Orange County teens hope to provide model for nation torn by racial unrest

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- These days we hear so much about racial division in America, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that many strive to bridge that divide.

For a couple of Hillsborough teenagers that bridge came naturally.

And when the national movement for social justice cranked up this spring the two were watching.

When protesters hit the streets this spring over incidents involving the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police and systemic racism in our country, it really hit home in Hillsborough for the two teens.

"It's been going on forever, and it's just crazy that it still hasn't changed," Jakhiem Johnson said.

His best friend, Christian Florio, chimed in saying, "There is a big problem out there and wish people could, I wish everyone in the entire country could just see us and see how close we are, that we don't care at all about race."

Christian and Jakhiem became friends in sixth grade when Christian was the new kid in town and they were assigned a science project together.



Jakhiem recalled what was going through his head when the assignments were announced.

"My first impression was I could be really nice to this kid or I could totally ignore him and like do the project by myself," he said.

Christian remembered how they immediately hit it off.

"We just started bonding. We talked a lot," he said. "We started to just understand each other. I started to understand the situation he was in. And we just started becoming really close."

With Jakhiem standing 6-4 and Christian at 5-7, their skin colors weren't the only noticeable differences.

But the now-17-year-olds had so much in common they developed an extremely close bond.

Jakhiem even lived with Christian for several months at one point when his home life was disrupted.

Jakhiem noted that they bond even more during that time: "We're more so like brothers now."

Both are aspiring artists.

And when the nationwide push for social justice began Christian wanted to make a statement through his art.

He started by taking a picture of Jakhiem with his fist raised and then creating a collage of black heroes throughout history.

About his collage, Christian said, "They all showed empowerment and strength. On top of that I did Jakhiem because he was the greatest I've ever known. He's always been a hero and a friend to me and I've always looked up to him. And this was a way of showing my love, that he's always trusted me and always been there for me."

Seeing it, Jakhiem was taken aback.

"He showed me the picture. I was like I was honestly astonished," he said, "It humbles me. to know that people, well some people look at me the way he does."

And when they graduate this year, they even plan to attend college together at the Think Tank Training Center, a digital arts school 3,000 miles away in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

"I just really want to go and create and just do VFX badly. And this was the best school that I could find," Christian said.

Jakhiem appears to still be getting used to the idea.

"Three thousand miles away, that's a way away, you know. But it's just like I get to explore a new environment, like a new work environment," he said.

Both hope it will launch their graphic arts careers and, of course, they want to work together.

And, in the meantime, both young men hope their bond can be an example for others.
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