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238: Inky Johnson

From life-altering tragedy to dreaming again, VIP Ignite Experience keynote speaker Inky Johnson shares his story of faith and perseverance to inspire senior living executives and thought leaders to never lose sight of your dreams.


Follow Inky on Instagram: @inkyjohnsonmotivate

Follow Inky on Twitter: @inkyjohnson




Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast. This senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We’re in beautiful downtown Nashville. And we have a very exciting guest. He’s our keynote speaker here at the V.I.P. Ignite Experience Dream Again. He’s a podcaster and author and athlete and an inspirational public figure. Welcome inky Johnson.

Inky Johnson

No man. Thank you guys, man. It’s an extreme honor. Thank you guys for bringing me to Nashville. Nashville is awesome, but just looking forward to it, man. Thank you guys for the opportunity.


Yeah. Yeah. So Tennessee is your home, right? No. Well you live in Atlanta, but Tennessee is home in your heart. 

Inky Johnson 

It’s my second home. I tell people all the time. That’s my second home man, but I love it, man. Tennessee is my spot, but Atlanta of course, born and raised. That’s where family is in Tennessee. That’s my second home. Very near and dear to my heart. For sure.

Lucas 01:35

Yeah. Few people know you here.

Inky Johnson

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely man. I love it. 


Love it. Well our theme this year is Dream Again and Inky is about to really, he’s about to raise the roof on our final keynote here. Inky, can you tell our audience just what Dream Again means to you?

Inky Johnson 

Yeah, it’s interesting because you know, when I look at life, one of the blessings of just adversity and opposition, man, is that when you get hit with certain levels of opposition and adversity, it’s not just what you encounter. It’s almost as if the blow it disturbs the dream, right? The aspirations, the goals, all these things that you aspire to do and you want to do. I always say to people, man, one of the saddest things, one of the tragedies of life is when you see somebody and when they first start something and it’s incredible, pure passion, pure fire. And you’re like, “man, that’s beautiful.” And then you can see ’em a month later. You can see them maybe even a year later. And they look as if they’re totally different person. And you’re like, man, what happened? Like what happened to the person that was dreaming?

Inky Johnson 

What happened to the person that showed up every single day optimistic? What happened to the person that showed up every single day, brought possibilities to the environment? Like what happened to that person? And oftentimes opposition, adversity, challenges, whatever the case may be. Like the ability to get up every single day and dream again, I think is something that’s incredible. I think that’s why I hang around a lot of kids, right? Because it’s just pure passion in terms of their vision and how they see life and the questions that they ask. Sometimes it ignites something in you that you didn’t even know was there. And so I always ask people the question when they’re around younger people, because of that, I always say to them when you encountered that, who was the elder in the moment? Because oftentimes we look at each other when we’re at certain ages, we feel like, “oh man, I’m the elder,” right? If you’re with somebody that’s younger and oftentimes a kid can spark something in you in the midst of a situation or circumstance to where they’re the elder in the moment, because they’re helping you look at situations in life and helping you to dream again and ignite that fire every single day.

Josh Crisp

So Inky, you talked about the blows that are gonna come. Absolutely. And they’re gonna come to everybody. They come to all of us. And it’s not gonna be easy when they come. But one of the things we talked about this week during the Dream Again, experiences like how to futureproof your dream. So from your experience, what can you tell people to help them be kind of mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually kind of prepared and equipped for when those blows come? Like what has gotten you through it? There had to be things in life that prepared you for that.

Inky Johnson

Absolutely. I would often say to people like don’t lose respect for winning. Don’t lose respect for the blessings, right? Because oftentimes if you do something and you’re successful at it, or you do something and you get a couple of good breaks and you do well, or you do something and life just happens, the ball to bounce, your way, things are going great. It’s very easy to lose respect for the blessings and the wins. And what I say to people often is it’s not that you don’t want to win. It’s not that you don’t want to do well and be successful. Everybody wants to when they start something because it’s blood, sweat, tears, everybody wants to, but don’t lose respect for the process. Don’t lose respect for the dedication or commitment, the things that it takes in order to win, in order to get blessed.

Inky Johnson 

And so I think speaking to what you just asked, the question that you posed is these are the things that help us future proof, right? The dedication of commitment, the mindset, the things that you can carry over into every aspect of your life, regardless. It’s like I do work in sports all the time and I tell kids, I’m like, “man, if you think my message is just pertaining to sports, like you missed a boat,” I almost lost my life behind a sport, right. In a moment. And I was at practice the next week. I could no longer play that. Wasn’t about a game. That was about the skills that I had acquired, the way I showed up my approach, my process. That’s something that I could extract and apply to any area and aspect of my life to give me a shot at success, no matter what I’m doing. And so I think that’s when you speak to future proof, I think that’s some of the things that can help you sustain along the way.

Josh 05:49

Man. That’s good stuff. That’s good stuff. So take us back. I mean, I think most of our listeners that are listening to this have probably heard probably a good portion of your story, because it’s all out there. But take us back to the moment that you really kind of came to the realization that football was not a thing for you anymore. Absolutely. What just raw emotions. What, what happened? How long did it take you? Because I think when I’ve heard your story, I almost say like in fast forward, just seeing the highlights. There had to be some point where it was like kind of some low points that it wasn’t like, “oh, Inky’s invincible, he immediately just popped back up and started a new dream.” Like talk to us about that process. What was that like? 

Inky Johnson 06:38

Yea. And it’s funny you say that because that’s what a lot of people think because you can see a video and it looks as if, oh man, the guy just rebounded got back into the process and that wasn’t the case. Like it took a solid two years plus after my injury for me to get to a space in place and always say to people just to capture peace, right? Like I didn’t have a level of peace in my life because I had worked so hard for something and I just lost it in a moment. And so it was so surreal to me that I couldn’t believe it. Like it was hard for me to fathom like, man, I just lost something that I gave everything I had to. And so I remember going to sleep, I would always say to people, “I would go to sleep, six, seven pm, like every single day thinking that man, when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be able to feel my arm again, right?


Inky Johnson 7:27

Because at the time I couldn’t feel my upper torso. I couldn’t feel my left thigh. Like it was certain areas of my body that I just couldn’t feel because I had so much nerve damage. And so I would think I’m gonna go to sleep. I would wake up the next day and I would touch my arm. I would touch my hand and I still couldn’t feel it. And I would go to doctor’s visits and they would, they would try to warn me and kind of land the plane softly, right? But I still didn’t believe it, right. Because the bravado, right. Of a person that man I’ll get through it, like, and you’re working every single day. And I had a day to where I just broke down, right. I was at the indoor, at the University of Tennessee on the turf and I was with Jerod Mayo.

Inky Johnson 08:07

Who’s one of my best friends and he was getting ready to work out. And I was just like, “man, like I think it’s really over.” And I had just left one of my therapy sessions and I just broke down. It was like, I let it all out fried the whole deal. And it was a very liberating moment for me. Right. Because I had been holding on to that for like two years. And so once I let that go, it was like, okay man, let’s move forward. Let’s Dream Again. Let’s find purpose again. And so let’s tap into what we feel we’ve been destined and called to do, but it was tough.

Lucas 08:41

You know, one of the things that we have talked about as an aspect of dreaming and dreaming again, is the power of having a community. [Absolutely.] Being able to speak that dream into community building, right? You can’t, if you have a dream, you can’t do it alone, right? Your dream needs to involve other people. How has that helped you in your success?

Inky Johnson 09:05

Oh, it’s vital. It’s vital. Even from the standpoint of like, I always say, “they save my life Saturday night.” And a lot of people knew like, man, he had got an injury. It’s an injury. They didn’t know the extent of it, but they had to save my life Saturday because ruptured the artery, I was bleeding internally. And when they saved my life, they were giving me all these options. Right. Even more than I speak about like sometimes I don’t even speak about all of the options that they spoke about because it’s so in depth. But a couple of them was, “hey Ink we’ll unroll you, let you go back to Atlanta, be around family. Something traumatic has happening.” All of the things they were saying was 100% correct. And I was like, “no, man, like not going back”. And I went back to practice and people were like, “man, like come back to practice.


Inky Johnson 09:53

Like just go chill.” But for me, I needed to be connected. That was my community at the time. Right. That and my family and I knew I needed more so the environment and the community more than anything, it wasn’t about football. It wasn’t about NFL. I needed to be connected to something that fueled me every single day. I knew just being around these guys, being connected to that community, it was going do something to my spirit and I was going do something to their spirit. And so me getting up outta the hospital and getting back to the football complex, getting back in class, this was my community. These were the people that I was connected to. That fueled me every single day. Even until this day, I’m still connected to somebody and every aspect of my life that I talked to every single week, right. As a husband, I talk to somebody every single week. As a father, I talk to somebody every single week. As a communicator, I talk to somebody every single week almost as if I got community to help me evolve and grow in people that challenge me in people that empower me in every aspect of my life, because I know like I can’t do it alone. Right. Life is tough. Business is challenging. And so you need to be connected to people that you can just sharpen an ax with man. Absolutely. 

Josh Crisp 11:03

Well, and another thing that I have thought is really interesting about your story. I mean, I’m a University of Tennessee football fan, die hard. I watched you as an athlete never would’ve thought obviously at that time, anybody was the most gifted communicator ever. So like the creativity also to transform from physical athlete to gifted communicator, how in the world were you just immediately when you said, “oh, I’m going to speak.” Was that just a natural thing to you? Or did you have to really work to overcome that? Like what prepared you to be able to do all the things you’re doing today?

Inky Johnson 11:45

Oh man. It was so uncomfortable.

Inky Johnson 11:39

Like, because I, I never talked. Right. Really when I played, I was more so lead by example type of guy, like I was never the front runner type of guy that wasn’t, I wasn’t raised like that. I was raised, “hey man, you show up, you handle your business. And if you see something being done, you speak about it and then you go back to work. And so I was never that type of guy, I would say something if I felt like guys were treating certain guys a certain way and then trying to treat walk-ons a certain way, because I felt as if I had put in the work. So when I said something, it was valid and guys would respect it. And so when I got injured, I would just go to places doing community service and people would always come up to me and be like, “man, what happened to your arm?”

Inky Johnson 12:29

Right. Because they can naturally see and I’ll be, oh, this a football injury. Right. And there would always be somebody that would be like, “no, but what happened?” Right. And I’d be like just an injury man. And they would press it. And before long it would turn into an informal Q and A. And people would sit there and they would listen and we would leave and they’d be like, “man, you need to speak.” I’d be like, “nah, I’m definitely not speaking. I don’t wanna do that.” And I kid you not man, everything I tried, it was as if God just closed the door. And I was talking to some people in one of my small groups and one of the guys, man, very successful older gentleman at the time was close to 70 years old, had a bunch of restaurants had done, well finally retired and I’ll never forget in the group.

Inky Johnson 13:12

He said to me, he was like, “man, you’re selfish.” And I was like, “selfish? I was like, “I’m probably most unselfish guy you know.” And he was like, no, I’m not talking about like that. He said, “you think what you went through is just for you.” I was like,” well, I went through it.” He was like, “but no man, the experiences that we encounter, they’re just not for us. Not saying that you gotta go out and you gotta share them with the world. But when you get to a place of peace, it’s somebody that can identify with the adversity and opposition that you faced. Maybe not specifically, it may not be identical, but you share it so you can help your brother or your sister as they navigate throughout life.” And in the moment I resisted it because I was like, “ah man, whatever.” But that night when I got back to my room, I was like, man,  he had a good point.

Inky Johnson 13:57

Like he was right. And so I got to a point, man, I prayed and I submitted and I was like, “God, I, I feel like this is it.” And it’s like, when you speak about future proof, I took the same approach that I took to ball and I took that same approach to what I’m doing now in terms of studying in terms of trying to develop in terms of trying to grow. And I just applied it to my career because I want to be as effective as possible. Always say that every time I go in a room, I want to be effective. And so how can I be effective? I have to learn and I have to know what I’m doing.

Josh Crisp 14:29

Wow, absolutely inky you’re pretty outspoken about your faith. Prior to your life radically changing course, did you grow up with a family of strong faith or was there a moment during that transition that faith got you through that? Like how did that play into what you have become what you’re doing today? How did that get you through it? Or was faith something new to you after your injury?

Inky Johnson 15:00

Yeah, I, I would say I was like any other kid, man, like growing up and my mother and my grandmother, I feel fortunate because I got to see both ends of the spectrum. I grew up in a household mother and grandmother, you know, crazy about church, being the church every time the door is open.  But I had a bunch of uncles and some aunts because I grew up two bedroom house, 14 people. And so they wasn’t really on that. Right. And so I, so I got to see both sides, right. I got to see a mother and a grandmother that went, then I got to see uncles. That was, “ah, man, I go on Easter,” you know what I’m saying? I’ll be there on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t that they were bad people. They just wasn’t really on that. And so as kids, they would pull us to church, but it was just, we would be there joking around,

Inky Johnson 15:45

and it wasn’t really that deep. And when I got to college, you have your FCAs, you have your Athletes in Action. And we had a chaplain by the name of James Mitchell. He’s here actually in Nashville, he works with the Tennessee Titans now. And he came up to me one day after scrimmage and was like, “Hey, I want to disciple you spiritually.” And I was like, “man, what is that? That sounds hard.” I had never heard of discipleship. And he was like, I just want to walk with you the same way you study ball. I want to help you jump in the word, create a greater relationship with God. And I was like,” all right, man, give me a few days. Let me go talk to my roommates. So I gives them accountability.” And I went to them, talked to them asked them what they’d be willing to do it. And they were like, “yes.” And we went on this journey together if just spiritual discipleship. But prior to college, I was a guy that was kind of luke warm on the fence, off the fence. And when I met Mitch, like it changed my life, you know, just his dedication and commitment and I’m forever grateful for him.

Inky Johnson 16:44

Wow. Well, Lucas, you know, the theme of this story is it sounded like you had an amazing community that had formed around you. Maybe. Absolutely intentionally, maybe unintentionally, but you, everything from your buddy Jerod Mayo [absolutely.] In that experience to the chaplain that breathe life into you. It’s interesting how those life relationships, sometimes you don’t even know why they’re forming around you, but at some point in your life, you’re gonna have to dig in and draw from that community. Man, I can’t wait for it. This morning, we’ve got a bunch of dreamers that are about to be able to hear a great word from you, Man, Lucas, what do you think about this?


It’s so exciting. I cannot wait for the attendees here at dream again, to get to hear Inky. Thanks for spending time with us on this couch this morning. And we cannot wait to hear you speak. Thank you so much Inky.

Inky Johnson 

No man. Thank you guys. It was an honor, man. I can’t wait. Thank you. Appreciate it fellas. 


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238: Inky Johnson