April 2018
Co-op Matters

Perspective Drives Performance

Former college football star Inky Johnson kicked off AFC’s membership meeting with a personal story of triumph over tragedy.


Inky Johnson

Inky Johnson was at the height of his college football career at the University of Tennessee when, Sept. 9, 2006, a freak injury occurred during a routine tackle, leaving him partially paralyzed and bleeding internally. Though emergency surgery would save his life, he would never regain the use of his right arm. His days as a star athlete were over, just as he was preparing to be a first-round NFL draft pick.

Fast forward nearly 12 years, and though the physical evidence of that day’s tragedy remains, Johnson asserts that he is a stronger person today than he ever could have been if life had gone the way he had planned since he was a boy.

Growing up in inner-city Atlanta, Johnson and his family of 14 lived in a two-bedroom home. He recalls sleeping on the floor – never having a bed of his own until he moved into a dormitory at UT, where his athletic skills earned him a scholarship. Football was his way out, and he was the first person in his family to attend college.

During his third year as a Volunteer, on schedule to graduate early and begin a lucrative professional career, Johnson sustained the injury that altered his life forever. Though it meant no more football, the event became a springboard to a new, different future. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he went on to obtain a master’s degree in Sports Psychology.

Today, he uses his experience and his education to help others. In addition to working with the homeless in downtown Atlanta, Johnson travels the country, sharing his story as a motivational speaker. Addressing the 81st annual meeting of Alabama Farmers Cooperative in February, Johnson challenged AFC members to take a page from his playbook when they deal with life’s challenges.

"Remember, perspective drives performance," Johnson said, adding he would not go back and prevent his injury even if he could. "People don’t burn out because of what they do; they burn out because they forget why they’re doing what they’re doing."

It’s a truth Ben Haynes of Marshall Farmers Cooperative said applies perfectly to AFC, an organization he’s helped lead as a board member since 2014.

"Inky talked about not losing sight of the purpose behind what we do. That’s very applicable to each of us as individuals, but also as a company," Haynes said. "The Co-op was started to provide a service and that service is the ‘why.’ That can’t get lost in the balance sheet or income statement – why we do what we do is something separating us from everyone else."

Haynes pointed to the service of individuals such as Larry Bennich, who recently retired from AFC’s board after 44 years, and Steve Hodges, recipient of the 2017 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year Award, who will retire this year after 43 years with AFC and Member Cooperatives.

"To me, both of those men exemplify what this year’s annual meeting was about – it’s not fertilizer, plants or seed, it’s people," Haynes stated.

Using a metaphor familiar to the agricultural crowd, Johnson closed by encouraging his listeners to judge each day not by the harvest they reap but by the seeds they sow.

"You can add value to every situation and every life you come in contact with," he said, "as long as you live for others and are selfless instead of selfish."


Mary Catherine Gaston is a freelance writer from Americus, Georgia.