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Bryce Brooks, Chuck Johnson, Rest in Peace

By Paul Kvinta

Maynard Jackson High School experienced a double tragedy in April when two members of its community drowned off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, over spring break. Bryce Brooks was a junior, an honor roll student, and a member of the school’s fashion club. Chuck Johnson was a father of three, including two sons who attend MJHS, and he often assisted with the Jaguars’ basketball practices. 

The Brooks and Johnson families were enjoying a beach vacation with several other Atlanta families when Bryce dove into a fierce rip current to help some struggling children he didn’t know. Chuck later dove in to try to save Bryce.

At a candlelight vigil for Bryce in Grant Park, several hundred family members, friends, and teachers, along with Mayor Andre Dickens, gathered next to the grassy area atop the parking deck to release balloons and share their memories of the young man. Speakers remembered Bryce as a music lover who created his own beats. They recalled his selflessness and loyalty to friends. 

“Bryce dove into the water to save two kids he didn’t know,” says Therman McDaniel, who attended the vigil. McDaniel, immediate past president of the MJHS Athletics Boosters and a longtime friend of both families, was on the beach that day when the tragedy unfolded. “When they were all being dragged out to sea, and we were trying to communicate with Bryce, he told us to go get them, and he was pointing at the kids. He put them ahead of himself. Even when he was in trouble, he was looking out for others.” 

Hundreds of people later that week packed into the MJHS gym for Bryce’s funeral service. 

At a vigil for Chuck at First Iconium Baptist Church in East Atlanta, friends remembered the dedicated man who coached the church’s community league basketball team. “He didn’t just teach the kids basketball, he taught them about life,” says McDaniel. “A lot of the young people who spoke, this was the main sentiment. Chuck talked to them about how to be a good person, about knowing right from wrong, about staying in school.” At a subsequent funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church where Mayor Dickens also spoke, Chuck was honored with proclamations from the City of Atlanta and Fulton County.

McDaniel says he will dearly miss his two friends. Over the years their families had taken many vacations together, enjoying everything from international cruises to simpler jaunts to New Orleans and Myrtle Beach. He will now sit on the board of the Bryce Brooks Foundation, an organization spearheaded by Bryce’s parents, Crystal and Alfred “Shivy” Brooks. The family has raised more than $100,000 on a Go Fund Me site, and the foundation will focus on offering free swimming lessons for anyone who wants them. “More than 60 percent of Black people either don’t know how to swim, or they aren’t proficient at swimming,” McDaniel says. “Something like this is needed. Bryce himself wasn’t a strong swimmer. But again, that’s just another example of his selflessness, that he would dive in to save those kids, knowing he wasn’t a great swimmer.” 

Donations to the foundation can be made at

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