Country of Origin:
Citizenship, Immigration, Black History/African Heritage, Racism/Discrimination, Human Rights & Social Justice, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity, Adjusting to Life in Canada, Refugee Experiences
Leo was born in Liberia in 1983. At the young age of six, he came face to face with more than a decade long civil war, human suffering, and death in 1989. In 1998, facing the resurgence of the deadly conflict that had already taken the lives of many of his friends and family, he fled Liberia and for the following eight years lived among thousands of Liberian refugees on camps in Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively. After eight years under these circumstances, Leo was resettled to Canada as a Government Sponsored Refugee in 2006. Leo Johnson has inspired thousands through his relentless passion for youth rights. His resilience has led to life changing experiences for thousands through projects either organized or inspired by him. Leo Johnson is the recipient of the 2007 J.C. Holland awards for Youth Leadership and Excellence established to celebrate the contributions of African Canadians to the social, economic and culture life of Canada. Also in 2008, he was named the recipient of the Hamilton Spectator Top 40 under 40 awards, a special feature celebrating the top 40 exceptional people under 40 who are making the difference in the City of Hamilton. He was one of the semi -finalists on the CBC Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister Competition in 2009 featuring thousands of youth across Canada in a political debate about making Canada a better country. Leo served as a Guest Lecturer alongside Dr. James Orbinski for the University of Toronto’s Global Health Elective Course. In 2008, he was named among the top 75 immigrants in Canada by “The Canadian Immigrant Magazine.” As a Community Leader who leads by example, Leo helped establish the United FC Soccer Team made up of youth originally from 13 countries, they represented Canada at the Arsenal International Soccer Festival in London winning silver medals in the plate competition in July, 2010. He is also the 2011 recipient of the YMCA Peace Medal. He is the founder of Empowerment Squared currently working on building the Liberian Learning Center which will host the only public library in post war Liberia. He holds a BA in Political Science and is the 2011 recipient of the Albert Lager Award for Student Leadership at McMaster University.
Leo has formed partnerships and led organizations that have provided education to students from underprivileged communities, lobbied politicians and organizations for youth empowerment. A journey he started at age 15 when he was forced to flee his native Liberia due to one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars.
I immigrated to Canada as a government - sponsored refugee in 2006 after fleeing the cilvil war in Liberia in 1998.
Separated from my family, I settled in the bordering town of Danane, Ivory Coast where I completed "High School" in a refugee school system managed by former teachers and administrators who had also fled the war. There were no books, curriculum or resources, these teachers were literally reconstructing their memories to prepare materials that were taught on a daily basis. In 2002, the war in Liberia spilled over to the Ivory Coast and like thousands of other Liberian Refugees, I fled to Ghana and settled on the Buduburam Refugee Camp which was host to about 50,000 refugees at the time. I stay on the Buduburam Camp until 2006 when I was considered for resettlement by the Canadian Immigration while serving as a facilitator for a single mom and her children who were chosen to come to Canada through the United Nations.
Upon arriving in Canada in 2006, for some reason I felt ready to contribute since my experience growing up as a child in war zones and refugee camps gave me a kind of resilience that is often lacking. After three months in Canada, I began volunteering with organizations working with inner city youth and underprivileged families. And for once, I felt some form of dignity, I was in a position where I could contribute to society and not always begging for my survival. Adapting in the first few years was an uphill battle, nevertheless, I managed to enroll at McMaster University after 5 months in Canada which amazes me now when I look back on it. Through the difficulties of adapting to my new surroundings, I have always felt other people gave so much during my time in the war zones and refugee camps to help me survive as a child and it was time to do the same for others instead of worrying about myself. Through my life experiences, I learn that when the community gets better, we all become successful in ways that are sustainable. In other words, my immigration experience has been characterized by this fact; I could have chosen to be a victim of circumstances or a champion of possibilities - I chose the latter and thus I am the person I am today.