Encore February 2021

Page 20

Creating Change History is at the heart of Michelle Johnson’s work toward inclusion, equality and social justice by

A public scholar and intellectual. A social

justice advocate. A disc jockey. An author and screenwriter. These are just some of the roles Dr. Michelle S. Johnson has taken on. “I’m doing a lot,” the 58-year-old says. There’s an understatement. Johnson is a whirling dervish of determined energy, diverse in her focus and passionate in her endeavors, always with an eye toward unveiling inequality, promoting justice and healing, and ushering in new paradigms of inclusion, equality and social justice. “I am just carrying on the work that’s been going on for years,” Johnson says modestly. “I just love creating a stage and supporting folks who have energy to create and to create change.” Learning from the past Johnson is perhaps first and foremost a historian. It is what informs everything she does. As a child, born in Kalamazoo and raised in Saginaw, she would tape conversations with others on a Panasonic tape recorder, not knowing then that she was dabbling in her first oral history project. “I was always interested in history. I have always been interested in how people live and how it impacts their lives,” she says, “but I didn’t know it could be a career.” It wasn’t until she attended Michigan State University and learned about a degree in humanities that Johnson knew what she wanted to do. At the time she was studying pre-law, focusing on minority-majority group relations. “In that process it became very clear that many of the things I experienced in Kalamazoo and in Saginaw were resonant with these larger questions of class, race, and gender and space, place and history,” says Johnson.