Name: Stevie Johnson
Profession: Higher education administrator, professional disc jockey and doctoral student
One Word That Describes You: Sedulous
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Being a BE Modern Man means that more work needs to be done by our extraordinary group. Although I’m appreciative of the honor, a BE Modern Man means nothing if I’m not creating more extraordinary youth that will follow me, while helping them to find their identity and appreciate the skill-set and experiences that they bring to society. A BE Modern Man is a holistic change agent.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 10 years old. Growing up, I was involved in various sports, and believed that I would be a professional athlete. Sports were my life, and I didn’t focus nearly enough on my academics. At the age of 15, the curvature of my spine was so severe that I had to have surgery, and I ended up sitting out of all sporting activities for a year. Although I was hurt that I couldn’t play sports, I learned the true significance of education and found myself looking at life from a different perspective. I ended up graduating from high school at the top of my class, and I was the first in my family to graduate from college. When I was young, I never really understood why I was going through certain things, but reflecting on it now, had I not, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
An important quality that I look for is consistency. I’m an individual who is very detailed-oriented and can be defined by some as a devil’s advocate, simply because I ask questions to make sure what my role is for any task. As a result of figuring out my duties, I look for individuals that will be committed to their word or mission of the group/organization, while continuing to push me to greater heights. My circle of friends is pretty small, because I value time. The more I can surround myself with hard-working, creative, and forward-thinking people, the better off the relationship will be.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
As co-founder of the Black Male Initiative at the University of Central Oklahoma, I am faced with huge obstacles to make sure that African American males graduate from college. The Black Male Initiative was created to address the retention and graduation rates of African American men at the University of Central Oklahoma. The nucleus of the program are the cohort classes in which all incoming black males take together, and there is peer mentoring between the Black Male Initiative freshman and the upperclassman who serve as fellows. Tuition waivers are available to assist students in their academic pursuits, and there is intentional and tenacious monitoring of student social and academic success.
Although just in place for two years, the program boasts great success with a 70% retention rate versus 48% retention rate for first-time, full-time black male students at the institution. We have also seen a grade point increase of +12% compared to students who are not in the program. As a result, the program has continued to expand its reach to include more students.
I wake up every morning realizing that I can positively change the lives of our young brothers. I was once them and understand that individuals sacrificed and prayed for me to be in the position that I am in today. I would be selfish by not telling my story and investing in our young people so that they too can realize their purpose.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Life is a daily battle, and you have to learn the importance of grit or determination. As an African American male, you’re always stereotyped by your peers and have to go the extra mile to prove yourself. Surrounding yourself with positive people will aid you through your progression. I am blessed to have a loving family, beautiful wife, and great friends that encourage and even check me when I need it. You can’t go wrong with constructive criticism.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Particularly in education, there aren’t a lot of black men who are in the field. It has been stigmatized as being less masculine, low paying (which is true is some areas), and many other labels. The challenge is recruiting and retaining black male educators to use their strengths to engage students. You have to be vulnerable and transparent with your students that you’ve made mistakes as well. Meet them halfway, but also find creative ways to keep them interested in the material. As a DJ, it’s all about crowd control. I take those same skills and apply them in my classroom. We engage about what’s going on in the world, and make it relatable to our life experiences and the material that we’re discussing in class. Once more black men see the value and the need for why we need more in education, it will come full circle.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I typically prepare for meetings with my wife. I let her ask questions as if she is someone in the meeting. From there, I make adjustments to my talking points in an effort to articulate my agenda items effectively.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
I’m going to very honest with this question: I’ve never really taken a vacation. I’ve had time off, but I’ve never really been in the moment of the vacation. This is an area that I’m working on, especially for my physical and mental well-being (and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this issue). I will say that my one-year wedding anniversary is approaching soon, and my wife and I will be going out of the country for the first time for our official honeymoon. We will be heading to the Dominican Republic, and I’m looking forward to turning my phone off and enjoying beautiful weather with my wife without being bothered by work or school related activities.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve heard from many close friends that it’s a beautiful vacation spot, and I would love to experience the rich heritage of South Africa.
Anything else you’d like to say?
When I was younger, I hated the idea that I was different from my peers. I just wanted to fit in. I was so naïve then, but as I’ve grown and read books (yes, read a book), I’ve started to understand my culture, history, and purpose for living. I enjoy my narrative of being raised in a single-parent household by my mother, suffering from scoliosis, being a first-generation college graduate, a disc jockey turned higher education professional, and a doctoral student. It allows me to understand the diversity within myself. My vernacular is my best friend, because it allows me to engage in conversations with individuals I grew up with in the hood and or scholars within education that may be discussing policy reform that affects my people. I don’t listen to the negativity that is placed within the African American community. As an individual that has been blessed with social and cultural mobility, it’s my responsibility to find solutions to the issues that our communities face.
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