When she was 11, LaQuella Johnson saw a movie showing white birds being released and thought she could do that.
It turns out she was right.
Johnson, a sophomore at McKinley Senior High School, has run a business for the past 4½ years, Glory Birds, that provides bird releases for special occasions. She keeps about 200 homing pigeons in pens at and near her Scotlandville house and said she brings some to events almost every weekend.
“I think it’s very unique,” she said. “I like unique things.”
If Johnson and her business are not unique, they are remarkable.
Her parents, Pharoah and Yolanda Johnson, have encouraged their children to love animals and think differently. At their home and on property they own in the next block, they have fish, rabbits, quail and guinea pigs. They’ve also taught their children how to preserve and make jelly from fruit they grow and to make pickles from cucumbers.
“I don’t let them fall too far from what the reality of life is,” Pharoah Johnson said. “They’re not into video games. It’s the real world.”
So, when his daughter suggested this business, Pharoah Johnson didn’t automatically say no. They researched it online and decided it was feasible. They built a roost in the front yard, equipped it with doors that pigeons could enter but not exit, bought 26 homing pigeons and started Glory Birds.
When LaQuella gets home from school in the afternoon, she trains birds. The training includes placing the birds in cages on the roof of the house so they can look around and identify this as their home. The birds also are taught to use the doors to the roosting area, and are released from progressively greater distances so they get accustomed to flying there. When released at an event, the birds fly home rather than return to their handlers on site.
It’s a sight the neighbors enjoy, she said.
“They are amazed when we let them out,” she said. “When you have a group of them and let them out and they flock together, they’re just so beautiful. We have a lot of people that stop at the corner and just look.”
LaQuella Johnson decorates the baskets or cages that hold the birds used at events. Most events are in the Baton Rouge area — the longer the trip, the greater the danger from predators — but Glory Birds served one event almost 90 miles away in Mississippi.
“They beat us home by 10 minutes,” Pharoah Johnson said.
LaQuella Johnson uses the profits to pay for school expenses. It also provides intangible payoffs, she said.
“It’s a bad neighborhood, and a lot of children come up and say, ‘Why do you have this?’” she said. “I like to see their reaction and inspire them to do better. Even though we live in this type of community, we can do better for ourselves. Seeing the reaction of those faces when they’re being released, it makes me feel good inside, like I did a good deed.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that other people aren’t doing. Like this business is something that other people aren’t doing. My mindset is always go farther than what other people are going. Make a difference. Show that it’s OK for you to do something different.”