A survivor’s story

Former Godby football player wants to change lives for better

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

He has lived the life – not the lavish kind but one that involved a lot of moving around and enduring hardship.

Tryton Swigart-Johnson is a product of the foster-care system, living in Washington state and West Palm Beach before moving to Tallahassee in 2006. All the time, he managed to avoid the fate of his single-parent mother whose drug use led to incarceration. He’d even seen some of his friends from a group home die from drug abuse, an auto accident and one succumbed to cancer.

Tryton Swigart-Johnson is rallying up support to form an organization that he hopes will change the lives of people dealing with inequities.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

During the public speakers’ segment of a recent city commission meeting, Swigart-Johnson put commissioners on notice that he has a plan to help the disenfranchised and those living with inequities in their communities. 

He first took the idea to Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox before bringing his cause to City Hall. He has since met with Commissioner Elaine Bryant and got plenty of encouragement, he said.

Williams-Cox called the 24-year-old a survivor who is “turning lemons into lemonade.”

In a way, Williams-Cox said, she could relate to his story because she was raised by her grandparents.

“In his case, he was around folks, who may not have been the blood line, but gave him enough love to help him love himself,” she said. “Now he can take those experiences and try to help others who may be coming through the same things that he came through. 

“It’s a great inspiration because that’s not always how the story turns out.”

His upbringing – especially the years he spent in a group home after moving to Tallahassee — is his motivation, Swigart-Johnson said.

“They attempted to do a lot of things, but I noticed there was a lack of follow-through,” he said. “A lot of them were very low service level (and) they never really went in depth and provided those real learning points.”

Nevertheless, he managed to live what seemed like a normal live while attending Godby High Schools. He was a kicker on the Cougars’ 2012 Class 5A state champion team. After graduating from Godby in 2013, he attended TCC where he earned an AA degree. 

He later attended FSU until hardship forced him to drop out. 

The Progressive Black Men organization was another of his inspirations. Part of the organization’s effort is to prevent young men from slipping through the cracks of life and becoming a statistic.

He said his first contact with the organization was during an eight-week program that it ran at the group home where he lived. 

Swigart-Johnson’s plan seems ambitious but he is convinced that he can help more than just a few through an organization that he’s calling Try-Peace. He figures that peace and love will be the foundation of the organization that he hopes to operate as a non-profit.

Teaching literacy and job skills are two areas that Swigart-Johnson plans to focus on. Members of the organization also will help with arranging seminars and workshops for broken families, he said.

Starting Try-Peace is an idea that Swigart-Johnson said he wanted to bring to life when he was a teenager, but he lacked the confidence. “It derailed my purpose for awhile,” he said.

Now he believes that he is driven by a higher power that will lead him to people who understand his vision.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is to get people who are of the same ideology as me,” he said. “I feel like if they are passionate about anything and they understand the passion I have for this, they can be of assistance to me.”

Patrice Delevoe, who wrote a book chronicling his childhood struggles, said he is on board with Swigart-Johnson’s plan. They were classmates at Godby High School.

He said Swigart-Johnson has the right personality to succeed with the organization. He saw it several times when the two attended chemistry class together.

“I was going through hard times in high school,” said Delevoe. “I was always pretty smiley so nobody really knew I was going through hard times, but to see that energy that he brought to the class every day, I was proud to call him my friend.”

Delevoe, who was raised in a single-parent home, wrote a book titled “The power of my story; embracing struggle to unlock full potential.”  He realized how much he and Swigart-Johnson have in common when they were filling out paperwork for scholarships during their senior year at Godby.

“When I saw his story,” Delevoe said, “I realized that a lot of the unfortunate things that he experienced while growing up and was motivated even more.

“I’m a believer that you can turn your pain into a passion; you can take negative and turn it into a positive. Tryton is an example of someone doing that.”

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