LeBron James makes plea for Americans to spread love ‘The only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love’

LeBron James is one athlete who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

As one of the most notable advocates, outside of former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, to speak out against police brutality and social injustices plaguing the country, James has made it his responsibility to use his platform for a greater good. On Tuesday, James called for peace during his annual We Are Family Reunion hosted by the LeBron James Family Foundation in Sandusky, Ohio.

“I know there’s a lot of tragic things happening in Charlottesville,” James said while addressing the crowd of more than 7,000 people. “I just want to speak on it right now. I have this platform and I’m somebody that has a voice of command, and the only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love.

“And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to conquer something at the end of the day. It’s not about the guy that’s the so-called president of the United States, or whatever the case. It’s not about a teacher that you don’t feel like cares about what’s going on with you every day. It’s not about people that you just don’t feel like want to give the best energy and effort to you. It’s about us. It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. It’s about all of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’ And if we can all do that and give 110 percent … then that’s all you can ask for.”

James was prompted to speak against hatred and bigotry after a rally led by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend turned deadly. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when a car plowed through a group of counterprotesters. The driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death. He was denied bond at his first court appearance on Monday.

James tweeted in response to the events:

Although the tweet was met with criticism by those believing President Donald Trump should not bear the brunt of the blame, it didn’t stop James from calling out Trump once again after the president’s news conference in which he held “many sides” accountable for the violence in Charlottesville and drew criticism for failing to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis. A few days later, James tweeted again.

James’ activism has been both lauded and criticized by some people since 2014, after the Cleveland Cavaliers star wore a T-shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” while warming up before a game against the Brooklyn Nets. The words emblazoned on the front of James’ shirt were yelled 11 times by Eric Garner, a New York man who died after a confrontation with New York police. One sergeant was charged internally two years after Garner’s death.

Last year, James, along with fellow NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, opened the 2016 ESPYS with a powerful speech that addressed police brutality, racism and gun violence.

“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence,” James said. “We do. But that’s not acceptable. It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to create change. It’s not about being a role model. It’s not about our responsibility to the tradition of activism. … Let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves. It’s for these issues. Speak up. Use our influence. And renounce all violence. And most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

In June, James fell victim to what had been deemed a hate crime when a racial slur was spray-painted on the front of his Los Angeles home. James, shaken by the incident, used a news conference to express his sentiments about being a black man in America.

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough,” James said. “We have a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America. But my family is safe, and that’s what’s important.”

Although there have been detractors urging James to abandon his activism and stick to basketball, James remains steadfast on his journey to make his community a better place for future leaders. Before wrapping up the event in Ohio, James addressed the crowd again, speaking specifically to a third-grade class who will be the first students to enroll in his foundation’s I Promise campaign.

“Without you guys, there’s no me, seriously,” James said. “You guys make me get up every day, be a role model, be a father and be a husband, friend, son. You guys make me be everything I can be and try to be as perfect as I can for you kids, because I can’t let you down. I refuse to let you down. Thank you for allowing me to be your inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to be a father figure at times, your superhero at times, your brother at times, and all the above. Thank you so much.”

South Carolina church shooting survivors support filmmaker’s new project exploring similar experience La Trycee Fowler is bringing to light what happens to survivors after tragedy

Two years ago, Dylann Roof opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, and eight members during an open Bible study.

The aftermath for the family members has been an overwhelming and difficult journey. Like many tragedies, life goes on for the rest of the world, but it brings an entirely new meaning to life for those affected. One independent filmmaker is depicting a similar tragedy in her new project, Broken, and it has the support of family members of the South Carolina shooting victims.

La Trycee Fowler, writes, produces and stars in the film. According to a press release, Broken follows the lives of two children in a small Southern Mississippi town who witness a massacre at their church, leaving one of them orphaned. The film tells a visually captivating story of how they are coping with the tragedy 10 years later and what happens after an unexpected run-in with the murderer. Ray, once a happy, playful child, has become bitter and angry with the world. Nori has vivid recurring nightmares and physically finds herself frozen in terror after awakening from them. As the sole survivors from that day, they only have each other. A fateful face-to-face encounter with one of the murderers causes all involved to remain “Broken.”

“I wrote this film because I wondered what effects something like this would have on society,” Fowler said. “How does such a hate-filled, senseless act affect the lives of those left behind? My goal is to use the film to start a dialogue about hate as a cancer in our society, in the hopes of people realizing that our actions cause a ripple effect not only in others’ lives, but in our own lives as well.”

The family of Ethel Lance, a victim of the AME shooting, said the “film should be introduced at the high school level as a teaching tool to think before you act.”

Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, was killed in the shooting, said, “I don’t want the world to ever forget the Emanuel 9. … There are a lot of broken hearts that need to be healed, a lot of stories that need to be told. … I want mine to encourage people to love, and love monetarily by giving, because that’s what it’s going to take to help others.”

Fowler has started a HatchFund campaign to raise money for the film set to begin production on Aug. 31 in Virginia. The Dale City, Virginia, native is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a concentration in pre-medicine. She relocated to Hollywood, California, shortly after graduation to pursue a film career. She created, directed and produced a web series, Hope, that was an Official Selection for the 2012 Los Angeles Web SeriesFestival and won Outstanding Ensemble Cast and Outstanding Drama.

Foundation honors Nearest Green, the slave who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey Author Fawn Weaver is determined to keep the distiller’s legacy alive

Nathan “Nearest” Green, the slave responsible for teaching Jack Daniel the art of whiskey distilling, is being honored by a foundation that is building a memorial park and creating a college scholarship fund for his descendants.

The Nearest Green Foundation was launched by best-selling author Fawn Weaver. “Here was this incredible story of a slave who was the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, who taught one of the world’s most recognizable men and then following slavery became the first master distiller for what is now one of the top whiskey brands in the world,” Weaver wrote on the foundation’s website. “So little of the details had been passed down beyond the first few generations that the story of Nearest Green had turned into a bit of folklore.”

She first learned about Green from a New York Times article last year. The seldom-told story piqued Weaver’s curiosity enough to tell the complete story of Green and his descendants.

The first mention of Green in the Jack Daniel’s timeline begins in 1864. As a young man, Daniel left home to live and work on a farm that belonged to Rev. Dan Call, a Lutheran minister who lived a few miles from Lynchburg, Tennessee. Green, a slave at the time, was tasked with watching and caring for Call. Daniel and Green worked closely together. Although Call was credited for teaching Daniel the tricks of whiskey distilling, it was Green who spent the time and effort to carefully walk Daniel through the process.

According to the site, Call would have to make a tough decision after the Civil War. His congregation and wife urged Call to either walk away from the whiskey business or leave his post as a minister. Call chose to sell his whiskey business to Daniel. As a thank you to Green, Daniel hired the now-free man as his first head distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery. Green worked with Daniel until 1881, when Daniel moved the operation to the Cave Spring Hollow location. Green’s sons, George and Eli, and grandsons Ott, Jesse and Charlie all worked at the new location to keep the family tradition alive.

Since last year, Weaver has gathered more than 20 historians, archaeologists, archivists, genealogists, researchers and conservators to help bring Green’s story together in its entirety. More than 10,000 original documents and artifacts passed down through generations have been offered to Weaver, with help from the Lynchburg community.

“When I met with the descendants of George Green, the son most known for helping his father, Nearest, and Jack Daniel in the whiskey business, I asked them what they thought was the best way to honor Nearest,” Weaver told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “Their response was, ‘No one owes us anything. We know that. But putting his name on a bottle, letting people know what he did, would be great.’ ”

Ten-year-old designer Kheris Rogers on why she’s Flexin’ in My Complexion After being bullied for her dark skin, she started a clothing line to inspire others

The world took notice of 10-year-old Kheris Rogers after 15-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys posted a picture of her on Instagram with the caption:I love this beautiful girl @kherispoppin and I love her mission! Keep shining.”

Kheris’ mission is to empower confidence with her clothing line Flexin’ In My Complexion, which she was inspired to create after being teased for her dark complexion in school in Los Angeles.

“Beauty has nothing to do with the outside,” Kheris said. “It has to do with your inside by being nice, smart, creative. Being beautiful means confidently knowing that you’re enough just the way you are. When I look at myself in the mirror, I say nice things like, ‘I am smart. I am kind. I am confident.’ It’s empowering.”

Earlier this year, Kheris’ 22-year-old sister, Taylor Pollard, tweeted a picture of Rogers after a fashion show that has more than 31,000 retweets and 84,000 likes. Comments came in praising her skin, hair, entire look and attitude, which helped boost her self-esteem.

Just a few days shy of her 11th birthday, Kheris spoke with The Undefeated about what it means to flex in your complexion, her definition of beautiful and her favorite thing about living in L.A. (Hint: It has to do with ice cream.)


Why did you create Flexin’ In My Complexion?
I was bullied for my dark skin complexion when I was younger [where I had to transfer to another school], so I felt that I needed to help empower others to feel comfortable in their skin color. I want to help others feel confident in their skin, knowing it is beautiful no matter how dark or light they are.

You’re only 10 and you were bullied for your skin color?
When I was in the first grade, I was one of four black kids in my class. They would call me names and wouldn’t play with me. There was an instance when we had to draw ourselves, and my teacher gave me a black crayon instead of a brown one. I felt really uncomfortable.

Your maturity and confident self-image is something that many 20- and 30-year-olds don’t have. Where did that come from?
It came from my family always telling me that I’m pretty and how being beautiful on the inside is the most important thing. My grandmother would always tell us to flex in our complexion. She put that in my head, and then I kept telling myself that.

Outside of your family, who else is a role model?
Tyra Banks! I love how she walks on and off the runway with so much confidence. But what I really love about her is how she empowers other women, and that’s what I want to do.

Who inspires your style?
I’ve always liked Zendaya’s style from watching her on the Disney Channel. My style is a mix of very girly girl and hip-hop. Some kids in my school would tease me on my style too, but everyone is unique and I love being creative with my style.

What was your reaction when you saw that Alicia Keys gave you a shoutout on Instagram?
I wanted to cry because of how surprised and excited I was. I looked on my phone, screamed and double-checked to make sure it was really her. I called my mom and was like, ‘OMG, Alicia Keys just posted my picture on her page!’

What’s your favorite Alicia Keys song?
‘Fallin’,’ I love that song.

What’s your favorite part about living in Los Angeles?
The drive-thru Baskin-Robbins that they built right by my house.

 

Seamstress Rose Ellis is a ‘wedding angel’ to panicked brides in Oklahoma After a bridal chain abruptly closed with wedding dresses still inside, Ellis rescued dresses and is performing alterations for free

What should have been one of the best parts of the wedding-planning process became a nightmare for brides across America when Alfred Angelo, one of the world’s largest bridal chains, filed bankruptcy and closed its stores.

There was no warning for brides who were expecting gowns. The only messages customers got were “Store Closed” signs on the doors and a statement on the chain’s social media pages detailing its bankruptcy.

“While we have been successful in obtaining customer records and delivering many dresses and accessories for customers all over the country, even after the bankruptcy filing date, it has now become apparent that the logistical and financial strain of fulfilling each and every open order makes continuing that course of action no longer possible,” the message read. “Thus, to the extent any order has not been fully delivered to a customer, it shall have to remain unfilled.” Before filing for bankruptcy in mid-July, the chain was more than $78 million in debt.

That’s when Rose Ellis, a seamstress who worked for Alfred Angelo’s Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, locations, stepped in. Last week, Ellis entered the Tulsa location for a routine gown pickup when she was warned that the company would be closing its 60 U.S. locations permanently the same day.

Ellis knew she wouldn’t be able to save all of the gowns, but she went to two Oklahoma stores and grabbed as many dresses as she could before the doors were locked for good. Although brides had paid Alfred Angelo upfront for alterations, Ellis, who was now out of a job herself, did the work herself for free. With alterations generally averaging $400 per gown, Ellis vowed to do around $30,000 worth of work — money she’d never see.

“I just felt that, with my integrity, I had to do what I could do and if I’m not getting paid for it, so what, you know?” Ellis told Oklahoma’s KFOR. “That’s par for the course.”

Ellis worked diligently to perform alterations on the more than 70 gowns she’d rescued before the shops closed. The last step is reuniting the brides-to-be with their wedding dresses, which Ellis is also handling. She drives an hour and 30 minutes from Tulsa to Oklahoma City weekly to return the dresses to their owners before their big day.

Brides who were spared the heartache of being without their dresses due to the chain’s sudden closure are now calling Ellis their “wedding angel.” Stephanie Huey, a bride who was helped by Ellis, paid for a hotel to save the seamstress from driving back and forth. She also created a GoFundMe page to help offset some of the costs for Ellis. More than $5,600 has been donated to the cause, surpassing its original goal of $2,500.

“Rose has done so many people such a good deed,” Huey wrote on the page. “There are worse things than losing a wedding dress, of course, but it means so much to the brides that she’s helping.”

As for Ellis, the alterations won’t stop until every gown in her possession has been returned to each bride.

“They’re going to get a gown that’s going to fit them perfectly even though they paid Alfred Angelo for the work, not the seamstress for the work,” Ellis said. “They still have a gown they can be happy with.”

Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman performs Heimlich maneuver on lawyer Lunch at a Texas airport turns into a lifesaving mission

Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman is being hailed as a hero after performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man in an Austin, Texas, airport.

Freeman stopped at an eatery in the airport to grab lunch and noticed a man sitting at a table on his phone and seemingly in a hurry to eat and catch his flight.

“The next thing I know, the guy stands up abruptly and he runs around the table,” Freeman told TMZ. “A lady looks at him like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you choking?’ ”

Marcus Ryan, an Austin attorney, had been eating a brisket meal when he began to choke. The distressed Ryan couldn’t talk, but he pointed to his mouth and throat to signal that he was having trouble breathing. Freeman left his table to offer assistance. He learned about the Heimlich maneuver from his mom, who is a nurse (although he had no formal training) and began to perform the motion in an effort to clear Ryan’s windpipe.

“I hit him twice with it, and I put him down to ask him if he was OK,” Freeman said. “He was like, ‘I think it’s still in there.’ He was able to talk now.”

The 6-foot, 236-pound Freeman grabbed Ryan and performed the maneuver two more times until food began to come up and airflow was restored.

“I tried to squeeze the life out of him and bring him back,” Freeman said. “He said, ‘Man, I thought you may have broken one of my ribs.’ I was like, it was either one of your ribs or your life. You gotta take one and leave the other.”

Afterward, the two posed for a picture that Freeman posted to his Twitter page. “CRAZY!!” the caption started. “Just saved my guy Marcus Ryan’s life by using the Heimlich maneuver in the middle of the Austin airport! WOW. Mom would be proud, haha.”

“At the time, it was just something that needed to be done,” Freeman told the media at Bears training camp. “… Somebody was in need, and I was there. If I wasn’t there, I’m sure somebody else would’ve done it. Or I would hope. … We’ve been able to talk back and forth. He’s still thanking me. I just let him know, hey, anybody would’ve done it, hopefully. It’s humanity, man, is what it is.”

After the ordeal, Ryan finished his brisket before heading to his destination. It’s a day he’ll never forget.

“I will forever be grateful for his kindness and willingness to help a stranger,” Ryan told ABC News. “… A great person like him deserves to have a great season, and I’ll be rooting for him.”

Spelman offers two scholarships for LGBTQ students through Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program The school is also launching a lecture series that will examine race, gender and sexuality

Spelman College is expanding its diversity and inclusion with the announcement of two $25,000 scholarships that will be awarded to LGBTQ students. The college also plans to add a lecture series that will focus on the examination of race, gender and sexuality.

The Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholars Program scholarships, established by Spelman professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall, will be awarded to two self-identified LGBTQ sophomores this year to “call attention to the importance of making visible the courageous and significant work of LGBTQ scholar activists within and beyond the academy, especially at HBCUs,” said Guy-Sheftall, cousin of Watkins Jr. and founder of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center.

Watkins Jr., the scholars program’s namesake, was a member of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center for seven years until his death in 2015. He was the first surgeon to implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human during surgery, according to the press release, and also played a crucial role in influencing minority students to attend Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Guy-Sheftall also pledged $100,000 to launch a lecture series that will include several national and global scholars, activists and organizers to address and speak on race, gender and sexuality issues often faced by the black community. These lectures will take place on campus at the Women’s Center.

“[T]his gift will present new opportunities for critical conversation on race and sexuality with distinguished scholars and thought leaders, and provide a platform to recognize campus LGBTQ advocates and their scholarly achievements,” Spelman president Mary Schmidt Campbell said.

The Powerball-winning Smith family dedicates a portion of their jackpot to help Trenton, New Jersey They’ve set up a foundation focused on education, Christian values and neighborhood development

It’s been a year since the eight members of the Smith family learned they were winners of a $429.6 million New Jersey Powerball jackpot — the largest single jackpot ticket ever sold in New Jersey. And while the shock has worn off, they are now turning to the work of helping others with a portion of their prize money.

The family actually received a lump sum of around $284 million. The $429.6 million prize would have been granted in full only if the family agreed to take it as an annuity paid over 29 years, according to NBC News. After paying bills, student loans, setting some aside as savings and taking care of personal family needs, the family used a portion of their winnings to create the Smith Family Foundation.

The foundation, established shortly after the win, aims to help transform lives by providing resources to residents of Trenton, New Jersey, and surrounding areas.

“We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” said Arthur Smith, the grandson of Pearlie Smith, the matriarch of the family, in an interview with NJ.com. “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”

According to the foundation website, their family’s upbringing in Trenton inspired them to be of service to others. Pearlie Smith raised her seven children in an environment filled with poverty and drugs, but taught them the value of hard work and the importance of education and treating others with respect. Together, they attended church and kept God at the center of their lives.

It’s part of the reason that Pearlie Smith, 70, also believes it was divine intervention the day she played the winning numbers at a Trenton 7-Eleven. The numbers— 5, 25, 26, 44, 66 and Powerball, 9 — were played after they came to the family in a dream, according to Pearlie Smith’s eldest daughter, Valerie Arthur.

The foundation will fund grassroots organizations focusing on education, Christian values, neighborhood development, youth and families, and other projects. There will be multiyear grants for organizations willing to participate in a training program during the entire life of the grant cycle, one-year grants for organizations that attend two technical workshops during the grant cycle, and summer programming for organizations that participate in one leadership development training session, according to the site.

“We’re making an investment in our community, and when you make an investment, you expect a return,” Arthur said. “So we want to see what the social return is going to be, what the educational return is going to be, what the transformations in people’s lives is going to be.”

10-year-old entrepreneur Gabby Goodwin’s hair barrettes are changing the game GaBBY Bows are saving lives for frustrated mothers around the nation

We’ve all experienced the joys and pains of pretty hair bows. They’ve been too loose or too tight. They’ve sometimes grown legs and walked away, or have been so clingy we’ve had to cut them out of our beautiful, kinky coils.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Goodwin and her mom, Rozalynn, were all too familiar with the highs and lows of this accessory. Instead of putting up with the hassle, Gabby decided to create a double-face, double-snap barrette that makes it nearly impossible for a bow to perform its usual disappearing act.

Gabby, a 10-year-old entrepreneur from South Carolina, and Rozalynn began designing what are now known as GaBBY Bows five years ago after a frustrated Gabby insisted that the pair should “make a bow that works.” From there, the mother-daughter duo began experimenting with different hair accessories before settling on their own design with a double-face enclosure that secures the bow to the hair for minimal slippage. In a demonstration video, the hair is wrapped around the center of the barrette while the double-snap design holds the hair in place.

“My mommy and I solved the age-old problem of disappearing girls’ hair barrettes,” Gabby wrote on her website. “… GaBBY Bows won’t slip out of pigtails and pin-ups. We have never lost a bow!”

“My advice to other girls is if you believe you can achieve,” Gabby wrote. “Try your best, work hard, and persevere and never give up.”

In its three years of operation, GaBBY Bows has gained major attention. There have been positive testimonials from mothers across the country praising Gabby’s ingenious invention. In 2015, Gabby earned recognition as the South Carolina Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The following year, Gabby was named the American Small Business Champion by SCORE and Sam’s Club, and GaBBY Bows was named SCORE’s Outstanding Diverse Business of the Year.

As Gabby’s ideas grew, Rozalynn helped her daughter create a Kickstarter page to expand the brand. After they raised $28,000 from more than 300 supporters, there have been online orders filled in 50 states and eight countries. Gabby also received a distribution that allows the bows to be sold in 50 Once upon a child stores in 16 states across the nation, according to the GaBBY Bows website.

Gabby not only wants to solve hair problems but also hopes to inspire other young girls with their own ideas.

“My advice to other girls is if you believe you can achieve,” Gabby wrote. “Try your best, work hard, and persevere and never give up.”

Thank you, Lonnie Johnson, for one of summer’s best toys — the Super Soaker NASA engineer’s invention changed summertime

Summer’s hot sun beams down through broken clouds. Your favorite radio station serves as the day’s soundtrack. Your favorite uncle announces that the meat that had been marinating overnight in his secret mixture is now tenderized and ready for grilling.

Kids are already in the pool, and others are filling water balloons in preparation for the family water fight later in the day. Your older cousin arrives with the toy he’s been waiting six months to use: his brand new Super Soaker.

New memories are created every summer. But one that many Americans share is unpacking one of the most sought-after summertime toys that had been sitting in the garage since they received it as a Christmas gift.

The Super Soaker, created in 1982 by former NASA engineer Lonnie G. Johnson, remains the quintessential weapon in water wars across the country, selling more than 250 million units and earning over $1 billion in sales since hitting store shelves in 1990.

As is the case with most toys, we remember the joy they brought us without considering the person who made it possible.

Before entering the United States Air Force, before becoming a senior systems engineer with NASA and long before creating one of the All-Time 100 Greatest Toys, according to Time magazine, Lonnie Johnson was a young man from Mobile, Alabama, with a strong curiosity about science and technology.

“I’ve always liked to tinker with things,” Johnson explained in a piece for BBC News Magazine. “It started with my dad. He gave me my first lesson in electricity, explaining that it takes two wires for electric current to flow: one for the electrons to go in, the other for them to come out. And he showed me how to repair irons and lamps and things like that.”

By the time Johnson reached Williamson High School, an all-black high school in Mobile, he had built a 3 1/2-foot, remote-controlled robot named Linex. In 1968, Linex took first place in a science competition hosted by the Junior Engineering Technical Society at the University of Alabama.

Johnson was happy about the win but admitted to being perplexed by the university’s lack of interest in the young man behind the project. Although the Jim Crow era had ended a few years before, the mentality still remained.

“I have never really understood why in this country so many people look down on black people,” Johnson wrote. “I can’t say it weighed on me at the time, though. I was just so excited to have my robot, to know that it worked and that I would have a chance to show it off.”

Undeterred, Johnson continued his education on a scholarship at Tuskegee University, a historically black institution in Tuskegee, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1973 and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering two years later.

Johnson went on to enter the U.S. Air Force. Later, he took a position as senior systems engineer in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on the Galileo mission. During his free time at NASA, Johnson would tinker with the things around him — just like he did when he was a child.

“I was working on a new heat pump that used water instead of Freon because Freon is bad for the environment,” Johnson told Forbes. “I was experimenting with nozzles I’d made that shot a stream of water across the bathroom, and I thought they’d make a good water gun. I was having trouble getting people to understand the hard science inventions I had, like a heat pump or the digital measuring instrument. I thought the toy was something anyone could look at and appreciate.”

Johnson didn’t know at the time that this invention would become the “No. 1 selling toy in the world.” The first water gun sold so well, Johnson said, that there was a request to expand the product line. Two weeks later, the Super Soaker 100 was crafted. There have been 19 variations of the gun in its 27-year existence.

Today, Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., a technology development company that led the way in technological innovations in the toy industry.

So, next time you pull out a fancy Super Soaker to torture your siblings, be sure to thank Johnson for enhancing the way we celebrate summer.