Excuse me, are you listening? 11-12
Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dear Readers,
In the June 3, 2012 -  June 16, 2012 edition we did a story entitled “The Legacy Project: Stories of Lansing's African American Families: Lonnie Johnson”.  I am so sorry to say that he passed away on June 23, 2012.
Lonnie D. Johnson will be missed immensely.  I cannot express my grief in words.  As I write, my hands tremble and I am fighting a huge lump in my throat. 
I am a journalist, I am not supposed to get emotionally involved in my stories or my subjects but somehow I continually break all of the rules.  Ethically, I am not sure if it is a problem for me.  I love people and feel compelled by them.  
I have known Lonnie since I first started the newspaper in 2002.  I was so astounded when he asked me to be a part of the Ingham Medical Prostate Cancer group.  What did I know about prostate cancer?  Nothing.  His smile was so infectious, how could I say no.
I attend meetings with my double stroller with my children who were babies.  I was still breastfeeding one and the other had not turned two yet.  Now one is 9, turning 10 in July and the other is11.  However, uncomfortable most were, Lonnie knew that I was going to be an asset to the group.  My children would crawl all over or one was in the carriage and the other on my chest but I was still attentive.  Dr. George Rowan was there too.  George was always supportive too.   I saw him at the funeral and he recently had a stroke and was at the funeral.  I have not spoken to him since the stroke but he has been on my mind.  When George spoke at the funeral of his good friend Lonnie, he was in a wheelchair and his speech was slow but the love that he spoke of was vibrant.  I did not know that Lonnie visited George every week to help with rehabilitation.  I felt a pang of guilt because I had not visited.  To be honest, I do not like anything “hospital-ish”.  When you are in the hospital, obviously you are working on getting better, dying or giving birth.  I promised myself that I would have to lose that idea because it was ridiculous so I will be visiting Dr. Rowan in July.  He has been amazing father figure to me as well.  
Both of these men truly impacted my life.  They never gave me the “you are not from Lansing, so you are not important” feeling.  It is a real feeling and all of the people who currently live here are from Lansing.  If you wonder why we cannot come together, possibly it is because those who feel entitled continue to make others feel that they do not belong.  No matter how you arrived in Lansing, we all belong here.
Lonnie was one of people that I truly admired.  Over the past three months, we would have conversations about the great life he had here in Lansing.  I was able to look at pictures of his family dating back to the early 1900's.  I knew his ancestors as if they were my own.  He spoke about  memories and the times he spent as a boy in a neighborhood that does not exist anymore.  
I relived many of the stories that the speakers told and could not control my tears.  His daughter who spoke said he did not want us to cry but I could not help but to do just that.
I was not sure if I was crying tears that I had held back for the past couple of months while dealing with the deaths that have been occurring in Lansing.  There have been too many for me to wrap my brain around the grief I have been encountering has been overwhelming.
Lonnie was always encouraging me to continue the newspaper and always seemed to show up when I needed to see his smile or the twinkle in his eyes when he had something so exciting to say about something.
At the end of the funeral, they did a slide show with many of the same photos I looked at.  My tears seemed to flow.
I spoke to his wife and she told me that during his last days that he was in pain and they tried to make him as happy as possible.  She added that the article in the newspaper made him so happy.  She kissed me on the cheek and told me not to stop what I am doing.  That was all I needed to realize that this paper must continue regardless of the obstacles.
Love people,
Rina Risper
This was printed in the July 1, 2012 - July 14, 2012 Edition

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