By Robert Lee Hill
Community Consultant, Minister Emeritus
Community Christian Church
Johnny Waller is the kind of person you’d want to bring home to meet your family at holiday times, or for a birthday party, or just for dinner on a mundane midweek evening. He’s the sort of exemplary individual you’d want as a colleague, or in a partnership for community betterment, or just to hang with as a friend.
What makes Johnny Waller so exemplary? In a word, kindness. Johnny is kind and generous, sensitive and compassionate, beyond what you’d normally expect in another human being.
It wasn’t always so in Johnny’s life. A scrape with the law when he was a teenager landed him behind bars.
But after that experience, Johnny made a series of commitments: love his family with all his heart and soul, pursue education, and help other formerly incarcerated folks become their best selves.
Johnny’s inner resilience, strength of character, and courage guided him to fulfill those commitments, as he achieved an associate’s degree from Johnson County Community College, a B.A. degree and a Master’s degree, both from Rockhurst University, and became Community Outreach Manager for Choose Your Passion, a community development organization. Most recently, he became partners with Kyle Smith in the start-up Determination, Incorporated, using entrepreneurship to create new opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.
Johnny’s kindness is dependable, especially in endeavors for systemic change. As an example, Johnny made repeated trips to the Missouri state capitol, at his own expense, which eventually contributed to the passing of six laws assisting ex-felons in their re-entry programs. Kindness is his main rubric when he declares, “Perpetual punishment is not good for anyone.”
Sometimes Johnny’s kindness is as simple and straightforward as being present. As one of Johnny’s colleagues put it succinctly, “Johnny has a marvelous capacity for showing up, even when you don’t expect him to, at exactly the right time.”
Kindness suffuses all of Johnny’s relationships, but especially as he advocates for a more peaceful community and for safety and security for teenagers tragically touched by gun violence.
In the end, Johnny’s kindness is generative. When he greets you at a coffee shop, as he participates in a community meeting, or when he’s leading a training session, his kindness inspires people to be kinder toward others in their own lives.
A kindness marked by resilience, dependability, presence, empathy, and generativity. This is who Johnny Waller is. And this is what makes many of us call him “Mr. Kindness.”