Diversity and Community-Building: A Conversation with Mrs. Johnson

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BrieAnn Johnson, an Upper Division English teacher, is one of the many new Cyclones that Casady welcomed this year. She was born and raised in Arizona and has lived in Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as Oklahoma City. Diversity and community-building have been enduring concerns for Mrs. Johnson throughout her career.

Earlier this year, Upper Division English teachers Mrs. Johnson and Ms. Stone attended the People of Color conference in Anaheim, California. The conference is hosted annually by the National Association of Independent Schools and has grown to welcome almost 6,000 people just last year since its start in 1986. It focuses on providing a safe space for educators and students of color in private schools. Mrs. Johnson feels that Casady, although not as diverse as other schools she’s worked at, carries out some aspects of community-building that she enjoys, such as family dining. She says “I always used to eat lunch by myself on purpose. I was like, ‘I just need some downtime,’ and the fact that I’m forced to go sit and talk and eat with people… I think it’s just a great little break in the day.”

Mrs. Johnson recognizes that the current political climate has changed the conversation on diversity. She believes that although people are starting to discuss problems minorities face and be more receptive to new ideas, there are some people who are still struggling to accept that there is still progress to be made. Ms. Johnson says, “I think that in the current political climate, everyone is just building walls around themselves instead of being introspective and taking the time to say, ‘Hey, but maybe it could be a little different’ instead of saying, ‘You said what about me?!'”

This affinity for community-building and making sure everyone is represented reflects itself in the people whom Mrs. Johnson admires, including ex-President Barack Obama and the first woman to be chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller. “Anybody who tries to unify or create a sense of community or belonging, for everyone, that’s really important and valuable to me, and it’s probably what I look up to most in other people.”

Additionally, language has always been important to her. “I chose English to go into, with the idea that everyone has a story and that stories are worth telling, especially so that we can experience the perspective of other people,” Mrs. Johnson says. Consistent with her fondness of helping others, Mrs. Johnson says that if she had not chosen to be an English teacher, she would have “been a doctor or midwife–something along those lines,” and her students are glad she chose the former.