David Johnson (C’19) uses the Watson Fellowship to conduct research in Paris, France, among other countries. Photo courtesy of Johnson.
By Klarke Stricklen
David “Chief” Johnson (C ’19), recent alumnus of the college and current Watson Fellow, is traveling around the world to research transitional justice. The Purple received the chance to interview Johnson last spring regarding his research and journey abroad.
Recently, Johnson spoke with the Purple about the progress of his research while abroad. In our last interview with Johnson, he mentioned that he hoped his journey would be a pilgrimage toward self growth as Malcolm X did in Mecca, and he touched on this topic at the start of our interview.
“I am still early into my trip, but I have come to many revelations including my identity as a black man internationally, what causes other countries to reconcile with their past while others don’t,” said Johnson. “It’s a whirlwind of ups and downs but it’s making me stronger by the day.”
Since the beginning of August, Johnson has visited six different countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. During his stay in these various countries, he has actively visited historical sites, museums, and seeked out locals for interviews regarding the different movements and historical events within each selective country.
When asked to reflect on the state of his research, Johnson said, “Extremely intimate and forward thinking.” He further explained this by saying, “Intimate because I am asking people about the darkest hours of their lives, whether they lived during or after their specific past they’ve transitioned from,” said Johnson, “Forward thinking because each individual, whether a ex-prisoner or state official, always has ideas and thoughts about what their country, and others, could do better.”
Johnson referred to an interview with an ex-IRA prisoner, a congregation commonly known as a terrorist organization, in Northern Ireland, as something that caused him to truly reflect upon his research. “After sharing his life story, he told me that to fully understand the conflict I had to look at the 850 years of British colonization in Ireland,” said Johnson. “It did not appear as a battle between the two sides but a grapple of power between the colonizer and the colonized.”
He lastly added, “It’s what happens when people are being oppressed. They rise up, and sometimes, they do so with violence.”
Johnson will journey to Rwanda next and feels that “it’s time to go home.” In the meantime, he finds solace in his daily reading of the Bible and weekly phone calls to his family. In our last words with Johnson, he offered our readers a list of book selections, including Learning from the Germans by Susan Neiman, Making Sense of the Troubles by David McKittrick and David McVea, and The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. Just to name a few.