Jeff Johnson’s advice for Young Professionals

Jeff Johnson’s advice for Young Professionals



When did you begin to position your life down the road of social activism?

I was an involved student in high school and anyone that took a look at my vision book that said where I want to be in ten years, I said I wanted to be a US senator.  I think college provides you with a bit of reality for what you say you want. For me I enjoyed serving students, addressing issues, organizing and I didn’t thing at that point in time it would be a profession but I realized, post college, there are some real professional opportunities. I was offered a job by the NAACP to come on as a national staff person. That’s when I felt it realistic to do this as a full time job.

Why in your opinion isn’t social activism important to many young black professionals today?

Because, for the most part, young black professionals have not been engaged by any social activist. We are talking about post civil rights and an entire generation of young people that were told to do exactly what they’re doing, which is go to college, get a job, and enjoy all of these things that we of the civil rights community have provided for you. Simultaneously it was not a message of here is what your history is, or here is the continued struggle that we need to be engaged in, or as you’re building personal wealth insure institutional and infrastructural needs for the movement and for the community.

I just think its funny that we criticize so much the young professionals of the 2000’s when we didn’t criticize our parents who were professionals in the 1980’s. There where black professionals in the 80’s, let’s not get it twisted! We didn’t criticize those folks in the 90’s that made tons of money off of a friendly economy in the Clinton administration. Now we want to say that this generation because they’ve been able to admass more wealth then the ones before now has a greater responsibility. When in reality the other generation should have taught them.

Even the bible says train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow old they won’t depart from it. They haven’t departed from what they’ve been taught. They were taught – get yours and play the white man’s game; and that’s what they’re doing. In my estimation, this generation of young professionals, in a very successful way, have been able to a maneuver a corporate world but simultaneously many of them have done it without know who in the hell they are.

In the 60’s we were fighting for civil rights, what should we be fighting for today?

 I think we act like since the civil rights era has past that civil rights issues have also passed. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked the public school system looks crazy! Criminal and juvenile justices are equal. There are still places where people of color have a difficult time gaining access to capital and resources. I think what happens is these labels often times get us in trouble.

There have to be those that are focused on building economic infrastructure while there are people dealing with social service, education, and heath care.

If we don’t have the knight, bishop, rook, the king, queen and pawn then we just playing checkers while everyone else are playing chess. We talking about king me, and they’re saying check mate! While we claiming it take an entire village to raise one child, where the hell is the village?

The village is made up of not just the king, but the politicians, bakers, and carpenters. Who, within the context of the work that we do, are those individuals who understand that the village has a responsibility?

Is politics the most effect way to go about creating change, or should we be looking toward other avenues?

Young professionals need to look toward the route that’s most effective for them.

Policy is an effective mechanism, but policy and legislation isn’t helping the kid on the block that needs a mentor tomorrow. How do you say that fighting to ensure that everyone in public education five years from now is not important anymore than fighting to make sure that this kid has a mentor tomorrow? They are both important. To negate one or the other says that either the short term or the long term gain isn’t important.

The question that individuals need to ask themselves is “what pisses you off personally?” That is the issue where you need to get involved.

The most effective thing is personal, so I have to figure out what is that thing for me and then not be judgmental when someone else is doing something different. If my issue is education and your issue is criminal justice, I shouldn’t say to you, “what you do doesn’t matter because we need to get at the kids before they get locked up.”

Well, what does that say about the kids that are going to get locked up tomorrow? So how do we connect what we are doing and ensure we have proactive mechanisms in education? All of the issues are connected and the more we begin to make ground on effectively creating strategy on multiple issues is when we begin to have greater impact at the local level.

Describe for us your love affair with hip hop?

 I don’t have a love affair with hip hop. I have a commitment to hip hop. Love affair often implies that I look beyond faults because of the relationship that I’m in. I view hip hop as a vehicle. I recognize that there are some cultural realities for who I am as an African man diasporiclly that hip hop doesn’t fully encapsulate. For me to embrace hip hop culture as a culture, solely and completely defining who I am, would be an irresponsible to the Diaspora that is truly my mother.

I don’t think hip hop is a culture. I think it’s a subculture. From a classical sense a culture is more than music, dance, art, language and dress. It speaks to accepted morals, values and goals. I don’t know if I believe that hip hop, as a community, has that. I think this generation has the ability to determine whether or not hip hop continues to evolve into a culture.

I think what’s so interesting is that black people in America have forgotten we’ve been all about the culture creating business. Being African American is a new culture. African Americans did not exist before slavery. It is a culture created in America out of a need to create the commonality of music, art and language but more important collective values, morals, and vision. Hip hop has to understand that the same kind of evolution takes place because that’s what culture is. Culture is the evolution of a group of individuals that go from co-existence to a state of collective being and hip hop has yet to do that.

 The problem is that so much of the responsibilities of hip hop evolving into a culture are in the hands of people that don’t understand hip hop.

This group of young people have embraced hip hop as a means of economic advancement. When I look at hip hop clubs on college campuses its always Asians and white kids who’ve embraced b-boying, DJ’ing and graffiti from the sake of the art form. Emceeing in the truest form of emceeing which is creativity, not just sales which is why most of the artist you see come threw rap city can’t freestyle. Because they have not embraced the art of hip hop, they’ve embraced the commercial aspect of hip hop and that means we are in trouble.

How do we assess the real changes we want to make in the community and then utilize our financial wealth to effect that change?

I think so many of us are afraid to mix intellectualism with hotness. The people that are hot are afraid to use intellectual and the people that are intellectual are feel like they are reducing their intellectualism by being hot. In some cases, ain’t nothing wrong with being cool and fly. Just don’t allow that flyness to reduce your intellectualism to the point where you aren’t saying anything and don’t allow that intellectualism to put you in a position where you think you so smart that you can relate to average folk. I just want to be one of the many examples of people out there that have understood how to fuse the two.

What was the motivation behind your book Black and Brown?

I have a ton of Hispanic friends who have these varying dynamics with people of African descent.  I think the only thing that is talked about is who got more people in American and that is not the issue. Why should black and brown folks be arguing about who is the majority minority? How do we begin to strengthen them? Improving black and brown relationships in Los Angeles, in my opinion, begins with the Crips, Bloods, and MS 13. These are the cats that are killing each other. Why are we killing each other when we all broke?! The reality is we can do better by fighting these forces that’s keeping us broke and by fighting each other on the block. That’s why I wanted to do this book.

Jeff, after the politics, speaking engagements, and hip hop and what makes you smile at the end of the day?

 My kids


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Twitter: @JeffsNation