Johnathan McKenzie joined the Advocacy Unlimited family just over a year ago – yet, it felt like he was a brother for lifetimes.
Beginning at an early age, Johnathan’s interest in neuropsychology, philosophy, and socioeconomics stemmed from his personal journey through New York and Connecticut’s psychiatric inpatient and outpatient systems. Upon discovering some of the fundamental flaws that lead to many of our society’s struggles, Johnathan began his pursuit of advocacy while inpatient at Connecticut Valley Hospital.
Alarmed by the inhumane treatment and the disregard of client rights, he transitioned into the community with the support of Char’Donne and Connecticut Legal Rights Project. With is new found freedom, Johnathan began participating in civil protests, mental health awareness campaigns, and LGBTQ pride events.
This led to a growing commitment to change the conditions of society to ensure all people have the opportunity to achieve their dreams free from institutional and systemic discrimination.
Despite experiencing the harshest of circumstances, Johnathan believed in the goodness of people. He was a leader who inspired all those who witnessed his grace, dignity, and charisma. His devotion and passion for protecting civil and individual rights was seen in so many ways.
Through his leadership, the Danbury NAACP Youth and College Division was founded in 2016. He then transitioned to the role of Community Coordinator with the Waterbury chapter where he was recognized this year in Detroit, Michigan for his outstanding efforts and involvement with the NAACP.
While volunteering, Johnathan became more involved with local efforts to reform the mental health service system. He joined the Connecticut Young Adult Services Statewide Advisory Board, and subsequently joined the Join Rise Be team at Advocacy Unlimited as a Training Coordinator and Young Adult Warmline Operator.
As a member of the JRB team, he collaborated directly with the Department of Mental Health of Addiction Services Young Adult Services division. Working alongside his peers to strengthen the voice of young adults and improve the partnerships between those engaged in YAS programming and the staff that work with them.
What a year it has been for Johnathan – a rising star and an agent of change. Along with receiving the youth award through the NAACP, Johnathan was recognized in Torrington as the 2019 recipient of the Fredrick “Ricky” Lagassie III award this past May and as the recipient of the Emerging Adult Voice Award through Keep the Promise Coalition for his testimony at the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut Legislature.
Beyond the words that describe his achievements – Johnathan was passionate about running, martial arts, meditation, writing, and music. Johnathan is remembered as a quirky, dancing, improving, bowtie wearing, awesome hat rocking, roller blading, martial art doing, music making, writing, kareoking, advocating, brilliance that lit every space he entered with pure heart and presence.
Johnathan’s presence was an embodiment of love, expression, kindness, freedom, and connection.
Johnathan was love, the rarest and most pure love. His expression of kindness gave permission to all people to simply be free just as they were – nothing more was needed. He was committed to connection – wanting people to feel a sense of belonging.
For those of us lucky enough to have worked with Johnathan will remember him sitting in the office for hours, surrounded by paper placed strategically around him, candles lit and music blasting. He was changing the world each moment and breath he took.
Each letter he wrote and word he spoke was with a conviction that came from his soul. He would spend hours talking about the purpose of life, the purpose of our being, and always asking how we can define happiness. When asked, he would define happy as, “sitting right here doing all the things I love with the people I care about.”
Well, Johnathan, you changed the world for many people. Through your love, expression, kindness, freedom, and connection – those who knew are better people because of your presence.
Despite the pain, you found your way through the darkness and you lit a flame that will forever burn in the hearts of us all. You belonged right here, all along. You will never be forgotten.