If you go to former Davis resident David Johnson’s Twitter page, everything looks normal, apart from one thing. His occupation is listed as “Jay-Z’s Penpal,” in reference to the superstar rapper.
“People just want to be heard and understood,” Johnson said. “I just wanted validation that what I was doing was on the right track.”
After networking with various people, including his wife and celebrity photographer Jessica Johnson, Johnson found Jay’s e-mail address. Using a legal e-mail tracker, Johnson can see if and when his e-mails have been opened.
Johnson has been e-mailing the celebrity since 2010 and the tracker confirms that Jay has opened Johnson’s messages. He has not only opened the e-mails, but re-opened them, quite possibly due to the material he has sent. Johnson does not forward chain letters, send cute cat videos, or even try to ask the celebrity questions. Rather, he sends poems, song lyrics and essays on race.
“I think it’s pretty inspirational that this guy can be persistent and influence Jay-Z,” said Chris Lagrossa, a first-year law student. “[It’s] extremely impressive.”
During one of Jay’s recent tours, Johnson found poems being opened from places all over the world.
“What’s also kind of weird is that my wife and Beyoncé were pregnant at the same time,” Johnson said. “I wrote to Jay, telling him the name of my child, Aqua. A week later, they announce the name of their child, Blue. Weird coincidence? Possibly.”
Despite such a major accomplishment, and such an interesting coincidence, Johnson is more than a hardcore Jay-Z fan; he’s a prolific writer trying to reach out to someone that has the ability to influence millions of people. He not only e-mails Jay-Z, but also Oprah, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry.
“As an African American, I want to write them my thoughts on how black people should be treated,” Johnson said. “I believe that throughout black history, we are the only race that doesn’t take pride in helping each other and I think money is part of it.”
He added that Jay-Z is a prominent voice for the black community exemplified by his lyrics, which is one reason why e-mailing him and actually having his e-mails read by him is such an achievement toward the goal of open-mindedness.
“Minds are like parachutes; they only function when they’re open,” Johnson said.
One of Jay-Z’s recent songs, “Run this Town,” uses the lyrics “Pledge your allegiance/Get your fatigues on, all black everything/Black cards, black cars, all black everything.” The rapper has also been in various interviews, such as one with the Hip-Hop Cosign where he talks about racism, violence and the n-word.
Aside from being somewhat of a celebrity correspondent, Johnson created his own publishing company, Davis Boy Publishing. He has written and published six books for Davis Boy Publishing so far to help disperse his message in another medium. His first book, “Lost and Found,” is about his life in Davis.
Johnson moved 26 times while he was in Davis and lived a tough time through poverty and struggle in a town where those two words are often missing.
And while his name is attached to Jay-Z in various Google searches, the writer has made an impression on others as well. Diego Silva, a fifth-year mechanical and aerospace engineering major, commented on the magnitude of Johnson’s work and the message he tries to put across.
“It’s good to be persistent with a goal in mind,” Silva said. “I would keep going at it, especially with that message.”
DOMINICK COSTABILE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.