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Celebrating Black History Month: Johnny Payton

What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important that we still celebrate it?
For me, Black History Month is about pride – pride in where we came from and where we’re going. It’s great for everyone to know something about everybody else’s culture because different cultures are what make the world what it is. It’s also a great opportunity for people of color to see other people of color thriving and being celebrated. It gives them something they can strive for or relate to.

Who are some of the notable figures in black history that inspire you?
There are many, but Martin Luther King Jr. is the one who inspires me the most. Being a young black man growing up and seeing him put his life on the line for everyone to have a better life was very inspiring. John F. Kennedy was a great figure, too. I admire that he tried to unify everyone, working hand in hand with Martin Luther King Jr. to bring about peace and change.

My parents were also an inspiration for me. Both of my folks are from Mississippi, and they grew up there during a tough time. They saw some horrible things, but they always taught me and my siblings to treat people the way we want to be treated.

How do you strive to instill those inspiring ideas within Compass Group and in your community?
By treating everyone the same. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That is something that I live by. I’m always trying to treat people right, and I’m always trying to make sure everyone has a fair shot.

I work with a great group of people from different backgrounds and I treat everyone the same. I make sure they know they’re cared about, because no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. I always try to bring the sunshine, whether it’s a rainy day or not. I do my best to lift people.

How are you encouraging the next generation to create a more diverse and inclusive world?
My parents did a great job of integrating us with other nationalities and not just keeping us in the small community we lived in. My mom and dad did a great job of taking us to other places and encouraging us to interact with others at a very young age. That really helped me.

Now I have five kids, five grandkids, one great grandkid and one granddaughter due any day. One of the things I try to do is take my kids and grandkids to different places like my parents took me. I want to show them different things, different cultures, different ways that people live. Introducing kids to other cultures and ways of life is a great way to teach them to have respect for others.

What’s one thing that’s made you most proud to work at Compass Group and why?
I love working with people. There is real gratification in seeing students and staff members benefit from the service that we provide. It’s just a great thing to serve people. But this moment – being asked to represent Black History Month – is something that’s very dear to me. I was very honored. Compass Group is a huge company, and sometimes in huge companies, people can get lost in the numbers. I think it is encouraging for all employees to see that we all matter.

What kind of a mark do you want to leave on Compass Group?
Everyone really just wants someone to love and care about them, and that’s what I try to do with my team every day when I come to work. I want people to be able to say that Johnny was the best co-worker … he cared about us and he made sure we were encouraged and supported.

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