Worth Recognizing: Community Members Who Go Above & Beyond

Jaron Johnson: Making a positive impact on city youth

Shooting hoops with friends from 8:30 in the morning until 10 at night at Kirkwood Park on East 11th Street was how 8-year-old Jaron Johnson escaped the daily struggles that awaited him at the front door of his house.

Johnson says he and his six friends were latch-key kids from single parent homes, “raising ourselves.” The 36-year-old, also known as Droop, a nickname his great-grandfather gave him because of the way Johnson’s clothes hang on his tall, slim frame, learned responsibility early. “My mom had two to three jobs raising two sons. She said to me, ‘you’re in charge.’ That’s a role that no kid should be put in.”

In need of direction, Johnson says he sought refuge at the Salvation Army on Fourth Street. There, mentors encouraged self-discipline and community service by introducing him to black community leaders.

Knowing the value of role models and how easy it is for kids to go astray in East Wilmington, where he has lived his whole life, Johnson founded Silk League in 2011. He and 25 volunteer coaches serve as mentors for the non-profit basketball league, which teaches players teamwork and discipline. Since its inception, Silk has grown from six to more than 300 kids ages 5-18 from throughout New Castle County.

The league is named in honor of Terry Alls, who grew up with Johnson. Alls was known as “Silk” for his smooth style on the basketball court. He died in 2003, at the age of 22, in a car accident. “It was a period of darkness,” says Johnson. “Our crew did everything together.”

Last month, the City of Wilmington gave Johnson the Wilmington Award for his community service and leadership.

“His impact is great,” says Councilman Va’Shun Turner. “He has league kids doing community clean-ups and feeding the homeless. Hopefully kids see what Droop has done in the past 10-15 years and say, ‘I want to do that, I want to give back to the community.’”

Silk held its first two fundraisers this year, but much of its support comes from Johnson, who donates two months of his income as a control specialist at Choctaw Kaul Distribution Co., in New Castle, to cover the cost of such things as jerseys and trophies.

“Currently we’re working on getting the league fully funded, but the majority of funding comes from myself and private donors,” he says.

After working a 5:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift, Johnson heads to Kirkwood Park, where he sets up, distributes uniforms, referees games, and cleans up the park before heading home around 9 p.m. He repeats this routine from May through August every weekday while keeping everything about the league 100 percent free to everyone.