West Philadelphia teen memorialized by Souls Shot Portrait Project

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Friday, December 30, 2022
West Philadelphia teen memorialized by Souls Shot Portrait Project
Kaylin "KJ" Johnson is one among many gun violence victims illustrated in this traveling exhibition.

PENN VALLEY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "July 21 2021, I lost my best friend, my everything," said Emily Johnson. "And he wasn't just a number. His name is Kaylin Johnson. He was 16 years old. And if you knew KJ, you loved KJ."

Kaylin loved to play every sport he could get his hands on. Tragically, he was shot and murdered in a vehicle while on his way to play basketball with friends. Emily said he was on the phone with her just five minutes prior to the incident.

"He never left you without saying, 'I love you'," she said.

Emily turned her grief into motivation to help others and created the Kaylin Johnson Foundation in her son's honor. And while she was hosting events, fundraisers, and speaking at schools, her family was thinking of a way to honor her.

That's when her son's name was sent into the Souls Shot Portrait Project, which pairs up artists with the families of victims to create illustrations for a traveling exhibition.

Emily was paired with Cathleen Cohen, a member of Congregation Beth Am Israel, which is currently hosting a Souls Shot gallery until January 31, 2023.

"To paint someone's portrait is a really holy thing," said Cohen. "So, talking with them really helped, not just looking at the images, but also hearing the words."

Emily was filled with emotion to meet Cohen for the first time in-person today and see her son's portrait up close.

"To walk in here and actually see him hanging on a wall behind me was another breathtaking moment," she said.

Kaylin always wanted to be a big brother, so much that Emily thinks divine intervention was at play when she discovered she was pregnant earlier this year. She is already four days past her due date, so Ryder Koi Johnson is expected to arrive any minute now.

"2023 is going to be a big year, especially for the Kaylin Johnson Foundation," she said. "We're going to do a lot for as many kids as possible because that's what he wants."

To learn more about the Kaylin Johnson Foundation or the Souls Shot Portrait Project, visit their websites.

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