With the help of Principal Alisha Kiner of Booker T. Washington High School, in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a student who was shot and killed a week before her graduation was able to accept his 18-year-old mother’s diploma on graduation day.
Myneshia Johnson died on Sunday, May 22, after being shot by Kwasi Corbin, 19, who admitted to firing an assault rifle into the group of people Johnson was walking with though police believed Johnson was not the intended target.
The following Monday, Kiner announced the school’s decision to allow Johnson’s 1-year-old son, Kylen, to walk across the stage, accompanied by Johnson's niece, to receive his mother's diploma on behalf of the family.
"We had another child that we lost this year to cancer and we were going to give her family her diploma," said Kiner. "It just made sense that we include Myneshia in those efforts. But Myneshia's mother asked if she could bring the baby and let the baby receive the diploma, and I just thought it was a great idea."
As Johnson and her siblings’ principal at Booker T. Washington, Kiner had gotten to know her family.
“I know Myneshia and all of her siblings have attended [Booker T. Washington],” said Kiner. “As a matter fact, I go to church with some of her aunts. So, I know her at school and I know her family outside the school.”
So when Kiser received an email criticizing the school’s decision to honor Johnson days after the teenager had been senselessly gunned down, she immediately fired back with an even stronger worded post on Facebook.
"I had been hearing a lot of negative feedback and I had been ignoring it, continuing to move because I was pretty confident in the decision that I had made. But she reached out several times with the same email and so I just kindly responded."
Though Kiner only intended for the response to reach no more than the "100-200 people I usually collaborated with," the post has since amassed over 200 likes and over 7000 shares.
And her sentiment is shared by Johnson’s family and friends, including her former teach and coach, Steven McKinley.
"She was one of the most honest teenagers I had ever met," said McKinley. "She would [tell] on herself. If I asked her what was happening, she was going to tell me the truth... She had that kind of spirit."
Having served as principal of the high school since 2005, Kiner has a history of celebrating her students’ achievements, dating back to 2011 when she celebrated her students landing President Obama as a speaker at the school’s graduation for a contest prize.
“It’s easy to get close to kids,” Kiner said. “In order to teach them and reach them you have to know them. You have to know them and you have to care about them and they have to know – so that requires a relationship.”