MSCS board member Frank Johnson recovering from stroke

A man raises his right hand during an oath of office ceremony while a group of five other people look on smiling.
Community activist and former teacher Frank Johnson joined the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board as an appointee last October. He is experiencing mobility and speech challenges after a stroke. (Courtesy of Memphis-Shelby Co. Schools)

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Memphis-Shelby County Schools board member Frank Johnson is recovering from a stroke, according to his pastor and social media updates from family. 

Johnson, who was appointed to the school board last fall, is “in good spirits,” the Rev. Earle Fisher said, but will need therapy over the next several weeks to address challenges with mobility and speech. 

Fisher, the senior pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church, said the stroke is a reminder of the demands of public service roles. Stephanie Love, also a school board member, had a stroke last year. 

“The community collectively — and these governing bodies specifically — have to commit to the care of those who offer ourselves up for service,” said Fisher.

Johnson is a community activist, often focused on environmental justice and social determinants of health, Fisher noted. 

The former teacher joined the school board last October to represent District 7, which includes east Whitehaven, Oakhaven, and Hickory Hill. His appointment by the Shelby County Commission came at the start of a national superintendent search that would stall six months later. The school board has since faced intense public scrutiny, and restarted the search after a series of meetings this summer.

“I know that some of this is what they might call the nature of the beast,” Fisher said of the stresses of public service roles. But he added: “When you are committed to serving the public, you should not be treated as a beast that has to be broken in order for institutions and organizations to properly function.”  

Love had a stroke in February 2022. After several weeks of therapy, she returned to school board meetings that April, with more recovery to go. 

She said she was “mentally strained” by the news of Johnson’s stroke earlier this week. 

“You have to want (your recovery) more than the doctors, more than your family,” Love said as a message for Johnson.

“Don’t be afraid to get out in public,” she added. “Don’t be afraid to talk. Don’t be afraid to live your life.” 

Board Chair Althea Greene and the school district have issued statements wishing Johnson well in his recovery. The board has its next business meeting on Sept. 26. 

Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at LTestino@chalkbeat.org.

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