First-generation college grad plans to give back to underserved communities in Richmond

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:32 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A first-generation college graduate, who recently completed the physical therapy program at Howard University, has his sights set on bringing his skills back home to Richmond to help underserved communities.

Born and raised on the northside of Richmond, Moses Johnson had big dreams. From Ferrum College to Norfolk State University for undergrad, the student-athlete hoped his skills on the gridiron would take him to the NFL, but fate would have Johnson going in the direction of healing.

“I have several members in my family who have heart conditions, high blood pressure and elderly who have abnormalities and looked to me for help,” said Johnson, whose interest led him to a profession in physical therapy.

On December 3, 2021, Johnson reached a big milestone. He completed Howard University’s Physical Therapy Program and received his white coat during the long-awaited ceremony. He said he could not have done this without the support of his family and the community.

“They [family] were calling me doctor before I got my degree,” Johnson said. " It’s amazing how they spoke into my life, and I’m just glad that I can put this white coat on and let them know that we did this .”

Johnson, who lost his father when was just six years old to gun violence, said his dad would be proud.

In 2017, he made his first attempt to get into Howard’s physical therapy program, but he was rejected. In 2018, he tried again, but no luck. He never gave up.

“I’ve been rejected numerous times, in many programs, but I continued to be persistent,” said Johnson, who has shared his testimony on social media encouraging people to never give up. “I took additional courses, GRE exams and I kept fighting until I got that one yes and I took advantage of it.”

His plan and perseverance worked. In 2019, Johnson got the acceptance letter he hoped for. Now, he is focused on taking an exam Jan. 26 to get licensed with the goal of providing services in DC, MD and VA, including Richmond where pro bono services for underserved communities are part of the plan.

“This white coat represents the hard work they put in, investing into me ,” he said. “Now, I want to re-invest it into my community.”

“One of the quotes I’ve always said to him ‘delayed does not mean denied ,’ and we stand by that,” said Johnson’s mother, Anne Cobbs. " To God be the glory, he got it.”

According to a report from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which is based on pre-pandemic 2019 data, less than three percent of physical therapists (PTs) were Black, a decline from the nearly four percent the year before in 2018. The same workforce report showed White PTs accounting for more than 80 percent of the force. Johnson is proud to bring more representation to the field and thinks his dad would be too.

“It was definitely hard growing up,” Johnson said. " I had a different perspective on life but I feel like my dad lives vicariously through me.”

“My story is a story of resilience,” Johnson said. “I want the young Black Americans to know to keep going, don’t give up, you’ll run into problems along the way, there’s going to be many obstacles you’ll have to face , but in spite of all of that, keep your faith in God and continue to push through.”

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