Leroi Honorary Degree Ceremony


If art imitates life, then LeRoi C. Johnson’s portfolio reflects a lifetime challenging the status quo.

It’s an endeavor that dates back to 1967 – his freshman year at Canisius and the height of the Civil Rights Movement in America – when Johnson and four classmates founded the Afro-American Society. As the club’s first president, Johnson worked to diversify the student body, successfully petitioning the college to establish a scholarship for academically qualified students from Buffalo’s inner city. A half century later, the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship endures, offering financial support to students of color who want to earn a high-quality Canisius education.

John’s pursuit of diversity and justice also endures.

The Georgetown Law School graduate is an accomplished solo attorney, who concentrates his practice in the areas of business, real estate, corporate and entertainment law. The latter is an area he came to know well while managing the career of his late, older brother and “king of funk punk” Rick James. That work led Johnson to co-found Mary Jane Productions, which grew into one of the largest minority music publishing, merchandising and production companies in the U.S.

Artistry is somewhat of a second career for Johnson.

Though not formally trained, he is a gifted painter whose electric primitive canvases are often symbolic of Johnson’s human experiences as an African-American. He has exhibited his works worldwide and in nearly every major U.S. city.

Years of hard work and a commitment to succeed propelled Johnson from the East Side Housing projects, where he grew up. Proof, he believes that anyone has the power to choose where they go in life.

Johnson shares this message with inner-city youth as a volunteer for the Willie “Hutch” Jones Sports Clinic. Established in 1984 by Johnson and the former Los Angeles Lakers player and Buffalo native. The clinic offers everything from sports to chess to computer training. As a way to provide subtle direction and guidance for underprivileged children.

Canisius students are also beneficiaries of Johnson’s wise counsel and generous spirit. The LeRoi C. Johnson ’71 Endowed Scholarship offers talented inner-city youth an opportunity to succeed at Canisius, Current students contemplating legal careers are advised by Johnson, who isa founding member of the college’s newly-created Desmond Law Society. He similarly served as a valuable resource throughout his tenure on the Boards of Trustees and Regents, contributing both strategic vision and planning.

For always challenging the status quo to bring about purposeful change and aspiring to inspire in his professional and persona pursuits, Canisius College is proud to confer upon LeRoi C. Johnson, from the Class of 1971, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honors causa.

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