By Bill Moor, Columnist | South Bend Tribune
Feb 9, 2020
Dion Payne-Miller, a junior at South Bend Adams, once prayed to God that he would never be bored in his life.
Boy, was his prayer answered.
Besides working a couple of part-time jobs and holding a 3.7 grade point average, Dion is co-president of BROTHERS (Brothers Reaching Out To Help Evoke Respect in Society) at Adams, is a youth board member of the Faith in Indiana group and has created his own leadership study by shadowing Adams basketball coach Chad Johnston.
And he’s a pretty fair table tennis player, too. How good? “I don’t think anyone in South Bend (but his legendary coach, Dan Seemiller) is better than me,” he says.
No brag. Just fact. Dion is mainly a modest young man whose accomplishments have to be coaxed out of him.
“Dion is a special student,” says Mark Geissler, the social worker at Adams and sponsor of BROTHERS. “He is a natural leader, who doesn’t demand the respect of his peers, but receives it because he possesses a rare combination of confidence and humility.
“He possesses a maturity beyond his years, due in part, to the obstacles he has faced.”
“Yeah, I guess you can say I come from a family that has had its share of problems,” Dion says. “My mother had me when she was 15 and I was raised by my grandmother, Angelette Johnson.”
Although he stays in touch with his parents, who both have had their own serious struggles in life, he has chosen to move in with a family he knew through their son, a boyhood friend of Dion’s.
“Because I have come from a broken background, I am determined to help others with their brokenness,” he adds. “I know my own role models and mentors have shaped me into who I am today.”
That started when Margie Davis, a nurse who knew his grandmother, took Dion and his younger brother Dionta under her wing. “She took us to places we never had experienced before,” he says. “We would do activities like horseback riding and Zumba and dog fostering.”
She also took them to the South Bend Table Tennis Center. Both Dion and Dionta fell in love with the game and played for three and a half hours that first time. Dion now gives lessons while also training three times a week. Just recently, he beat his coach, Dan Seemiller, once the top-ranked player in the country.
He also works a couple times a week after school for clinical psychologist John Petersen, doing odds jobs around the office. He thinks he might want to be a psychologist … if not a pastor … or a coach … or the President of the United States.
It was his own idea to shadow Chad Johnston. “I thought it would be a good way to learn about leadership and how to motivate people and how to handle a difficult situation,” he says.
“Dion always has great questions for me and he’s very refreshing to talk to,” Johnston says. “My wife calls him The Mayor because he has this great way of engaging people. He’ll come to a couple of practices a week (and most games) and the players look for him because of his leadership and inspirational skills.”
As far as his own basketball, Dion quit as a freshman and was cut as a sophomore. “So I already knew most of the guys on the team,” he says. “But a couple wondered what my motivation was, especially with me sitting on the bench at games. One even called me a punk. I had to win a few of the players over.”
He did. And now he will often give a team prayer on even an off-the-cuff speech before a game.
Dion’s faith is very important to him. That’s why he wants to continue to be active in Faith in Indiana, composed of people who work for economic and racial justice. Dion is not afraid to address an audience on his feelings or use social media to post words of encouragement.
Yeah, he has a time for a girlfriend named Tiana. “One of the reasons we hit it off is because she doesn’t look at me as some holy roller or a goody-goody,” Dion laughs.
After high school, his first thought is to attend a historically black college like Morehouse College or Howard University. “I understand and respect the history and traditions of those schools,” he says.
Then who knows where his life might lead.
“I eagerly anticipate an exceptional future for Dion,” Mark Geissler says.
“He’ll do great things beyond South Bend,” Chad Johnston adds.
And Dion’s thoughts on what’s to come? He grins before saying, “I like to think you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Contact Bill at email@example.com.