Dr. Jeffery M. Johnson

Our Spotlight for the month of May 2013 is Dr. Jeffery M. Johnson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Partnership for Community Leadership (NPCL), which is a nonprofit intermediary organization located in Washington, DC. The National Partnership for Community Leadership’s mission is “to improve the governance and administration of nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations [especially those organizations that place emphasis on working with men and fathers] and strengthen community leadership through family and neighborhood empowerment.” We will talk with Dr. Johnson about NPCL’s programs and the resources it has to accomplish its mission. (Click on photos to enlarge them)

Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson: Good morning to your visitors.

Destiny – Pride: Thank you so much for agreeing to be our May 2013 Spotlight. We understand that you will be traveling later on today and truly do appreciate your fitting us into your schedule this morning.

Now, despite all of the work that is being done in our neighborhoods and communities to strengthen and empower youth and families, there remains so much work to be done, but before we get into that discussion, let’s give our visitors an opportunity to learn about you and your life’s journey; so please begin by sharing with us where and to whom were you born, and then tell us a little about your childhood years.

Dr. Johnson: Okay. I was born in a town that was built up around World War II; it’s about 35 miles outside of Detroit, called Ypsilanti, Michigan. That’s where you have Eastern Michigan University, but also you have the former bomber plants that were used to make tanks and airplanes and everything else during World War II. That’s how my family migrated from the south. My dad’s from Tuscaloosa, Alabama; my mother’s from a place called Cataula, Georgia, which is right outside of Columbus, Georgia, during the 40’s. One of my uncles on my father’s side came up to Detroit first, and let them know that there were jobs up there. My dad came up in 1941 and then he sent for his dad and his brothers. Now there’s a clan of Johnsons and Tucsons – which is my father’s maternal mother’s name – who take up neighborhood areas in the Detroit area. My father was a Baptist preacher.

Dr. Jeffery M. Johnson, President and CEO of the National Partnership for Community Leadership (NPCL), has been on the forefront of advocating for the inclusion of fathers (especially those with minimal to no income) in federally funded programs geared towards strengthening families. His numerous years of research have shown that a positive father / child connection is critical in alleviating many of the social ills that plague our society

Destiny – Pride: What is his name?

Dr. Johnson: His name is Reverend James Edward Johnson. He founded the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Detroit. One of his cousins is pastor of that church now. My father died in 1964. He left 10 children behind, so I’m one of 10 children, including 8 boys. One of my brothers is deceased. I am the middle child, so partnership and collaboration is something that I grew up with in the house. But to say the very least, we were a family where my father and mother were together.

Destiny – Pride: What is your mother’s name?

Dr. Johnson: My mother’s name is Pearline Johnson. She’s still living; she’s 88, and she’s still parenting. She’s a quadruple grandmother, and she’s still parenting. She also still calls me “baby,” so you know I call her often.

What I learned when my mother and father were together was how well off we were, in the sense of having both parents there, but also in terms of the neighborhoods we were living in. They both were working and even if you had a lot of kids, if you could take care of your kids, you were well off. That was my father’s motto: “I will have as many kids as I can take care of.” That’s a powerful point when you think about it. So we were doing very well.

When my father died, it was a decline, because one income was taken from the home, but also that supervision that you get with both parents being there was lacking. I say all of that to say that, in my story I graduated from high school with a heart for basketball, but with a 1.5 average.

Destiny – Pride: No you didn’t!

Dr. Johnson: Yes I did! And my father, when I thought about him later on in my life, was the type who would say “I want you to do well in school,” and he actually awarded us with money. Not a lot of money; although 50¢, back in the 1960s, was a lot of money. He kept me encouraged. He’d make sure you played baseball or basketball because his whole strategy was to put enough stuff in front of you and, if you ended up doing any of those things, at least you had exposure to it. When my dad died, it was pretty much my mom and us siblings hanging together. And I just kind of floated around, trying to find myself.

When I graduated from high school with the grade point average I had, I was a pretty good basketball player at the time, and I wanted to go to somebody’s school just to continue that. So I went to one of my school counselors, and asked for her assistance in getting me into somebody’s school so I could just better my life. It had started coming together for me that life was more than just floating around. But do you know what she said to me? She told me that I wasn’t college material. She said, “You’re not college material.” She said, “Just like your father and your grandfather, you were raised to work in the factories,” and she encouraged me to do that if I wanted to succeed at anything. But, you know, I didn’t take that and with great humility I enrolled in a community college – Washtenaw Community College – which is right outside of Detroit . . .

Destiny – Pride: Well, we’re going to get to that.

Dr. Johnson: Okay, but here’s the point I want to make. The point I want to make is that the significance of that in my background – and it is significant, I think – is for others to know that you have those things inside of you. What you’ve got to do is get them out. What I was able to do was enroll in Washtenaw for one year; I brought my grade average up from a 1.5 to a 3.5; I transferred to the University of Michigan; and I graduated seven years out of high school with a Ph.D. and an “A” average. I think that the importance there is that God purposes your life and you have all the knowledge, skills and ability that you need. They have to be honed and harnessed, but they’re there. If you want it and you go after it, I know that you can succeed at anything that you put your mind to.

Destiny – Pride: Are you married and are there any children?

Dr. Johnson: Yes, I’m married [Ernestine Johnson], and I’ve been married for 35 years. I have a son who’s 33; a graduate from Morehouse College.

Destiny – Pride: What’s his name?

Dr. Johnson: His name is Jeffery Johnson, Jr. And I have a daughter who is 27, a graduate from Michigan State University. My son is in the Atlanta area; my daughter is here in the DC area.

Destiny – Pride: What’s your daughter’s name?

Dr. Johnson: Her name is Jasmin.

Destiny – Pride: Are there any higher educational achievements that you would like to mention? You’ve already talked about the circuitous route that you took. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Dr. Johnson: Once I got turned on to education, it was interesting, because I was still following my basketball career. When I went to the University of Michigan, I actually made the junior varsity team. Because I was a walk-on, I had to work hardest in the workouts. I had to run faster than everybody. I had to be the “go-for” on everything. Even with all of that hard work, I still wouldn’t get any playing time, because there were guys up there on scholarships. Junior varsity was a step to varsity, and some of the guys who came in as freshmen would be put on junior varsity to give them playing time. I was a sophomore when I went to Michigan, so I began to read the tea lives and I said, “If I go the basketball route, I’m not going to be a pro,” because you’ve got to have playing time in. But I said that I can be a pro at something.

Dr. Johnson points to one of numerous awards NPCL has received in recognition of its efforts to advocate for the need of both parents–but especially fathers–to be involved in the lives of their children

So, actually going to practice one day, I turned around and never looked back at basketball as a career. I chose instead to be a professional in education. I have a Bachelor’s Degree. I’m a former African American Studies teacher at the high school level. I also have a Master’s Degree in Education, Administration Supervision to be a school principal. I have a Ph.D. in Urban Education, which prepared me to be a school superintendent. I had a great mentor – a professor. His name was Dr. Leonard Sain, the first black full Professor of Education at the University of Michigan. I guess I was his protégé because he instilled a lot in me and also told me that a lot of things happen for children more so “outside” of education than in the walls of education themselves. As I pursued being a school superintendent, he also let me know that if I decided to use my background for some other area to help youth and children, that was perfectly fine because what I would see is that there was so much I could do as a school superintendent.

But as I ended up being a nonprofit executive, I work in partnership with schools, aimed at the same thing; that is trying to help young people reach their highest human potential. What I landed on as a specialty area was working with the parents – particularly the dads – as a contribution to the growth and development of children. If we can stabilize the involvement of men and fathers in the lives of children, a lot of these problems that we have – I don’t care if it’s crime, runaways, juvenile delinquency, whatever the case may be – studies show that when you have the active engagement of a loving and nurturing father, that those problems are either not there at all, or they’re minimized. So that’s been my passion for the last 25 years.

Destiny – Pride: Just in this brief encounter with you, I’ve felt your passion. Now for this next question. What faith are you, and how does that factor into your life’s choices?

Dr. Johnson: I’m a Christian. I do have great respect and adoration for all faith traditions. My father was a Baptist preacher and I guess he sowed the seed. One of the things that I realized early on in my career was how important it was to have a spiritual foundation. With a solid spiritual foundation, first of all, you’re never alone; and you’re taught as an Administrator that you’re going to have lonely days. But what I taught in Administration – I was a college professor for 15 years – is that you don’t have to be alone. You can have a belief in something – and I’m not saying what – that gives you an anchor that allows you to lean and to go through things in such a way that keeps you stable, as opposed to going off on the deep end. For me, love of Christ and having God in my life is my anchor. My life is not perfect, but I know that there’s a spirit that guides my thoughts and actions. Life is full of tests, and to go through a test, since we have free-will choice, you make mistakes. But with a solid spiritual foundation, you realize that you can recover – and recover safely – and continue to move on to the next part of your journey.

Right now I attend The Peoples’ Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. For the last 8 years I’ve also been president of the Men’s Ministry. It’s interesting. I did a lot of volunteer work in the DC area for over 30 years. I was head of the DC United Way for many years; I was the head of the United Way for the whole Capitol area for a number of years; I started a lot of projects there. When I got involved with the United Way, it was when the then Mayor, Marion Barry, was just establishing his Mayor’ Leadership Institute. A lot of those Mayor’s Leadership Institute students or trainees are folks that I grew up with in DC: Norm Nixon, Henry Yews. I met the late Earnest White along the way. If you know those folks, then you know that they are part of the fabric of what DC is. We were all growing up together because I had moved from Detroit to here and they were just starting out in their careers.

What has been the steady force for me throughout my life has been a strong belief in God. Because of that I realize that if He is for you, there is little or nothing that can be against you. I start each day with prayers of thanksgiving and to be the person that God has asked me to be that day. But what I’ve learned – and I think that I shared this with you earlier – is that when God has purposed and anointed your life, I don’t care what “you” think, He’s still going to use you, warts and all! If there is any message out there to folks who are a part of any faith tradition, it is that your life is purposed, and if it’s purposed, you’re going to have highs and lows. But if you remain focused in on what you believe your purpose is, you will accomplish that purpose.

Destiny – Pride: You mentioned that you were the president of the Men’s Ministry. Is that at your church?

Dr. Johnson: Yes.

Destiny – Pride: Identify persons in your life who have influenced you to be the person you are today?

Dr. Johnson: For as long as I’ve been married, I’d say that my wife has had an influence over me, appropriately so, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that. I think the single greatest influence in my life, in the human being context, has been my father. Even though I only knew my father for 12 years, the memory of him is what drives me today. That’s why I believe that every child deserves the chance to have a father in his or her life, because of the father I had, and then lost to cancer back in the mid-60s. So without a doubt, my father encouraged me to be the person who he thought I could be, so he would be number one.

Another has been my mom because my mom had 10 children and she prides herself on the fact that she never stood in the welfare line. What I grew up to understand is that, even though we weren’t on welfare, it didn’t mean that we didn’t “qualify”; but it was just her generation, and she never did it. She worked hard and she raised all of us to be decent human beings. I talk to her as often as I can, even right now.

I think the other person was Dr. Leonard Sain. Dr. Leonard Sain, as I mentioned before, was an Associate School Superintendent in Detroit. He was the first black full Professor of Education at the University of Michigan. He established an equal opportunity program at the University of Michigan prior to the Black Action Movement, so he was right there in the thick of things. He took me on as an understudy, and as I got to know him well – his name was Leonard “Sain,” but they used to call him Dr. Leonard “Insane” because whenever there was a difficult school to run, they would send him there. Even in Detroit in ’67, they had the riots in Central, Detroit, so they put him over at Central High School to stabilize that situation. He would take on those assignments. When he taught you about being a leader and he talked to you about what it took to manage situations, it really impacted who you were as a person.

I remember one time he was talking about why you shouldn’t threaten people, as part of your overall philosophy of leading and managing. He said it didn’t get you anywhere. He had a prosthetic leg, and what he would do is actually get up in a chair and look down at you in the class and say, “How does that feel?” He impressed upon us, in that image, what threats felt like. He wanted to make “you” feel uncomfortable because he wanted you to know how people felt when you did that to them. He said you didn’t have to do that; there are other ways to get someone to do something. He taught me things like “the higher you climb, the more you insure your rear end.” He would always have these metaphors, but I’m proud to have known him.

There’s an award named by the Black Alumni of the University of Michigan called the Leonard F. Sain Award, and I’m proud to say that I was his last Ph.D. He died two years into my study, but before he left, he helped me to lay my foundation. He was a participant in my dissertation. The way in which he really connected me with all of his colleagues and friends is that when he passed on, it was just no way that they were going to let me fall through the cracks.

It was interesting, when I went to his funeral . . .

Destiny – Pride: What year was that?

Dr. Johnson: It was in 1976. I went to Dr. Sain’s funeral. He was a well-respected man, so all of these dignitaries from all over the state and all over the University’s system were there. They were giving remarks about Dr. Leonard Sain. I was not scheduled on the program, but one of his students – a colleague and friend of mine – got up before the service ended and said, “We can’t leave out of this funeral because what this man was about has not been shared yet.” Unbeknownst to me amongst the student body, they all saw me as the “second coming” of Dr. Sain. She then said, “Jeff used to tell us about Dr. Sain,” and they all rallied behind whatever I would say about him because everybody loved him so much!

Mentorship training is one of many programs offered by NPCL. Numerous other training programs are offered at its Master Training Institute to prepare nonprofit organizations and individuals to work with men and fathers to help them understand the vital role they play in the lives of children

After she did that, something came over me where I went up to the front of the funeral home where it was being held, and I spoke and shared with his widow and children what he had done in my life and how I was going to carry on that spirit for as long as I lived. What that turned out to be is my walk of success. I had never been in front of that type of audience before. I didn’t know if I had the ability even to communicate the way I communicated. All I can say to you is that, just like when I made that turnaround from basketball to becoming a professional educator, being able to close out Dr. Sain’s life and sharing those words at his funeral, turned out to be my walk of success because I don’t think that there is any place I can’t go. I understand the difference between “payroll” English and “black” English, so I can go anywhere. And I think it’s premised on those folks who have loved me and guided me, and planted seeds so that I could live my life trying to make those things happen that they wanted to happen in my life.

Destiny – Pride: Give us a brief history of Dr. Jeffrey M. Johnson before coming to NPCL.

Dr. Johnson: It’s interesting, and I’m glad you’ve asked that. I had held various positions in Detroit before I moved here. I was a manager of a big project at General Motors right before I moved here. In fact, the reason why I moved here was to try to replicate that project I was doing at GM all over the country, with a nonprofit here in town called Work Attitudes, Values and Education, Inc. I was the Vice President of Program Development and Marketing there for a number of years.

I left there and went into business for myself. I set up a firm called Management Plus; I had an office here and was able to do pretty well in terms of getting contracts. As a matter of fact, it was through Management Plus that I was asked to set up this nonprofit, back in 1995, by the Ford Foundation. So I gave up Management Plus and they asked me to set up this nonprofit organization to set up a nationwide demonstration project on learning more about who absent fathers were in low-income communities. That was such a big undertaking that I left Management Plus and was asked to set up, along with my Board, the National Partnership for Community Leadership.

In our great resource period, with this work with the Ford Foundation and several other foundations, NPCL had offices in New York, Washington, DC and San Francisco – all requirements of the grants that we received. But anyone who’s been working in the nonprofit community for a long time knows that you get those grants, but those grants don’t stay around. That really tests your metal in terms of what your commitment is towards the cause that you represent.

What I’ve learned from the highs and lows, even of the National Partnership for Community Leadership, is this: It’s easier to “attain” than it is to “sustain.” What you’ve got to do is find a sustainability method for your cause that survives good times and bad. I think we’ve found that niche, and those things that we created during those really heavy resource periods, we’ve been able to sustain, like our International Fatherhood Conference. We have the longest running Fatherhood Conference in the United States. It’s going to be in Orlando, Florida this year. We spend a lot of time there. We also wrote curriculums for working with men and fathers. Those curriculums – one is called “Fatherhood Development”; the other is called “Building Strong Families” – generates the resources that we need to sustain ourselves beyond the government and private grants.

I also have lectured very heavily on the topic of black males. I wrote a book back in 1998 called “The Endangered Black Male; the New Bald Eagle.”  It was really written out of the concern of what was happening to the DC area youth because during the mid to late 1980’s is when the crack epidemic came. The crack epidemic came to DC before the gangs came. The gangs almost came out of nowhere, but if you understand that whole area, they’re not mutually exclusive. The drugs were being bought from gangs out in LA when they came from Colombia. The book was really to bring illumination on the issue and the plight of black males. This was also during the time of colleagues of mine like brothers Jawanza Kunjufu and Na’im Akbar. At that time I was working and speaking out against violence in the city along with brother Alim Muhammad, who was the Minister of Health of the Nation of Islam; the Dope Busters; and Dr. Reed Tuckson, who was the DC Health Commissioner at the time. We all were in the fight together to try to stave off the real predicament of the high murder rates and the violence that was going on in neighborhoods across DC.

My book was written out of that period. It drew a lot of attention. I was a part of almost every committee in DC. Former DC Councilmember Frank Smith set up the first Commission on African American Men. That was followed up with by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. I served on the Youth Development Task Force for former Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon at the time. All of these were things that stemmed from my work with black males. We set up a program at Malcolm X Elementary School, with WDCU. The late Ernest White was a talk show host at the time of “Cross Talk.” Back during that time the popular thing was to adopt some type of effort to work with young people, so we set that program up over there. We went through a lot of challenges there. After the first 6 months, one of our admittees was killed, and subsequent family members were killed. But we stayed with it for as long as we could. It was a voluntary effort, with no funding and we tried to do the right thing.

So that’s a little bit about me and how I got to where I am. I think that one of the things that really has grounded me is that I’m a practitioner, too, and I think that comes from my educational background, having been a teacher. I’m the type that just doesn’t want to talk about it, I actually want to put my hands on it. I understand it also from the administrative point of view. I’ve had to oversee a lot of enterprises and I’ve not always had the opportunity to be directly engaged. But whenever I’ve had an opportunity, I’d put myself in there.

One of the things we do here right now is what we call our “Master Trainer Institute.” In that Master Trainer Institute is where I train community leaders in what I know about working with men and fathers and working with young people. They actually pay a tuition and spend time with me over a period of time. I have been truly blessed. I’ve learned a lot, and that needs to be shared. Also, as a nonprofit, you’ve got to think about ways of generating income to sustain yourself, and I was pleasantly surprised, when we set up the Master Trainee Institute in 2007, that it was going to be as successful as it is.

We have over 400 Master Trainers from around the country doing the work that we do here at NPCL. They are a proud group. They have to come back every 3 years, or attend one of our conferences to renew their license – they get a license and everything. So I’m very happy and proud of that. Again, everything we do here is in an effort to create the environmental conditions where young people can grow and develop to be their highest human potential because the future is in our youth. I don’t care what position it is that they take on in life, the future starts with coming from a home where parents love and nurture them, whether the mother and father are married or not. Seven out of 10 black youth are born outside of wedlock, which almost is another way of saying that in about 5 years from the child’s birth, the father is not going to be there, or it’s going to be a “different” daddy.

Those are just cultural things that are happening in our society right now, but what we try to do is to let parents know that they are the first line of defense and that children have a right to have two loving and nurturing parents. And then what we say is that the community has to operate as that “village”; that community of care, making sure, when it comes to young people, that we cooperate and partner in a seamless way. That we work in what I call a “coopetition” way – that you can compete and collaborate at the same time, trying to make a community function at the highest level possible, but also trying to minimize the bureaucracies and other things that average citizens will have to sort through to get health care, housing and all of those things. So I’m really committed to making people’s progress and transitions in life as seamless as possible. I grew up always knowing that every generation is judged for what it does and doesn’t do, but also that it’s important to make the present brighter and better than it even was for me because that’s the “stepping stone” process. Every generation should do that, so I’m tied into that; I’m glued to that and that’s definitely what we are trying to do here.

Destiny – Pride: Now tell us about the National Partnership for Community Leadership – what it does, and why it does what it does. You did mention some of the things, but could you give us a broader snapshot.

Dr. Johnson: Well, I’ve got this illustration, and I know your visitors can’t see it, but one of the things that we try to do is to influence public policy. When you think about families – and particularly low-income families and low-income families of color – it’s important to understand the history of how the government has interfaced with our families. Back in 1935 is when our Social Security Program was expanded to include Aid to Dependent Children and the focus of Aid to Dependent Children was on widows who had children who, if the widows were not supported, would end up in orphanages.

That’s very important because we understand the issue of what basically became to be known as the “Man in the House” rule. That’s where it started because the premise of our Social Security Act and the families was that the father was “dead.” That remained so until 1965 when they started recognizing both parents. But it was also a mean tested thing, in terms of income coming in the home, which caused a lot of men to go underground because it was reasoned that while he was trying to make it, even with the declines in the manufacturing industry, he should still be held accountable. The declines in manufacturing really began after World War II, and not with the Arab oil embargo and the K-Car that Lee Iacocca started. It had started way before then. But, essentially, there was no public support for men as part of families until 2005.

NPCL partners with nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations in the above four areas to help strengthen their ability to work with fragile families

And so during the 90s, me and my colleagues from around the country, through the work of NPCL, took on a very focused public policy agenda to expand the definition and the role of fathers in families as it appeared in public policy, because the policy also was where the resources are generated, particularly if the resources are needed to get from one place to the next. It’s not about “dependence”; it’s about “independence,” but sometimes you need help with doing that. So in 1999, we were able to get the first National Fatherhood legislation passed in the United States Congress called, the “Fathers Count bill,” and NPCL led the way. I was the spokesperson; I was the one – once the bill was passed – that was interviewed by the press that asked me how it felt to have this first fatherhood legislation out here now. What that basically meant was that there was an opportunity now through our welfare program, if fathers and mothers had the same needs profile, then essentially the fathers could get help – whether they lived with the child or not – to be a meaningful part of that child’s life. It passed in the House by an overwhelming majority; we didn’t get funding in the Senate, but it passed.

In 2005, we were able to get the first public funding for fatherhood programs, wherein there are fatherhood programs across the country right now. They’re not funding at a high level, meaning a significant “numeric” number. I think there’s about 50 programs right now nationwide being funded by the government, but what we’re learning is how best to work with men to get them on their feet to be the best parent possible. So public policy is a part of what we do.

We also do research. When NPCL got setup, we were set up to really conduct a nationwide research project to study the habits, the issues, the motivations of low-income men and how to get those low-income men to be responsible fathers. We set up projects. All total, between 1997 until about 2003, we setup over 30 projects, where NPCL has provided the technical assistance in setting up the laboratories to study these issues. It’s through those projects that we gain our insights about these different communities; where we started writing these manuals and documents that we use right now. So we did research and public policy because our goal was to find out: (i) who these men were; (ii)  what were their ages; (iii) what were the compelling circumstances that led them to walk away from their children; (iv) what were their educational backgrounds; (v) had they been incarcerated; and (vi) what did it take to get them to actually show up at some of these programs so we could work with them to get them on their feet – what were the things they wanted – did they want jobs; did they want help with child support; did they need housing; did they need substance abuse assistance. These are research things that we didn’t know prior to this time, so this was the type of groundbreaking research that NPCL was involved in, and that I was overseeing as part of that work.

The other part of that is capacity building. Capacity building because, once you found out about these things, then you had to build the capacity of agencies to work with them. Our social services, human services and our child support systems had not been taught how to work with men in a respect that let the men know that you were trying to “help” them.

For example, institutions like child support are not seen by men as helpful institutions. Child support today is different from what it was when we first got started in 1975, and I think we had something to do with that because what we introduced in 1998 was the term “dead broke dad.” Not “deadbeat dad,” but “dead broke dad,” as a point of departure, because the notion was that men who owed child support were avoiding paying child support. Because child support was deemed as important, and they had the income but just were not providing income through the child support system, then they were called “deadbeat dads.” When it came to low-income men of color, because of our research we said that that’s not the way to look at these guys. These guys aren’t “deadbeat.” They’re “dead broke” because if they had the resources, then they would support their kids.

One of the things I’ve learned about men as a whole – and I’ve learned it from leaders in the field and others – is that when men are not with their families, the starting assumption in working with those men should not be that they do not want to be there. You should assume that they “want” to be there, and what you should be trying to find out is what the mitigating factors are that prevent them from being there.

And what I’d like to say to the mothers, particularly those who are looking down at some of those guys right now is that you said he was at least good for one night – but you were just as culpable. The conflict is between two. I know your story. My research has told me more about “his” story, and let me tell you, you’re “both” culpable in the situation, and you have to work those things out because children shouldn’t have to suffer through your mess. A child should not have to decide who to invite for Thanksgiving dinner. Parents have to work out their things civilly, so that the child can say, “You both can come because I know that you will be civil, even though you moved on with your life after I was born and the other parent has moved on with his or her life. You’re still my parents and I need both of you for life experiences.”

What we also contribute it to, and you see our wheel here, is what we call the notion of “social entrepreneurship.” We have to approach our work as fundamentally as a business. We’re “nonprofit,” but we are “social entrepreneurs” for our cause. When you invite a Frances Welsing to come in and talk about her work, she’ll tell you straight up, if you don’t want her to talk about what she’s doing, then don’t invite her. So when you invite me to come into your community, I’m talking about men and fathers. That’s what I’m about. Everything that I do I can connect back to the issue of father absence and the issues associated with men, families and communities. Just like another person in another special area can link it to, for example, white supremacy and racism, or some other issues. But I do think that what we’ve been able to do is to create a space for the dialogue around our work, and that’s what NPCL has been about. As I said earlier, we are working with the state of Virginia right now, under this governor. This governor has made a commitment to put a fatherhood initiative in every municipality and in every jurisdiction in the state of Virginia.

Destiny – Pride: Governor O’Donnell?

Dr. Johnson: Governor O’Donnell. And my organization is the lead organization in building that capacity.

Destiny – Pride: My wife is going to kill me because she’s the one who is going to be transcribing this. You said earlier that manufacturing started its decline “before” the period of the K-Car. Explain that.

Dr. Johnson: In other words, people generally think that the manufacturing industry began to decline really with the competition that emerged out of the decline of the automobile industry. The decline of the automobile industry – one might argue, if you understand the history of manufacturing jobs – really began at the close of World War II, but then reached a high after the Arab oil embargo. The significance of the Arab oil embargo is this. If you remember, the cars coming out of Detroit were big cars – gas guzzling cars! When the Arab oil embargo started, there was a big emphasis placed on trying to control the oil economy. So what the auto businesses had to do was to redesign their cars. They had to redesign their cars to be more fuel efficient and to be smaller.

Americans will remember that Chrysler took the biggest hit and then Lee Iacocca came back with the K-Car. It was a smaller car to respond to the oil economy. You see, the reason why they stayed with big cars – and people don’t know this – is because it takes just as much money to build a big car as it does to build a smaller car; but you can charge more for the bigger car. That’s how GM [General Motors] was making its money! All of the automobile industry had a marketing philosophy that when things start going wrong in the automobile industry, what you do is advertise. Not change the car, just advertise and give deals. But when we had the oil embargo and we were rationing gas and the bigger cars were consuming all of the gas, people started changing their buying habits.

They advertise now, but they advertise more on “fuel efficiency.” So what has happened is that the automobile industry is back, but they’re back with less. They’re also producing better cars. And that was because of the competition, because it used to be, if you recall, that anything that came from Japan we used to say was “cheap.” But what the Asians did is they carved out a niche in the automobile market that says: When you buy a car from us, it’s going to last; when you buy a car from us it’s going to have all of the creature features already built in, with no additional markup; and, more importantly, you’re going to be able to drive longer in it on a tank of gas. That essentially is what’s driving the current success of our automobile industry because it finally re-tooled itself, realizing that advertising was not the solution, but really making a better car that was more fuel efficient was. And that’s what I meant by the K-Car.

Dr. Johnson served as the National Planning Chair for the 100 Year Anniversary celebration of Father’s Day, held on June 20, 2009 in Washington DC

Destiny – Pride: This next question really goes at the heart of your passion. What do you think we are doing wrong as it relates to the strengthening of the family structure, especially in the black community? Several years ago before I retired, Senator Brownback, who at that time was a Senator of Kansas and is now the Governor, put in place the Marriage Bill project whereby low-income individuals who married and decided to remain so, would receive a trust fund – a dollar-for-dollar match . . .

Dr. Johnson: And they had a program here in DC . . .

Destiny – Pride: Right. The first young lady to participate in that project here came out of Benning Terrace. Her name is Saundra Corley. She and her husband were the only married couple in all of Benning Terrace. She was in USA Today. So, again, from your perspective, what are we doing wrong in terms of strengthening the family structure?

Dr. Johnson: First of all, from 1619 up until the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act, there was a national cause that brought us together as an African American community where all of the sectors of our community were working together to try to overcome those things. It was largely driven by the faith community, like in the last 40-50 years, Dr. Martin Luther KingMinister Malcolm XRoy Innis, Head of CORE – Congress of Racial Equality. These were spiritually driven men and organizations. What happens when you have spiritually driven organizations in the lead is that you have a compass, and the compass is a sense of morality and standards by which you’re doing these things.

And there were segregated times also, prior to those things. What segregation also did was bound us together. Everybody stayed in the same place. The mayor stayed in the same place as the teacher. Somebody’s lawn was a little bit larger or the grass may have been cut on a more regular basis, but everybody lived in the same community because it was segregated, for the most part, in DC and other places. These things brought us together, and I think that togetherness – that sense of village; that sense of family; that sense of community – is really where we have our problem today. We really don’t have a sense of neighborhood. Our kids are not necessarily going to church where they would learn that the faith leader is not seen in the same light that he or she was prior to the election of black elected officials. My dad was a pastor, but he was also in NAACP. He was everything.

The church was the center – it’s where you organized; it’s where you got prayed over; it’s where you decided to go off into other things like SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] or SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. The base of everything was coming out of individuals who were going to church. Now I’m a kid, and I’m watching this, so I’m getting a lay of the land in terms of what I might do with my future when I become an adult. Now I want you to parlay that with what our young people see today. Our young people see today where they can’t distinguish between a faith leader who is really concerned with their welfare and a faith leader who is out there making millions of dollars, making a mega-church. The bigger the church is, unless they have it set up in such a way, it’s a “disconnect”; it’s not necessarily a “connect.”

We don’t have a collective voice around what’s really happening with our young people.  Fifty percent of our boys drop out of school. There’s no rallying cry – collectively or nationally – in the black community to stem that tide. When it comes to violence in the black community: the leading cause of death for black males under 30 years old is homicide. You may have an outcry around particular episodes of homicides that may occur in communities, but there’s no national rallying around that. I think that we’ve lost our sense of community. We’ve lost our sense of collective action. We “pooh pooh” things like having marches nowadays. We understand the significance of them, but we don’t understand the follow through.

For example, in 1995 we had the Million Man March. We had over a million men down there at the Mall. It was a beautiful sight. The thing that the Park Service not only didn’t tell us, but what those who were close to it also witnessed and saw, was that after those million black men left the Mall, it was the cleanest the Mall had ever been after a rally of that size. That’s who black men are! But, again, there was no follow through. Folks say, well, anecdotally so, there were more mentoring programs that were established; more guys started going to church. Well that’s not necessarily true in the black Christian churches because black Christian churches still only have about 30% men – and that’s on a good day. I wouldn’t say that women are more spiritual than men, but women certainly go to church more.

All of these things conspire to create a condition where there’s a lot of uncertainty because we don’t have a national cause. Now some would say that the election of President Barack Obama was another rallying point because he got 90-95% of the black vote. So he’s in there now, but he’s also a President who doesn’t mention the word “poor,” and he’s also a President who is also trying to stave off the Tea Party, which results in public policies that are more right of center than to center left, which are the policies that one would argue were in the spirit of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and others – President Johnson, who probably even today should be credited with furthering the rights of black folks. I went through those Model Cities programs; I went through those CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] programs. Those things were “leg up” programs. They were “hand up,” and not “hand out” programs. You don’t do it for people to stay on it, you do it so that people can become tax payers instead of tax burdens. But, again, there’s no collective outcry there. So that’s what I think we’ve lost.

Now in the midst of this, what we’ve also witnessed is what we might call the “breakdown of our families. But I think that what folks don’t associate with as much as I think they should, is that there is a direct correlation between our families and jobs. Right now, the national unemployment rate is about 7.9%. Let me break that down for black men, and it depends on the age groupings. If you look at the unemployment rate for working aged black men between 18 to 45, you’re talking about unemployment in excess of 30%. There’s no national outcry for black male employment. Now you might say, “Well why should you single out black males?” Well, listen, I know that a lot of people are out of work. For anybody who is unemployed, unemployment is 100%. But what you look at is, to use a hospital analogy, if someone who just lost their job came into the Emergency Ward, and someone who had never had a job came into the Emergency Ward, which one are you going to serve first? You are going to serve the one who never had any care and attention at all, because they’re probably worse off. It’s not saying that the other person doesn’t need care, but they don’t need it as much as somebody else. So that’s the distinction that I draw. Our case is more severe than others.

But, again, you don’t hear anything coming out of the White House, and anything that’s coming out from our elected officials is muted because, again, people are so concerned about offending business communities. They’re so concerned about offending the Tea Party and these types of things that we’ve taken our focus off of what the real needs are.  

The reason why I bring up unemployment is because if you understand marriage rates in the black community and marriage rates even for the educated, it has direct correlation with employment. I remember when my oldest brother got his first job at the Ford Motor Company, in Detroit. He was sitting by the phone, waiting with bated breath until he got that call from Rev. S.L. [Roberson], who worked at Ford and who was liaison to my neighborhood. Rev. S.L. called him and said, “James Jr., show up at the factory tomorrow. We’re going to get you processed and get you to working.” Let me tell you, he held that phone and he jumped up in the air with glee, but let me tell you what he said. He said, “I’m going to get me an apartment; I’m going to get me a car.” He said, “I might even get married,” but it was directly correlated with “work”!

Destiny – Pride: Let me ask you this. Are you familiar with J. David Kuo?

Dr. Johnson: No, but tell me. I might know the issue.

Destiny – Pride: He was the long-term leader of President’ Bush’s faith-based initiative. The first fellow that Bush had in that position only lasted 7 months. Kuo died just recently at the age of 44; he was diagnosed with cancer at 24. He moved from a liberal to a conservative, and Bush, during his presidential campaign, said that he was going to designate $8 billion towards that faith-based and community initiative. But it didn’t happen and Kuo was so demoralized he only stayed approximately two years and some change.

Dr. Johnson: Well I’m familiar with that. I’m not familiar with him, but I know that John Dilulio from the U of Penn [University of Pennsylvania] had that job first. Let me tell you why he left. He left, at least arguably, because of the resistance he had among some of the civil servants to use the money and to give it to the faith-based organizations in the first place because they sensed that the faith-based community lacked the capacity. You should know that I got a lot of calls during that period to help build the capacities of faith organizations to even get a federal grant. And then you had folks like Walter Fauntroy speaking out very publicly at that time. He said the challenge of the faith-based initiative was that if you did it in the right way, it would be faith-based efforts directed at the NBA – Nothing But African Americans! What he saw as the point of frustration – and I saw it too, and you should know this – was that a lot of your big groups, like the Pat Robertson group, actually set up nonprofit arms to get those resources. I hate to say this, but I’ve been on the scene for a long time: The faith-based initiative became an extension of what the Bush Administration called its focus on family values. They wanted family-values oriented organizations to really get those resources and a lot of them succeeded in doing so.

The challenge of the Marriage Act, as far as I was concerned – going back to what you were saying about Senator Brownback and the Marriage Initiative – was that the Marriage Initiative folks took the lead in providing those services and almost displaced the community-based organizations that were in place to do the work. The reason why that wasn’t necessary is because what the Marriage Initiative is, more than anything else, is marriage education. It’s not therapy; it’s not counseling, so it doesn’t require a Master’s Degree or some special degree to really do it because, when it goes beyond those points, it’s literally something that you can’t do in 6 to 8 weeks. Most of your marriage initiatives are 6 to 8 week programs unless they’re tied to some IDA [Individual Development Account] or some other type of component.

Dr. Johnson and Professor Ronald B. Mincy [Columbia University School of Social Work] at one of NPCL’s International Fatherhood Conferences

I challenged it. I challenged it with some of the Bush Administration leaders. I said, “Look. If you’re going to come in and you’re going to literally say that you’re bringing folks into the community to do something that can be done by somebody already in the community, to me is tantamount to bringing Tarzan into Africa.” I told them, “If it’s a set of knowledge and information that can be built up into a community-based organization – if that’s the direction in which you’re going – then let them do it.” What you have right now really are two different communities; one working on the fatherhood issue and one working on the marriage work. The fatherhood work comes out of the movement where the focus is on structural concerns: long-term unemployment; chronic unemployment; the famous Douglas Glasgow, former head of research for the Urban League, wrote about it in his book “The Underclass.” You have to respond to issues of the lack of fathers based understanding the nature of the underclass, whereas the folks around marriage really comes out of this concern about the decline of our culture. It’s like folks not knowing the importance of having a mother and father in a marriage-based family, which really is the gold standard. I think that for many years that was the standard of the black community. Andrew Billingsley wrote that in 1890, 80% of black families were husband and wife families. That remained so until around 1950, 1960.

Look at the Moynihan Report. The Moynihan Report points out that the declines in employment left the male uncertain, unstable, which created this matriarchal effect in families. So my point is that when we talk about strengthening families, and we have to talk about responsible fatherhood because of father absences, and we talk about marriage or co-parenting, these things are not mutually exclusive. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. All these things are needed. But then the question becomes where do families get this information? What we have are generations of families who didn’t see mothers and fathers married. What that means is that if you didn’t observe it and learn it through the process we call “osmosis,” then it has to be taught. When we work to build capacity in organizations, we teach organizations how to go out and teach this at a one-on-one level: “This is what it means to be a responsible father” . . . “This is what it takes to be a responsible mother and father in the life of children,” because when you go to colleges and universities, you don’t necessarily learn this stuff. You have to learn it from folks who have been doing the work, like NPCL and others, and gathering this information. It should be a college course.

For example, even when the President talks about “personal responsibility,” it’s almost his point of entry when working with fathers. I agree with that, but that wouldn’t be the number one concern because personal responsibility assumes that you’ve got a job – you’re employed and you’re actively working, but you decide because of “irresponsibility” that you’re not going to do those things. In the case of a lot of men of color, particularly black men, it’s not an issue of personal responsibility, it’s an issue of knowing what that means, but also getting that “leg up,” by being able to get employment.

Somebody asked me 30 years ago: “Given your work with black males, what do you think they need more than anything else?” I said, “What black males need, more than anything else, is a job and a pat on the back.” Those two things, if you do that, we’re stable! We’re stable! But that’s always been something that’s been out of our reach, except for during slavery when we were employed 100% for no pay! So we’ve been in a perpetual “catch up” posture since that time. In a society that is influenced, dictated and driven by the top 1% based on money, what makes anybody think that you can survive in this society without money? Now I’m not saying that money is everything, but you at least have to have the opportunity to make an honest day’s pay so that you can live a life where you can make choices and decisions about your life that allows you to achieve the dreams and aspirations that you have for your family and community. I will say to you – and I will say it from now until my dying day – unless there is more aggressive methods towards employment, particular for black men, we’re going to continue to have the instability in our communities that we have.

So you asked, what’s our issue? One, I think we lack a national cause for our efforts that had held us together in the past. Our value systems are changing because our center of gravity in the community is no longer faith institutions. I’m not saying that faith institutions aren’t bigger, but faith institutions – other than the pulpit and the men’s choir – are not sources of inspiration for black men. And it’s in the Christian church, because other faith traditions are not lacking in men. The Jewish tradition is not lacking in men. The Nation of Islam or Muslims are not lacking in men. So what is it that we’re doing in the Christian community that’s not drawing men? I think it has something to do with the fact of putting more of an emphasis on the gospel, but not really letting black folks know how much they’re a part of even the making of the gospel.  For example, when we learn about the Bible, we learn about the “people,” but we don’t learn about the “places” of those people. If we learned about the places of those people, and their families’ origins, we would find that there’s probably more of a black presence in the Bible than is currently made known. Somebody might ask, “Where are all of the brothers in the Christian church?” The brothers are trying to develop their identities and they don’t sense that they can develop their identities solely based on a rendering of the gospel. That’s what other faith traditions have been able to do. So until we start doing that . . . . Let me just remind folks – and they may have forgotten for a moment – that our President was grounded spiritually in Jeremiah Wright’s church.

Destiny – Pride: Dr. Cain Hope Felder . . .

Dr. Johnson: Dr. Felder. Howard University.

Destiny – Pride: Right. He penned the Heritage Bible and he did that whole walk. And that’s what you are talking about. Once you do that you will see those people of color.

Dr. Johnson: You will see black men in the church. Until that time, black men aren’t going!

Destiny – Pride: One of the things that intrigued me about the diversity of services that NPCL offers was its design and development of client case management and information systems. Destiny – Pride has an integrative client tracking system that allows us to share real-time information with others that we are in the process of upgrading. Explain to me and our visitors how your systems work, especially in light of the health information exchange requirements that are coming in 2014.

Dr. Johnson: Well what you have is what we call a greater emphasis on “evidence based.” Evidence-based means that you have set up an organization that has its systems in place. For example, you can’t evaluate the effectiveness of something if you come into an organization that does not have a good management information system. A management information system that documents client intake with good case management: What is the case of this client? Your goal in the case management system is to make sure that the client gets the proper diagnosis and gets put on the right plan to get him or her out of that situation, particularly if it’s got them “stuck” – without having a house, without having a job, without having substance abuse addressed, and those things. Those records have to be kept in such a way, through a technology driven management information system, where you can record that information so that someone can come back and see who came in; what their status was when they came in; and then what happened when they left. And during what period – it could be a year; two years, etc. A lot of organizations just simply do not do any documentation. You can’t prove that you have done something if you don’t keep the right records. You can’t do it. If you don’t have a birth certificate, you can’t prove you were born. Systemically, that’s important.

Number 2: I think that there has to be partnerships with the right groups. In other words, when you’re working systematically, there’s a recognition that you have an expertise in a given area. For example, it can be in providing parenting skills. But when the parents come in and you assess their situation, you may find that they need parenting skills; they need a job; they need a house; they need health care. Some of these may be things you don’t do as an agency, so you have to be partnered with the right groups that approach it systematically. So what you do is, you say, “Well you have a need for employment. We don’t do that here, but I have a partnership with Workforce Development Agency. What I’m going to do is, once you complete my program, I’m going to connect you with them because then they can take you to that area of getting you prepared for a job, getting you a job and keeping it, but it’s something that we don’t do here.”

That is a partnership agreement between your organization and the Workforce Development Agency. But let me tell you what makes that work more than anything else. Number one is having the right partnerships, and then as an organization teaching the parents how to do that for themselves. They won’t necessarily know because we’ve got all these services all over the place and they don’t know what these services mean and how they connect. Systematically we have to make those connections for people. Also we have to make sure, systematically speaking, that when we put “professionals” in front of folk, that those professionals have been trained and they know their stuff inside and out.

For example, in the fatherhood field, for many years what we did was to hire fathers who would came through the program and who showed promise and made them the staff. Right? That’s good and bad. The good part is that you gained opportunity; the bad part is that he may be good at outreach and marketing, but he may not be good at case management, because you’ve got to go to school for that. And it’s not a bad idea to have him go to school because you want people who know their stuff. Plus that elevates his career trajectory. So having a good management information system; having partnerships systemically across the board to address the needs that people bring to the table and then having a highly trained staff are very important; and then having evidence-based work.

Dr. Johnson with participants in a DC Youth Rites of Passage Program.

In other words, if you’re working with fathers, for example, there are curriculums out here. We have one here at NPCL. It’s evidence based and it’s been around for almost 30 years. People have trained fathers and fathers have come in one way and have left the program with better attitudes and more knowledge about parenting. So what I’m saying is that a lot of folks have a social works “heart,” and they really approach their work with good intentions in mind. But they fly by the seat of their pants because they don’t have any structure; they don’t have any curriculum. They just bring people together and then have rap sessions. I’m not opposed to having rap sessions, but they should have a clear aim in mind. You can have a 30-minute conversation and then at the end of 30 minutes say, “What were we talking about?”

The United Negro College Fund came up with the tag line: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” That’s not only true for college students. That’s true for any entity in the community that has people in their system for any period of time. We want to make sure that people know how to do their job in the best way. So when we talk about systems and using technology and really putting things in a place where they’re effective, that’s what we mean – all of those things that I’m talking about.

Destiny – Pride: What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?

Dr. Johnson: I think my greatest accomplishment has been to get the importance of fathers out there in the public dialogue. And I’m talking about the diversity of fathers because we’ve talked about “fatherhood.” You can look at images of fathers on TV, say over the last 50 years. The father that comes to mind would be the James Evans character, and making that a focus of our public policy. That’s important.

Destiny – Pride: And you’re talking about James Evans on “Good Times,” right?

Dr. Johnson: On “Good Times.” He would be a role model father for the reason that here’s a brother who’s not been able to get a job or maintain a job, but he’s still in the home, and he has a supportive wife and he’s doing the best he can under the circumstances. But the more likely scenario is that if a guy was in that James Evans character position – outside of TV – he wouldn’t be there. So he would be a role model as far as that way, but would still be a person who would go through these programs because he needs help getting a job. So he would get the training to be able to get with an apprenticeship area so that, if he wanted to, he could move out of that area to a better situation.

So I think that our greatest accomplishment here – and you can look at all of the recognition that we’ve received over the years – has been because we’ve elevated the importance of fathers. It’s interesting. The history of Father’s Day dates back to 1909, and I had the opportunity to be the National Planning Chair for the Hundred Year Anniversary celebration of Father’s Day. I learned a lot from that effort and what I learned most – at least historically – is that Father’s Day was started by a “daddy’s” girl, in the sense that it was a woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd who went to a Mother’s Day service. Her mother was deceased and all those things being espoused about mothers applied to her father, but yet there was no Father’s Day.

Destiny – Pride: And she was the originator?

Dr. Johnson: Yes, of Father’s Day. And a lot of people don’t know that. It’s interesting, last year they did a study of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards. What they found was that two years ago there were 151 million Mother’s Day cards given for Mother’s Day in the previous year. Comparatively speaking, there were 115 million Father’s Day cards given for Father’s Day. So one would say, “Father’s got that many?” because we’re marginalized in that way. And then they will say, “Well 115 million is a lot.” But it’s not 151 million! So until it’s 151 million, we’ve got some work to do.

I think that goes to this notion of how important fathers are. What we try to teach here through our training is that, fundamentally and biologically speaking, there are only two things that a mother can do that a father can’t: birth a child and breastfeed. Everything else is negotiable. And everything else is within our purview. When you look at successful single dads, they do everything. They do the hair; they do the cooking; they do the washing. They do everything short of breastfeeding and birthing a child. But it’s important for men to understand that their role is beyond being just a breadwinner, protector, disciplinarian. Men are also nurturers and caregivers. Those fathers who engage their children early on – reading stories, reading books to them – are doing things that are necessary for maximized brain development, maximized social abilities, in a sense of being able to deal with authority. Fathers have to know that “father presence matters.” That’s what we were set up to do, and I also think that that’s what has been our greatest accomplishment.

Destiny – Pride: What would you say so far would be your major disappointment?

Dr. Johnson: My major disappointment is how we’ve stayed resolute, but a lot of the folks that we started out as partners with have not remained resolute. So you find yourself sometimes in this war by yourself. So I would say the sustained commitment. That’s been it. Some days, even to keep our organization going, I’ve had to go into my own pocket personally to keep the doors open, where in early days when it was vogue and it seemed like a good private foundation investment, they were just pouring money into it. But they did it, and then they just stopped doing it. I think that’s it. Just not being able to keep everybody on the same page when it comes to the importance of both parents, and then having the resources to do it. Fatherhood is still a hard sale, because of the amount of out-of-wedlock births – across the board. Forty percent of all of our children are born out of wedlock – black, brown, red, yellow. But it’s disproportionately African American and Latino. What that means is that it increases the risks of single parents, poverty, dropping out of school – all of those things are related to those type of things. I think that’s been it.

Even right now. We’re getting ready to have our 15th Annual International Father Conference. In the early days, we were getting resources galore – Ford Foundation, Mott Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, even foundations overseas. None of those foundations support this work right now. They’ve changed their whole focus area. And we’re still doing it, and now we have to rely upon people – a lot of folks who get government support – to attend our conference. And we’re in a year of sequester. A lot of them say “It’s an important issue, but I can’t come to your conference this year.” And that’s where you sharpen your saw. That’s where you get your motivation and you connect with people who have the same spirit and heart. But they are challenged to come because of the government sequester because their agency is not approving any travel, and that type of thing. So those are my disappointments because the reality is that the problems are not going anywhere.

Also I would have to say that I do think that our churches are doing a lot, but I think they could do more. I talked about the President not saying “poor”; a lot of churches don’t say “poor” either. I don’t see enough churches investing in the type of thing that I’m doing. A lot of churches, when they come to me, they’ll tell me, “Yes, we’ve just developed an interest in this; we’ve been doing this for two years.” I’ve been doing this for 25 years! It’s just like my professor told me, “More things happen outside of education than in its walls.” I would also argue that more things that can be better for the church is happening outside of the church than inside of the church. When you see the investment of the multimillions of dollars put into the edifice and not into housing, and not into employment opportunities during the summer for young people.

You can’t tell me that they’re investing in the men because the only men that are there are over 40, and the ones who are there are probably employed, and the only ones in any great number are composed of between the deacons, the choir and the pulpit. There are literally no men in the pews, and the reason why is because you’re not “investing” in that. This was something that we did in the past, but we’re not doing now, and we’re just missing the boat. And what I’m talking about is sustained investment – not doing just one time a year for a media stunt: You go into the prisons, you give a lot of sermons and then you say you’re doing a “Man Up” series. Uh-uh! I’m saying that it’s that, tied to other stuff. So that when guys get out of jail, instead of them going back to jail, you’re setting up aftercare programs so that they can continue to be discipled and they can get a job. The greatest anecdote against going back to prison is a job. It goes back to that because essentially, we’re still not at a point where we can say that some folks still need a hand up. And a “hand up” is not the same as a “hand out,” because a lot of nonprofits are sophisticated enough to know, one, the resources to get you up to that point are not going to be around for a long time, so we’ve really got to do the best job that we can in making you self-sufficient, so that you can become a taxpayer, not a tax burden. We all know how to do that, but it starts with an investment.

I would say my greatest disappointment is that although in the early days it was “vogue” doing this work and it required a lot of investment, the problem is still not solved, and we now don’t have the same type of investment in this area. But we do this stuff because we believe in it. We do it because we believe it’s going to make a difference in the lives of children, families and communities in the long term.

What we do is we make sure that we stay on this battlefield, even if we’re the only ones fighting, because as you know, that pendulum swings and chances are that folks will come back with the resources, but I think it has to be a diverse set of resources. It can’t be from the government solely; it can’t be solely from private foundations. It has to be from groups, like churches and others, who take this on as part of that mission field. Even like Oprah Winfrey did, a lot of churches get involved in missions and they take missions overseas. Well we have to do missions right here! There are mission opportunities in Wards 7 and 8. In Louisiana and Alabama. In the Carolinas. There are missions here. But it’s more appealing and more noteworthy, more “Paul-like” to take your ministry other places. But you can take your ministry other places here in the United States. Make sure you take care of home before you go someplace else. Or you can do both, because some of them have so many resources that they can do them both. Don’t just go to Africa; also go to Anacostia. Willie Wilson should not be the only church in Anacostia doing things for the community. There needs to be others, and I’m sure that there are others. I don’t mean to say that there are not other folks in Anacostia doing things. We love Rev. Wilson and we know that he’s doing a fantastic job.

But the point is that we’ve got to get our priorities right, and if people really think about what I’m saying, they would know that I’m telling the truth. Whenever I go on the Hill and I’m speaking for the cause of the community, I liken it to that movie “A Few Good Men.” In this case, I’m Jack Nicholson. When I go on the Hill to fight for these issues, I’m protecting Guantanamo Bay, and I will say this: “You need me on that wall! You want me on that wall!” I mean, when you’re at home asleep at night, worrying about whether or not this issue is being addressed, I’m up there fighting – every single day!

Destiny – Pride: What last thoughts or insights would like to leave with our visitors?

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To read his response, continue below.

Dr. Johnson: What I’d like to say, first of all I’d like to thank Destiny – Pride for putting us in the spotlight for this effort and to say that, what we’re about – and I hope that people walk away with of all the things I’ve said during this interview – is that it’s about our future. It’s about the future that we want for our young people and that in order for our young people to have the future that we most desire, we have to have the active involvement of both mothers and fathers in their lives. We also have to have a community who comes together in that African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” But it’s all about our future. But it starts in the home and then the community plays its role in making sure that whatever resources that are needed to help children be all that God intended them to be are put at their disposal so they will become the future generation that we’re proud of and that will ensure the legacy of the African American community.

Destiny – Pride: Dr. Johnson, Destiny – Pride thanks you for being our May 2013 Spotlight and sharing with our visitors your life’s journey. We are sure there are a number of them who were not familiar with the National Partnership for Community Leadership until now, and our conversation with you has opened their eyes to the wealth of available information, programs and services that are geared to uplift, strengthen and empower some of our most disenfranchised youth and families, including African-American males. We thank you for the opportunity to get to know you and NPCL. Thank you very much.

Dr. Johnson: My pleasure. God bless!

Dr. Johnson may be reached at:

National Partnership for Community Leadership (NPCL)
2728 Sherman Avenue
Washington, DC  20001-5409
Phone:  (202) 234-6725

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