As mental health awareness month comes to a close today, I want to share with you all an interview I did with a dear brother of mine, John Johnson Jr. John is a dedicated mental health advocate and expert, father, world traveler, and so much more. I've known John for a few years now and every day his work, and his journey, inspires me. We hopped in the virtual space to talk about his experience living with mental health challenges.
Read John's bio below:
"John Johnson is a Queens native and graduate of Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. He went on to receive his master’s in Special Education from Queens College. After a 30-year career in Youth Development, with jobs ranging from Director of College and Career Services with the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in Brooklyn, to Special Education teacher with the NYC Dept. of Education, John has always been an advocate for young people. He was the Special Assistant to the Honorable Helen Marshall - the first African American Borough President of Queens, serving in the capacity of "Youth and Community Services Liaison.” His career also included a stint with the Democratic National Committee and their “Get out the Vote” campaign during Bill Clinton’s first run for the presidency. His primary job was to provide advance work and coordinate the movement of the Reverend Jesse Jackson throughout the United States.
Living with the diagnosis of Bi-Polar has given John a unique perspective on Mental Health - his relationships, his work, and how he cares for others and advocates for those who “don’t have a voice.” Having been successful in living with mental health challenges, John got involved with NAMI ( https://nami.org/Home ) in 2016 to share his story with the intention of killing the stigma, inspiring others and giving individuals and families hope. His work with the NAMI Queens/Nassau affiliate includes working with programs like “Let’s Talk Mental Illness (LTMI) and “Ending the Silence,” where he’s gone into High Schools, Churches, and Civic organizations telling his story of “Overcoming". Through these talks, John chronicles his triumphs and challenges over the years. He’s also facilitated groups and taught classes for NAMI’s signature program, “Family to Family” - an eight-week class for family and friends who’s loved one deals with mental health challenges. John has provided an open community engagement initiative, “Sharing Hope”, specifically designed to provide safe and supportive spaces for Black and Brown communities of NYC including Queensbridge Housing Projects, (the largest Housing Development in the Nation) and his hometown of Hollis/St. Albans in Southeast Queens.
John received the “Multicultural Award” from NAMI New York State in 2018 for his groundbreaking work in marginalized communities around the country.
John is the proud father of Kayla, who lives in Atlanta with her mom. She recently received a full, four-year, academic scholarship to Pennsylvania State University where her aspirations are to be an attorney and Mental Health Advocate. Needless to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!!"
As you all can tell from reading his bio alone, John is a man on a mission, and he isn't letting anything, not even his diagnosis, stop him
You can watch the entire interview here -
Below are a few takeaways from this profound interview:
There is a huge difference between saying you are suffering from a condition and stating, as John does, that you are living with said condition.
We never fully know how the pressures and traumas of life will impact us, especially our youth.
John was silent for about a week when first diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, which back then was called acute psychotic episodes, and his first words once he spoke again were, "I got next."
When living with mental health challenges, it's important to have a healthy balance of medication and personal coping skills.
During one of his stays in a psychiatric clinic, there were two people who knew John that said, "I got you."
One of the things that stood out to me during this interview was John's constant reminder that he "overcame what was deemed to be a death sentence." That's real, especially in Black communities. When folks hear that someone has some mental health challenges, they almost automatically write them off as being "crazy", incapable of living a healthy life, and not worthy of basic respect, love, and support.
This was a great interview. I'm proud of our brother for not only surviving, but for thriving when many, including a medical doctor, claimed that he was "too far gone and needs to be Institutionalized."
John left us with some powerful words of encouragement:
"Be bold. Be not afraid. Stand in your truth. Everyone deals with a degree of wellness, so talk about yours."
Thank you John for sitting down with us to conduct this interview. I think many people will find great value in this discussion.
If anyone would like to reach out to John directly, his email address is below:
You can read his blog here:
*If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health challenges and immediate support is needed, please reach out for 24/7 Mental Health Help.*
NYS Hotline 1-844-863-9314