Star athlete returns to Akron as role model for inner city children

Johnny Adams “JA” is the CEO of Fight or Flight, a mentorship program he has brought with early success to Summit Academy Akron Elementary School.

It’s a gloomy Thursday morning in Akron, but Johnny Adams beams like a ray of sunshine inside Summit Academy Akron Elementary School. The former NFL defensive back for the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders, and retired Canadian Football League player, shines with star appeal. However, it’s Adams’ humility that brings him to the school week after week. Through his Fight or Flight program, Adams visits with a small group of students at the school to talk, connect and create foundations for bright futures.

“Inner city kids like me, at Perkins (Middle School) and Buchtel (High School), didn’t have a lot of mentors who looked like us, who understood the problems of our community, the trials and tribulations and suffering,” says Adams, describing his formative years growing up in Akron and why he started the program.

Adams explains how his mentors, his coaches in basketball, track and football, encouraged him to go to college. “I was nervous to go to college,” he explains, adding that the extra push from his coaches and his mother led him to Michigan State University upon his early graduation from Buchtel in 2008. At Michigan State, Adams earned his Bachelor of Arts in Social Science along with several honors, including First Team All-American Honors, 3x All Big Ten Defensive Back and Big Ten Champion awards.

In the same vein as his childhood mentors, Adams is helping to guide Akron Elementary students toward success. His program focuses on social-emotional teaching, including: self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. During the casual sessions, Adams and the students talk about life situations; issues sometimes difficult for students to discuss with school counselors due to staffing and scheduling constraints, he explains.

Adams conducts his sessions with a down-to-earth, sincere style.

“Tell me something you did positive this week. It could be something little or something big,” he says to  a kindergarten student, who flashes Adams a grin as he contemplates his answer.

“How you feeling today? What time did you go to bed?” he asks another student, who explains that he is tired after a late bedtime the night before, likely due to the nap he took after school, he says.

“Caring and relating to the students is the biggest thing,” explains Adams. “I try to fill in all types of voids, to help out as much as possible on the surface. When I come to the school,  I hope my hour or 45 minutes are impactful enough to help the kids make it to the next day.”

The students describe Adams as “good” and “the boss.” Their reciprocal smiles, handshakes and attentiveness with him speak volumes without words.

Since Adams launched Fight or Flight a few months ago, it has literally and figuratively soared. Adams also offers the program at Soar, Towpath Trail High School and Buchtel High School (John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center), where he also is the football team’s defensive coordinator.

Summit Academy Akron Elementary School Principal Dawn Presley says her students await Adams’ visits with excited anticipation. The impact he is making is prompt and positive.

“We’ve been seeing changes and improvements in just the couple months since Johnny started with us,” Presley says. She adds that many students have tough backgrounds and their visits to the office have not fully ceased, but have tempered since their sessions with Adams.

Eric Hall, a visiting administrator, states that the program is part of a shared vision between the Fight or Flight program and Summit Academy Akron Elementary School; where supports are put into place, such as mentoring, as part of the behavioral intervention programs.

Presley says, “The Fight or Flight program has had a powerful impact on our students and we hope to continue the program with Mr. Adams next year and reap rewards for our students.”

Summit Academy Akron Elementary School educates students in grades K-5 who learn differently, such as those with autism and ADHD. The school’s team of compassionate instructors and specialists has been carefully crafted in order to give students the best education possible. With two teachers in each classroom, Summit Academy students are engaged where they are developmentally. Summit Academy’s therapeutic approach serves children’s social, emotional, and academic needs so they can reach their full potential.

A tuition-free, non-profit community school, Summit Academy Akron Elementary School is located at 2503 Leland Ave. in Akron. For more information, call 330-253-7441.