By: Leslie J. Griffin
Education ‘runs’ in the family—literally. Dr. Arica Johnson is a champion for women, optimal health and education. As the Vice President of the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation she directs the day-to-day operations to ensure underserved students are given opportunities to attend college. Dr. Johnson is a highly-respected speaker, educator and expert in the field of mathematics and science. She spoke exclusively with Detroit CEO Magazine about the state of educational leadership, women’s health and transformational change. Her amazing story of overcoming cancer is a miracle of light and energy for those who have walked the journey. On Friday, September 26, 2014 6:00pm, Dr. Johnson was the keynote speaker at Christian Tabernacle’s Jackets, Jewels and Jeans event at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
As an educator for many years, how would you describe the current state of educational leadership and do you think it’s effective.
The current state of educational leadership is focused on strategic, organizational and quality content. It comprised of skill teacher experts, teaching and learning, curriculum reform, positive culture and climate, community and parental support, along with data-driven student achievement. I think it is effective as long as the leader’s results with support from all stakeholders to transform the primary customers “students” by providing quality learning opportunities whereby they can become productive citizens who leave school or college career-ready.
The parent-to-child relationship has always been crucial for the success of the student. How does your consulting firm work to see that this relationship is effective?
My company, Education Transformation LLC was formed in 2013. I am in the process of building a team of leaders who will work with me to support the parent-to-child relationship. The relationship will be in place once my company has opportunities to consult with businesses and schools whose businesses focus on quality parent-to-child relationships. The input of parent-to-child relationship experts via forums, parents and children setting goals together, parent-to-child relationship assessment, communication analysis and content and skill-based tutoring will determine if our outputs of creating intergenerational change, inspiring self-efficacy, adding value and making an impact are effective.
Your entire family is educated and most of them are in the medical field. Was this something you and Mr. Johnson Sr. planned for your children?
My husband and I have always been around educators who taught different disciplines and principals who were part of our family. When I thought about attending college I wanted to pursue a Fine Arts degree, but my dad insisted that I needed something to fall back on. So I agreed and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education, later obtaining certification in early Childhood Education. A few years later I pursued a Masters in middle grades Mathematics and Science, worked in an urban school district as a model teacher leader and facilitator of mathematics and science. I was also project manager for Mathematics and Science Department.
It was very important for us to ensure our kids saw how much fun they could have learning about science and mathematics concepts and skills growing up. Our children watched me on numerous occasions preparing exciting activities and presentations for students, teachers and administrators. I always shared how important mathematics and science learning would prepare them to be college and career- ready. If you look at the research right now, there are not many African Americans pursuing math, science or engineering, particularly women.
As parents we planned mathematics and science opportunities and made resources available for our children to focus and target their interest in mathematics and science. Presently Erica, our oldest daughter has two degrees: Bachelors/Biology and PhD/Biomedical Research. NFL Pro-Bowler Calvin “Megatron” Johnson wanted to be a dentist and later changed his decision once he entered Georgia Tech as a Mechanical Engineer major. Wali’, who is four years younger than Calvin is in his third year of medical school. Our fourth child, Sarai is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree.
You’re very passionate about math and science.
Absolutely. As a teacher I taught math and science and made it fun and exciting. I always put my children in groups and differentiated their mathematics and science learning to make sure it was on their level and that success could take place. I also provided hands-on opportunities for them to see the everyday applications to mathematics and science in the real world. Even if the school I was assigned to did not have the money budgeted for certain lesson activities that required hands-on products and manipulatives, I made a way for it to happen. And the students loved it.
Please talk about your leadership at the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation.
As Vice President I am there to step in when Calvin is not able to handle a meeting. I help him with strategic design with other Board members in terms of where he wants to take the organization. I work to secure additional sponsorship support, provide leadership, lead fundraising efforts, build partnerships and refine program plans for the CJJRF investment in quality initiatives. Some of those initiatives are leadership conferences, STEM Education, physical fitness and health awareness and community support for the underserved. Every year the foundation focuses thousands of dollars on scholarships and book awards to assist cohort scholars.
What’s been one of your proudest moments with the organization being under your helm?
When the ‘Leaders With a Mission Leadership Conference’ was established and implemented in 2010, Calvin always wanted to have a conference for leaders, so co-executive director Erica and I worked together and made it become a reality. Being able to bring metro Detroit and Atlanta scholars back every year to network and enhance their content and skills is an accomplishment. Every scholar spent time with Calvin and I on establishing top ten SMART GOALS.
As a black woman, do you think emotional, physical and spiritual health concerns are the number one priorities for women?
Yes and you really cannot separate them because they are all interrelated. I recently went through a health issue with the blessing of a fall. It happened after one of Calvin’s games in Pittsburg in December of last year. I fell at the airport and a week later I started having pain on the left side of my abdomen. I made an appointment with my doctor and told her that my side was still hurting due to fall. So she scheduled me for an ultrasound. The results were abnormal so my doctor sent me for an MRI. Well those results came back that I had a Neuroendocrine Tumor on my pancreas and that was frightening and emotionally disturbing.
Was there ever a history of cancer or any kind in your family?
Never. There was none in my immediate family.
So what happened from there?
Through a biopsy, I found out that the tumor was cancerous. I had to really think about how I was going to deal with everything. My Doctor and I both cried in the office. Later, I decided not to tell my family and just handle my situation alone because I did not want my family worrying about me. But I thought about it and realized that I could not handle it by myself. I knew that I needed to pray about it and so I began to pray to God about healing my body from head to toe. And emotionally that’s the part that you saw…the emotions and then being able to release those emotions to God through prayer and having faith that He was going to deliver me from my present health issue. You have to believe in God. From that point on, I was able to go back and share my health issue with my family. Deep inside my heart I knew that I could trust my family with how I was feeling, because of the relationship we have with one another. When I began to communicate to my family about what was going on with me, we all began to cry. You know when you hear pancreatic cancer, you know it’s bad. I told them that I was going to be fine. So emotionally I had to get myself in check because if we believe in God and Jesus Christ then we have to understand that we have to release it to him. So as far as the other part, nutrition came into play and I began researching about the cancer. I researched the top cancer hospitals like M. D. Anderson and John Hopkins. John Hopkins is where I decided to have my surgery. After the surgery they took the pathology and they found out that none of it had spread.
Before my surgery I lost 10 pounds because I became conscious through research about the proper nutrition to keep the tumor from growing. I began eating right. I went to the American Cancer Society because they have so many resources for women. My entire diet changed. I was obedient. I ate what I was supposed to eat. I eliminated butter, corn syrup, red meat and soda. I added wild salmon, grilled chicken, trout cooked in olive oil, and I started doing fresh fruit smoothies with spinach and I am telling you that the Doctor told me the tumor shrunk. So I know that was God at work along with diet. You have to be able to listen to God and do what He says do.
But still emotionally people and family are coming at you asking if things are okay. I am feeling for my family and at the same time I need to stay in a certain wellness position with my thoughts, therefore I didn’t allow that to get me. I am just thankful to the Lord for healing and taking care of me.
But all of them are related, the health the emotional and spiritual relationships and having the faith in knowing that God will do what He said he will do. The key is being obedient to God’s word. It is also forgiving. I felt like I did not forgive a lot of people who had done things to do me, so I prayed to the Lord and forgave them. You have to treat people like you want to be treated and then there is no judgment.
Recently there have been increasing cases involving domestic violence. As an NFL mom, what are your words to women who have befallen this tragedy?
Do not allow domestic violence to affect your family, career, personal relationships, health, emotional well-being and physical fitness. Seek help as soon as it occurs from domestic violence prevention agencies, relatives and police. God loves you and cares for you and did not intend for you to be a victim of domestic violence.
Do you think that someone should lose everything they’ve trained their entire life for because of a personal incident?
I think that would depend on the severity of the personal incident and what the judicial system allows.
Do you think counseling should be provided for teammates and their family members?
Yes. It can help correct a lot of misconceptions.
As a mom, how would you advise your own sons and men who are in the NFL family when searching for a life mate? How do you know that someone is not just after what they have?
Give your life to the Lord Jesus Christ if you are not saved and be obedient to God’s word. Love yourself like God loves you and pray to God for a life mate who loves you for who you are not for what you have. Look beyond the outer appearance and get to know their family and friends. Spend quality time together doing things you both enjoy and ensure they have family core values (God first, love, respect and trust). When someone is after you for what you have it will be obvious, because they will only be interested in themselves and not in family core values.
How do you define personal transformation from a person who’s in a leadership role?
Personal transformation is an experience that brings about a complete change in the way I relate to myself and also to the world.
What do you want your living legacy to be?
That I was a minister for the people who could transform any person into a better soul and that I instilled core values in the lives of my children and people who I came in contact with. I want that to include every child and educator who crosses my path in the school setting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslie J. Griffin is a Certified Life Coach, Fitness Advocate and Celebrity Entertainment Journalist. Connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thebgloveproject and Twitter @onestopcoach.