2004 SWAC Catcher of the Year catches life’s curveball; runs home in the 9th

Family donates his organs; a ‘no brainer,’ says his mother

By Gail H. M. Brown, Ph.D.,

Contributing Writer,

Johnson’s JSU coaches and teammates at his homegoing celebration Photos By Gail Brown

It is a known fact that life will throw unexpected curveballs. On July 20, 2022, Rafiel Reshawn Johnson caught an unexpected curveball and then made a homerun. The 2004 SWAC Catcher of the Year and true-to-heart “Thee I Love” Jackson State University alumni succumbed in the comfort of his Atlanta home. 

News of his death practically went viral on-and-off social media as it crushed the hearts of those who loved him and his witty character. 

A display of the Hollandale, Miss. native’s life was celebrated Saturday, July 30, 2022, at 11 a.m. in the gymnasium of Simmons High School in Hollandale. 

Although Johnson is deceased, more than his legacy will live on. During the acknowledgements/words of encouragement, his aunt, Etesta Causey, of Atlanta, shared that his organs had been donated to Lifelink of Georgia.  

“Being the next of kin on file, I was contacted by Lifelink with the request to donate his organs,” said Causey. “Due to heightened sensitivity at the moment, I was hesitant to broach the request with my sister, but immediately contacted her because I understood that it was a time-sensitive request. Without a second thought, his mother said, ‘If my baby can save another life, yes. Let me consult with his dad.’ I notified the Lifelink representative of their decision to donate.” 

The Mississippi Link recently asked Johnson’s mother, Pamela Johnson, what deciding factors went into their decision. She replied, “There really wasn’t a deciding factor; it was a no-brainer. Ralph touched the lives of many during his 39 years, and the thought of him being able to save and/or help others in his death gives me peace. He will live on through the lives of others.” 

According to WebMD.com, “more than 113,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ.” 

Rafiel (left), the Best Man

Organ donors are always in short supply and most of the organs that are available come from deceased donors that opted to fill out an organ donor card with their driver’s license. 

Throughout Saturday’s celebration and fellowship, family, friends, baseball coaches, teammates and others echoed admirable reflections of Johnson’s life and his passion for serving others.” Many fought back tears.

JSU Baseball coach Omar Johnson shared that they had been friends for 20 years. “He first introduced himself to me as ‘Hi, I’m Rafiel Johnson, and I’m from the Delta,’” Omar Johnson recalled. Coach Rafiel Johnson had returned to JSU at one point and served as assistant baseball coach under coach Omar Johnson.

JSU assistant coach Kevin Whiteside shared the saying that ‘when it comes to friends, it’s better to have four quarters than 100 pennies.’ “I feel I’ve lost one of my quarters,” he said.

“Ralph was a wonderful teammate, tremendous ambassador for JSU baseball and loyal friend to so many, including myself. His exuberant and infectious spirit will be missed by all who knew and loved him,” stated teammate Kendrick Marshall. Johnson was Marshall’s best friend and Best Man at his wedding.

Johnson’s ‘loving companion,’ Carmen Durham, of Atlanta, described him as “loving, serving and fun-spirited. He was an awesome friend, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for me and Raleigh (their daughter). He was my best friend.”

Johnson also has a son, Andrew, named after Johnson’s father, Andrew Chatman Jr. 

He loved baseball and Jackson State, his mother stressed. He made sure his cousins and his baby brother, Devin, followed his path to JSU. “Devin is currently a junior in computer science,” she said. “We will purchase a family legacy brick when he graduates. That’s what Ralph had planned to do.”

Rafiel’s mother Pamela and his children Andrew and Raleigh

Rafiel found his passion during the mid-game of his life when he began working as an operation team member with the St. Hope Public School. He changed teams in 2015 when he became a technology education teacher for Lovejoy Middle School, Hampton, GA. He later changed positions to Middle School math teacher.

Rafiel’s excitement could not be contained when he completed the Teacher Academy of Preparation and Pedagogy (TAPP) Program. He was destined to be a major contributor to assist students in becoming life-long learners. Before his passing, Rafiel was looking forward to transitioning to his new career with the baseball coaching staff at Westlake High School (Fulton County School District). His love for sports and children drove him to continue coaching and mentoring young football players.

His mother also shared that Johnson never caused her any trouble. “He had a disciplined upbringing being taught how to respect his elders and attend church,” she said. “And, it carried over in his life. It has really been a joy hearing so many great stories from his coaches, teammates and friends.”

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