Eastern Wayne students honor special classmate
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 6, 2013 1:46 PM
Furman "Smokey" Johnson III and Courtney Sembly, both seniors at Eastern Wayne High School, were crowned homecoming king and queen during halftime of the football game Oct. 25. Smokey, diagnosed with autism as a child, has been embraced by classmates at the school.
Special education isn't just about students with special needs -- sometimes it represents teachable moments the youths provide for their classmates.
Furman "Smokey" Johnson III, a senior at Eastern Wayne High School, proved that recently when he was crowned homecoming king Oct. 25 during halftime at the school's football game.
From the rousing response that went up through the crowd when his name was announced to the tears that streamed down the faces of his mother and sister, there was no denying the impact the teenager has had on those who know him.
Early on, though, he was not always the ever-smiling, at-the-ready kung-fu and dance move-demonstrating people magnet he is today.
"When he was growing up, he was quiet, he was anti-social," said his mother, Luz Johnson. "I think coming here at the high school has taught him a lot, how to be social. He's good at making friends."
Initially, she was told that her son simply had a speech delay, she said. Only later did she hear a more definitive diagnosis -- autism.
Smokey, 18, has captured the hearts of faculty and students alike at the high school.
"He always has a smile," said Assistant Principal Sherri Hobbs.
"He greets everyone and everyone greets him," his teacher, Melissa Carrasquillo, said. "Whether it be high fives or hugs, everybody likes him, and the girls, they say he's sweet."
Even his principal, Gene Byrd, has developed a special rapport with the young man who arrived at the school nearly four years ago.
"We're buddies," Byrd said. "Look at him. How can you not like him?"
Junior Deshawn Boudy is a classmate in second period gym.
"Every time we're in weight lifting, Smokey does karate moves," he said with a laugh. "He's just always happy. He brings energy and joy to all his classes."
When it came time to nominate homecoming king and queen, Smokey's name was submitted. His mother was supportive.
"I said, just go ahead, let's work on it, let's see if it comes out," she said. "Let's see if he wins. I was really excited."
What unfolded has been "amazing," Mrs. Carrasquillo said.
"The day before they had the vote, there were signs up in the hall that Furman didn't make. His classmates put them up. They were the ones rallying for him -- 'Smokey, I've got you,' 'We got you,' 'I voted for you,'" she said. "We had to keep reminding him, we don't know yet."
Smokey just enjoyed the ride. And at halftime, when the winner was revealed, he admits he was surprised to hear his own name called.
"I was real excited about the homecoming," he said. "The whole crowd likes me. They told me I'm the best and I was a king."
Standing on the football field, he beamed as the crown was placed on his head and the cheering continued.
"My tears were just coming out when they said he won," Ms. Johnson said. "Me and my daughter were just crying."
"Tears of joy," her son added.
Interesting to note is that while each class votes on their representative for the court, the entire student body gets to cast a vote for the homecoming king and queen.
"Everybody was just so glad for him. Everybody just wanted him to win so bad," Boudy said.
"He got 565 votes and the next closest was 92," Mrs. Carrasquillo said.
"That's fantastic," Ms. Johnson said. "When she told me that, I was like, oh, my God."
"It was actually amazing to see," Mrs. Carrasquillo said. "You hear so many negative things about high school students, all the crime, the bullying. To see this happening, the rallying around, I think it speaks highly of the character of the student body at Eastern Wayne High School."
The excitement didn't stop there.
The next night, his sister, Natalia, 19, also an Eastern Wayne graduate, drove him to the homecoming dance, marking his first night out on his own, his mother said.
"I was very psyched and then I paid two dollars for a can of soda and some candy," he said, flashing a smile.
He also held court, Ms. Hobbs said -- demonstrating his Michael Jackson dance moves and entertaining his classmates.
Smokey, who enjoys math and has aspirations of being a banker, he is looking forward to graduation, the date indelibly etched in his brain -- "June 6, 2014," he said.
"He reminds me every week," Mrs. Carrasquillo said. "His memory is impeccable."
And his mother said she is grateful for how he has been embraced by his classmates and the school's faculty.
"To the Eastern Wayne High School, to all the supporters," she said, her voice catching and her eyes filling with tears, "Everybody that helped, I just want to thank the school because they work a lot for Smokey."