Pete McCoy, founder of Freedom Forums, Inc., speaks to local ninth and tenth graders Tuesday morning about his journey from being born and spending his early childhood in Nazi Germany to becoming an American citizen through naturalization in 1957.
Pete McCoy, founder of Freedom Forums, Inc., speaks to local ninth and tenth graders Tuesday morning about his journey from being born and spending his early childhood in Nazi Germany to becoming an American citizen through naturalization in 1957.

Archived Story

Forum speakers share life experiences with students

Published 4:41pm Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Local ninth and 10th grade students started their Tuesday with messages from speakers Pete McCoy and Janice Johnson of Freedom Forums, Inc.

Held for high school students in Chilton County every two years, Freedom Forums are programs in which McCoy and Johnson share anecdotes from their lives with audiences through motivational rallies.

McCoy, president and founder of Freedom Forums, Inc., spoke to students assembled at Chilton County High School on Tuesday about his childhood in Germany during World War II.

McCoy eventually moved to the United States with his mother and adoptive father, an American soldier, and became a U.S. citizen when he was 16 years old.

“That opened up a world that, even in my brain, I knew what a wonderful place it would be,” McCoy said.

McCoy details his and his mother’s memories in his book, “Find Your Own American: A Boy’s Inspiring Journey from Nazi Germany to Freedom in America.”

“It’s the first book I’ve ever written,” he said. “I’m proud of that book.”

In his book and Freedom Forum speeches, McCoy talks about growing up in a divided Germany and trading goods from soldiers for food since money was scarce during wartime.

Janice Johnson, McCoy’s director of programming for Freedom Forums, told students Tuesday about life decisions in her teenage years that put her on a path to prison.

Janice Johnson, director of programming for Freedom Forums, Inc., shares her past struggles and encourages students to make choices that will positively impact their lives.
Janice Johnson, director of programming for Freedom Forums, Inc., shares her past struggles and encourages students to make choices that will positively impact their lives.

“Because of my choices, I wasn’t identified by my name,” Johnson said. “I was identified by a six-digit number. Because of choices, I almost lost my life.”

A Mississippi native, Johnson said she is an ex-drug and alcohol user, an ex-drug seller, an ex-convict and was a teenage mother.

“It’s all about choices,” Johnson said. “I know you guys are great, I know you’re smart and I know for the most part, you all have dreams. I want to be an example for you. I want you to be smarter than I was in ninth or 10th grade.”

Freedom Forums started in 1984, and McCoy said more than 25,000 Chilton County teens have heard the messages.

McCoy lives in Wetumpka and is also an adjunct history professor at Auburn University Montgomery, Faulkner University, Troy University and Alabama State University.

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