CORY NOT PROMISED.  On a dark night in Boston, Cory and Justin were shot outside their father’s house. Justin lived, Cory died.  Cory’s mother reveals what’s left behind.

2016.  9 Minutes.

Cory Johnson & Justin Fernandez - Cory Not Promised film


Cory Johnson and his half-brother Justin were talking around midnight outside their father’s house in Boston in 2010.  Cory, 27, the father of two, had no reason to think he was in danger. Shots came out of the darkness, the shooter unknown.  Cory dragged himself to a neighbor’s door and died there.  Justin managed to get to the hospital and lived.

Cory’s mother Debra measures her life by that night.  Before was worry, after is grief that doesn’t end.  Letting go of pain might mean letting go of Cory.  Reconciling that is her life struggle, like many survivors of violence.

The Johnsons live in Roxbury, a largely Black and Latino neighborhood in Boston, a city ranked worst in America in income inequality.  Cory had been an honors student, and had no involvement in guns, gangs or violence until he became a victim.  Debra finds it insulting that she has to explain that when she tells his story, as though he might somehow be responsible for his own death.

Cory Not Promised was developed at the Roxbury Presbyterian Church’s Social Impact Center which helps people in the community recover from trauma.  Filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan have done film work in Roxbury going back decades. Pastor Liz Walker introduced them to Debra and dancer Wyatt Jackson. The film is the collaboration that resulted.

Cory Not Promised is about loss and solace, injustice, and the randomness of fate.  Gun violence is a community trauma and a deeply personal one. Recovery is incremental and accompanied by moments of revelation.

Debra Johnson


We began Cory Not Promised in response to relentless gun violence in our town.  Shootings are either headlines or buried in the Metro section, depending on the neighborhood where they happen and what else is going on that day.  The news moves on, but the people don’t.

One night a month, the Roxbury Presbyterian Church holds “Can We Talk?” – an evening for people who have experienced trauma to share their feelings.  It’s not religious, anyone can speak — or not.  Musicians and dancers perform in the moments in between.  Debra Johnson often reads a poem or reports on her progress trying to get through something she knows she’ll never get over.

We think that solving problems of the city depends on empathy. Political solutions are embedded in personal experiences, and vice versa.  Debra says that taking part in this project has allowed her to confront things she had walled off, and brought her farther along toward recovery.  An unexpected testament to what film can do.

Wyatt Jackson


The film is produced, directed, filmed and edited by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, an Oscar-nominated team whose work The Boston Globe calls “filmmaking at its finest.” For more on their work click here.

Debra Johnson was born in Trinidad and has lived in Boston since she was 12. She worked for the power company in Boston as a Field Service Representative.  She’s the center of a large extended family including children, grandchildren and sisters.  She’s proud of the Cory Johnson Program for Post-Traumatic Healing at the Roxbury Presbyterian Church.

Wyatt Jackson is an Emmy and Peabody Award winning artist who has been inspiring others through the art of dance for nearly two decades.  He has danced in productions such as the Tony nominated  Black and Blue and Body and Soul, and has taught contemporary dance at Boston Conservatory, Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival and many other institutions.

Composer Sheldon Mirowitz has scored many films for Ascher and Jordan, and created the scores for more than 50 film and TV projects, receiving three Emmy nominations. Films include the Peabody Award winning mini-series “Odyssey of Life” and the comedy “Outside Providence.”  Along with composing and performing, Sheldon is a professor of film scoring at Berklee College of Music.

Deme5 (Ricardo Gomez) created Roxbury Love, the vibrant mural of Nelson Mandela that was a neighborhood icon for many years.  He’s an artist, designer and muralist who works in many formats and media.  Click here for more on his work.



Cory Not Promised poster