Tyrone “TJ” Johnson: A Close-Knit Childhood in Havana
Raised in the China Hill community west of Havana, Tyrone “TJ” Johnson describes his small rural neighborhood nicknamed Sugar Mill Two as an open, warm, family-oriented community. Sugar Mill Two fostered close connections between residents, something that TJ remembers fondly.
Growing up, TJ felt as if his parents knew everyone in the China Hill community. Born and raised in Gadsden County, TJ’s parents met at church and attended Havana Northside High School together before getting married and settling down in China Hill. The central gathering place for the community was the China Hill Missionary Baptist Church. The majority of congregation members were extended family members of the Johnsons, such as cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Though no longer existent today, China Hill Missionary Baptist is still present in several of TJ’s cherished memories. He recalls lots of cookouts, youth days, and revivals at the church and still remembers the sense of community there.
Born in 1992, TJ’s childhood was largely spent playing outside with cousins and neighbors. He recalls summer days playing kickball and eating fruit underneath the canopy of a large tree on his grandparent’s property. For residents of China Hill, “it takes a village to raise a child” is more than just a saying. Reminiscing about his childhood, TJ recalls a community with a high degree of closeness, one that always ensured everybody was on the “straight and narrow” and that no child strayed. Today, TJ feels that his childhood experience allows him to better understand his parents and grandparents because of the similarities in their upbringings, describing how all three generations of his family found delight in the outdoors as children.
“I grew up in a part of Havana that’s small, very small. I always say it’s two traffic lights, so you’re in and you’re out.”Tyrone “TJ” Johnson
Inside the home, music was incredibly important to the Johnsons. The gospel music of Shirley Caesar and Yolanda Adams constantly played on the radio. A singer himself, TJ was a member of the church’s youth choir. TJ still recalls the first song he ever led at church, Lee Williams’ Cooling Water, and can remember practicing the song in his grandparents’ home a few doors down from church.
While TJ describes the China Hill of his childhood as a tight community, he worries that the closeness of the community and Gadsden County as a whole might have suffered in recent years. School closures and mergers have impacted several communities in Gadsden County. TJ remembers the disappointment he felt when his parents’ high school, Havana Northside, closed in 2004. TJ still feels sadness that he was never able to wear the brown and gold of the Northside Gladiators like his parents did. TJ recalls how friends he attended elementary and middle school with were suddenly forced to separate, attending different high schools in the county. Having served as gathering areas for residents to attend parades and football games, TJ worries these high school closures have disrupted the ability of the tightly-knitted community to come together. Today, TJ works in higher education as the Assistant Director for Experiential Learning and as the career liaison for the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University where he advises FSU students to help them achieve their academic and personal goals. Working in the education field professionally, he deeply understands the importance of education and the sense of community it can foster within a region.
For TJ, China Hill is a community that deeply values a sense of closeness. Residents always look out for one another, and children are encouraged to put down their devices and spend time outside just like their parents and grandparents before them. The rural, simple community brings people back to their roots, and reminds residents about what is truly important: family, friends, and community.