The community continues to mourn the loss of a longtime force for positive change in the Utica-area.

After having quietly fought lung cancer for the last few years, Patrick Johnson lost his battle with the disease over the weekend. Johnson, 60, worked for decades to bring understanding to inner city issues and racial justice. That included his time with the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley, his Hoops and Dreams project, serving as a speaker and host of forums on sensitive community issues, and most recently as the director of Save Our Streets - which was administered through the Oneida County District Attorney's Office.

DA Scott McNamara joined WIBX 950 to discuss what he called a huge loss for the community.

"He became a very good friend of mine. He was a good man and I'm going to miss him."

Regarding his years of work to intervene in the lives of troubled youth, and bring education and understanding to inner city issues, McNamara said: "There's a lot of people in the community that try to do things. Patrick did more than try, he got up off the couch and went out and did it."

His position with the DA's office with Save Our Streets involved intervention, and at times was quite dangerous, he explained.

"He created what he called the street team. Many of the people had criminal records and understood what it was like to have a record and all the things that come with that. Some of them have even served in federal prison. What they would do its identify troubled youth and go their home and talk to them and try to talk to the parents," McNamara said. "In a lot of the situations, they [teens] had been involved in shootings in the city...It's a very tough job, I wouldn't want to do it."

Difference of Opinion

McNamara said that Johnson, '...enlightened myself and my office about what it's like to be a minority and what it's like to be discriminated against," however, the two would still disagree on issues.

"He used to say to me: 'You don't drink all of my Kool-Aid and I don't drink all of yours.' And, it was true. But we did drink a lot of each other's Kool-Aid," McNamara said laughing.

And, on Johnson's impact in the community, the DA said he was recently asked if he thought Patrick made a difference.

"It reminds me of the story where there's a couple walking down the beach and there had been a storm the night before so there are starfish laying all over the beach. They see a man throwing starfish back into the ocean, and the husband says to the wife: Why's he wasting his time, he'll never be able to throw them all back in....

And, the answer is: He might not be able to save them all, be he's making a real big difference for the ones he's throwing back in," McNamara said, adding the was aware of several people in the community who were headed down the wrong path before Johnson intervention. "They were able to turn things around and today they have good lives, and good jobs."

Meanwhile, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri had directed flags at City Hall be lowered to hall staff this week in Johnson's honor.

On Facebook, Palmieri wrote that Johnson was more than a pillar in the community, calling him a sturdy bridge:

Johnson was 60-years-old.

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