Young, Black & Male at the Top of Their Class

A Winning Formula for 
Westlake’s Ojo and Johnson

In today’s world where young African American men are stereotyped and portrayed as uneducated, criminals or thugs, believers of this typecast would find the following information unbelievable.

Believe there is something special happening with a group of African American young men at Westlake High School in South Fulton.

Believe the fact that two African American young men are graduating at the top of their class and have both been accepted to Ivy League, Big Ten and SEC (Southeastern Conference) institutions.

Festus Ojo, 17, is the valedictorian of the Westlake High School Class of 2017, while John Johnson, 17, is the class salutatorian. These young men have claimed two of the highest honors presented after four years of high school matriculation, thanks to one simple concept—support!

While Ojo has not yet decided where he will attend school, his choices are many, having been accepted to the following institutions:

University of Columbia, University of Chicago, Duke, Emory, University of Georgia, Harvard, University of North Carolina, Rice, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Yale.

With a 4.2 grade point average and a No. 1 ranking in his graduating class at Westlake’s rigorous Magnet Program, Ojo attributes his success to God, family and friends.

“I am very thankful to God for being there and for leading me. I am grateful for my parents, family, teachers and friends who have supported me along the way as well,” Ojo says.

Like Ojo, John Johnson is at the top of his academic game as the salutatorian of Westlake High School’s Class of 2017.

Johnson has a 4.0 GPA and attributes his success to his supportive parents that have given him the space to grow and afforded him opportunities to be exposed to new, exciting and different experiences.

Johnson has also been accepted to several Ivy League institutions and has decided to attend Stanford University. His list of school acceptances is also super impressive:

Brown University (Warren Alpert Medical School & Undergraduate Program), Rice, Stanford, Xavier University of Louisiana, Xavier.

“It feels good to have overcome the stereotypes that exist about young African American men,” Johnson says. “It’s believed that young Black men can only succeed athletically, and I am glad to serve as an example to others that we not only excel athletically, but academically as well.”

According to a 50-state report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education, the graduation rate for Black male students is just 47 percent. In a few major cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, only 28 percent of Black males complete high school in four years.

These alarming statistics can be disheartening, but they spurred best friends Ojo and Johnson to start something special to help students advance through school in a non-mediocre exceptional manner. They call it the “Nonstop Leadership Group.”

Founded by Johnson, Ojo and Owen Manning, the Nonstop Leadership Group offers strong support for students who want to build communities by implementing programs and addressing three tenets: civic engagement, self-determination and entrepreneurship. Put simply, it’s an outstanding support organization comprised of peers whose formula seems to be working.

Established in the ninth grade, the group was initially organized as a support organization to help Westlake High School magnet students matriculate through the rigorous program. Through Nonstop Leadership, both male and female students helped one another with homework, study sessions and support when they experienced challenges and accomplishments. They also conducted research and shared information about internships and other opportunities.

“Nonstop Leadership Group is like a brotherhood to me,” says Ojo. “Young Black men supporting one another, pushing each other and lifting each other up instead of doing the opposite.”

“There is a bit of truth behind stereotypes. However, it isn’t represented here among the male population in our group or so much at our school. We are all preparing ourselves for the future, and no matter your goals, at the end of the day, it is up to you to be motivated to advance to the next level.”

According to Johnson, the Nonstop Leadership Group has helped students overcome many stressors, such as the search for specific internships, summer programs and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs that are geared toward young people.

“We worked together and researched internship opportunities for each other based on our interests; we attended networking events, even though they weren’t for students. We simply created our own opportunities,” explains Johnson.

Since its inception, the Nonstop Leadership Group has increased its student membership. Some 30 student members from area schools, including Westlake, Langston Hughes, Grady, Mays and North Atlanta enjoy support from the group.

“We are so proud of our senior class at Westlake.  They have truly raised the bar for excellence within our school community.  With over $20 million in academic and athletic scholarships, they are on their way to making Westlake history.  We are especially proud of our Mr. Ojo and Mr. Johnson.  They represent the best part of what the South Fulton community has to offer.  These young black males have exceeded the expectations of our society.  Having a school of predominately African American students where every Ivy League is represented is truly unique. Festus and Jon are not only intelligent young men, but they are kind and care about the community.  Thank you, South Fulton, for developing the best students!” said Dr. Alexandra Bates, Westlake principal.

Ojo and Johnson are history makers as the first African American young men to earn the honor of valedictorian and salutatorian titles at Westlake High School in over a decade.

Their winning formula of self-motivation, determination, hard work and support from their village as well as each other helped them accomplish their goals!