residents had every opportunity to give input at several open meetings over the years as the fate of the property was being decided.
J.O. Johnson High School closed following the 2015-2016 school year. The would-be Johnson Jaguars became Mae Jemison Jaguars that fall.
Some residents and alumni are upset about the trophies, others question when the decision to bulldoze the building was made, while others are concerned about the erasure of Johnson’s legacy.
Thursday evening, Councilman Keith said he’s had uninvited people taking pictures of his home, sending threatening messages, and badgering his family, all regarding the decision.
Find Keith’s full comment from the meeting below:
“I want to talk about the Jaguar in the room. Over this weekend, it’s been interesting. A headache, to say the least, but I’ve had great feedback and interaction surrounding the demolition of the Johnson High School site.
“First, before I get to the latter part of talking of process, where we are, and where we’re going, I want to be completely candid to all those who are watching; you can tag them, and I’m going to be forthcoming in my feelings as I suppress my emotions of anger and be honest that I have learned a lot of lessons as a leader. To the individuals who show up to my house and take random pictures, to the people who’ve made threatening statements, sent text messages, or badgered my mother. I won’t stand for that. I don’t think that’s necessary, and I think somehow I’ve become desensitized because this spills away from what’s happened in the election.
“But no matter what, understand that those tactics, the way that you have made movements and statements about me have not stuck because I am blessed, and stressed sometimes, by the support of the surrounding Huntsville community. The prayers I do not hear and the calls I do not receive, of those individuals encouraging me to stay forthcoming and honest and full of integrity.
“I have no problems with accountability. And if you believe the steps that I’ve made, some missteps and miscalculations, are wrong, hold me accountable. Plenty have done it here on the dais, my colleagues have done it. Those disagreements have led to me becoming a better leader.
“But try to intimidate me — it won’t work. It just allows me to be sure that there are individuals out there who do not care about my district, they just care about tearing me down.
“So, to my district, I say this to you, whether your last name is Tibbs, to Malcolm, to Reggie, to the AJs, to Trent Griffin, the list could go on. To PJ, to Miss Battle, what is happening to a location to which you went to school, and I’ll even go further to say, some of the greatest Huntsvillians, and citizens, went to school.
“Whether you’re the CFO of this city, whether you’re a physicist or an engineer on the Arsenal, whether you are a director of Jemison band, whether you’re a hard fighting, hardworking advocate on the school board, as a graduate of Johnson High School, you have blessed our community. And nobody, myself, and no building, can hold that legacy.
“It was stated “the heart of north Huntsville is gone” and to that individual who stated that, who does not live in north Huntsville, I disagree, because before the building, the heart was here. It was our people. it was my grandmother, my mother and my aunts, who were Johnson graduates, and it will still be here because a legacy could never be held by the Legacy Center. It was a respectful attempt to remind people that we’re the byproduct of the generation before us. A reminder, to give remembrance and respect.
“So all of you who mourn, who are frustrated with what you see, I respect it. I would dare never say that I understand it, because I’m not in your situation, but the accountability you want us to have in recognizing your legacy and leadership is understandable.
“So let’s take this moment, how about we charge those who are misinformed? Many have tagged me, many have written me and said ‘when did this decision happen?’ and for me to go back over the past six years from the closing of the school, for me to tell you about the size of the school, that’s the size of two super Walmarts but we were only able to use the pharmacy department of one, to talk about the roof, to talk about ADA compliance, to talk about the electrical, the tens of millions of dollars just to make that building a place by which people could actually use — that would waste our time.
“What I will tell you is, over the past four and a half years, this administration, in working with me, my colleagues, and those informed in my community have had every opportunity and chance to give input. For it was my first time meeting a John Hamilton, I sat in the auditorium there and discussed the zoning, and the reuse of the building. Individuals inside that meeting, discussing that the building being reused by the police was only a portion, and potentially, moving forward, we would have a development of the whole site. And lo and behold, a little kid from Mastin Lake becomes city councilman, and the plans start.
“We did not tear down your legacy. That building couldn’t hold it — because you have gone on to make an impact in my community, communities around this world, and in the Johnson Jaguar community. None of those processes were illegal. Of the 12 meetings, two development meetings, and agreements that we have had, everybody was invited.
“Of the ones logged in on YouTube, or the ones logged on in the city, to the ones logged on Facebook, everybody could see them.
“I take accountability in every form and fashion every day. Whether I hear about a speed bump on Greenhill again, and Sparkman Walmart I get more accountability than I do in any email that I receive.
“But what I do believe is most important as a leader, even if it comes at the cost of your public brand are those individuals who, at one time, might’ve considered supporting you supporting you no more, no lie can live.
“The ownership of my community are to those people who live within the district, not Facebook. Those individuals who live inside of my district have all of the understanding of the decisions going on because they’re involved. So I encourage you, anybody who is watching, to continue to become involved. Whether you add that on Facebook, we give you that opportunity, whether you connect through email, whether you come to a town hall, this is an opportunity because it is not over.
“District one is growing at a rapid rate and people are taking notice… I mean this from the deepest of my understanding: the people who are taking notice of the growth in northwest Huntsville, are not only people of northwest Huntsville but the surrounding area of Huntsville, and to you I say thank you. You’ve shared the good news, you’ve believed that a good north Huntsville makes a better Huntsville. I thank you for that encouragement and that accountability.
“So no matter if your name is Chris Horn, Casey Brown, Andrew Fallon, we invite you all to come in here, be a part of, and give input through informed decisions about what is next in northwest Huntsville.
“And again I say this to all of you, if your name is Aj, to Miss Rebecca to Miss Battle, no building, before you got there or after you got there, could’ve housed any of the legacy you have left in my community and continue to leave. When you take those times to call me, hold me accountable, give me ideas and perspectives, that means more to me than you’ll ever know. I hold those true to my heart as a young, old leader. But I can promise you, for the forthcoming time that I am in office, I’ll even go as far as to say, any of my colleagues are here and the mayor himself. We are all aware that the Johnson legacy will always live, breathe, and be felt by the Huntsville community, thank you.
News 19 will continue to dig into the community frustration, as well as the city’s response regarding J.O. Johnson’s building and legacy.