Remembering Jamail Johnson: United Through Love

By Amanda Joerndt

If Shirlene Hill could describe her son in one word, it’s “love.” 

“He was love. He gave love. He was just a young man that loved God’s people. … No matter where he was, no one was a stranger,” she said. “He was one of the best brothers, friend, son. Wherever he went, he took love.”

Jamail Johnson was a Youngstown State University business management major when he was shot and killed at an off-campus fraternity party on Indiana Avenue while trying to protect his peers Feb. 6, 2011.

Eleven other victims were shot and wounded during the Omega Psi Phi fraternity party, with some listed in critical condition. 

According to a Feb. 7, 2011, Jambar article, a fight broke out after a woman was pushed by a bystander and came back to the house 10 minutes later with a group of people, including some that were armed. 

Hill said she was thankful to spend 25 years with her son, but “he did what God called him to do.”

The Jamail E. Johnson Drive street sign sits above the Indiana Avenue street sign to honor Jamail Johnson’s act of heroism. Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

“God lent him to me for 25 wonderful years, and I just praise him,” she said.

Exactly nine years later on Feb. 6, Johnson’s legacy will live on in Youngstown with a dedication of his name on a street sign, Jamail E. Johnson Drive. 

Moe Jiles, a Youngstown native and a lifelong friend of Johnson, said he wanted to name the street after Johnson to honor his name and legacy.

“We went out and knocked on some doors to get some signatures to see if they would be willing to change the sign,” he said. “They weren’t actually able to change the street name completely, but they were able to give us a commemorative sign, which I think is still great.”

Jiles said he wanted to turn the negative situation into a positive remembrance.

“[Hill] hasn’t been back on that street since it happened, and now it gives her a reason to revisit that site not just because of the tragic stuff that happened there but to see her son up there and have something to be proud of,” he said.

Hill said she still receives positive comments about her son’s character. 

“The whole community, people still to this day come up to me and just tell me what kind of man he was,” she said. “All of this is just overwhelming with the love and support.” 

Bloody footprints marked the scene of the Feb. 6, 2011, shooting on Indiana Avenue near the YSU campus. Photo by Joe Giesy/Jambar Archive

Youngstown 1st Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said when Jiles contacted him about changing the street name, he immediately wanted to make it happen.

“Something to separate him from other shooting victims because he’s not the same from other people that got shot. … This guy got killed trying to save lives, and [Jiles] didn’t want that to be forgotten,” Oliver said. 

“It’s a phenomenal thing for friends to remember friends,” he said. “Just think if the city of Youngstown would start loving each other again. … We wouldn’t have any problems. We can love each other … while we’re alive.”

Additionally, a Youngstown ordinance declared Feb. 6 as Jamail E. Johnson Day for the city.

“For a young African American man that risked his life as a hero and to receive his own day in Youngstown, Ohio, is an awesome thing,” Oliver said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” 

Hill plans to make Jamail E. Johnson Day all about giving back to the street and creating a continuous cycle of beautification in the community.

“I want to be able to go back into the community and beautify and give back,” she said. “One other thing that I want to do is have a block party for children on that street. … What we instill in our children today, that’s what tomorrow is going to be about.”

Hill said she will continue to keep praising God.

“I forgive them. … He’s better than we are,” she said.

Oliver said he remembers the tragic day vividly. 

Moe Jiles (left), Shirlene Hill (center) and Sidney Hill (right) hold Jamail Johnson’s street sign in Hill’s house. Photo by Amanda Joerndt/ The Jambar

“That day, particularly, I actually was going to go to that party, but I didn’t,” he said. “I remember seeing photos with blood in the snow, people crying, and it was just eye-opening to see that something could just happen at any moment.” 

Former YSU President Cynthia Anderson spoke to the media the day of the shooting and expressed her condolences to Johnson’s family.

“I want to express my deepest sympathies to the family of the student that died in this tragic act of violence and to ask everyone throughout our Mahoning Valley community and beyond to keep them, their parents and all the other students involved in their thoughts and prayers,” she said in a Jambar article.