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12 on Tuesday: Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson

Madison365’s new weekly feature will pose 12 questions to community leaders. Up first is Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.

1. Rank your Top 5 MCs. Scarface, 2 Pac, Biggie, Ice Cube and Eminem. While I was growing up in the projects in Chicago all five of these Hip Hop artists told stories of my community’s reality, and many of their songs were embedded in our culture.

2. Growing up, whom did you look up to more: Malcolm X or Dr. Martin Luther King? I grew up being a huge fan of Dr. King and studied him as a young man. I became a fan of his teaching, admired his courage, principles and his ability to connect with different groups of people.

I also admired the work of Malcolm X, especially during the latter part of his life. I was fortunate to have lunch with his wife Betty Shabazz in 1995 when I was the president of the student government association at Malcolm X College. I learned a lot more about her husband and was amazed that she visited the school and took the time to meet with me and others to discuss the civil rights movement. Afterwards, I was intrigued to learn more about her husband and began to study him more. I believe both men played a tremendous role during the civil rights era and beyond.

3. Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters? I feed off positive energy and thrive on working with those who are supportive and forward thinking. I also appreciate doubters who might be wired to process things more and might be skeptical of projects and people. I like hiring these kinds of thinkers in management positions because they add balance to my leadership. Both supporters and doubters help equalize a leader like me who is fast to move and quick to act. Sometimes doubters can keep you on your game and help you process challenges that your overt supporters may not see.

4. When you moved to Madison, what surprised you the most about the city? It’s a giving and generous community, which I appreciate. I was also surprised by the urban issues facing our city around disparities in education, mass incarceration and unemployment, which are plaguing us just as much as larger urban cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis to name a few. I’m surprised by the lack of coordination among different groups of leaders in our community. I am surprised by their lack of courage and support for others, and that is probably the most disappointing. Over the years I’ve witnessed some great orators who lack vision, will power and political astuteness to move a serious coordinated agenda forward. Many of our leaders have become a “city of talkers” who are quick to criticize “the city of doers,” which has surprised me. I will probably get some blacklash over that comment, but it won’t be the first time. I have gotten immune to these very educated, critical leaders that lead by talking and do little to nothing to help those really in need.

5. What are the top 3 priorities at this point in your life? My purpose in life is to be a good husband, father, servant leader and difference maker for those in need. This is my personal mission statement and priorities in life.

6. What’s your secret to being such a good fundraiser? It’s all about relationships! It’s about being honest and delivering on the promise. You also have to develop a resource development plan that is supported by a team of volunteers and support staff who believe in your mission and vision.

7. The unspoken concern of Madisonians is a lot of our problems come from transplants from Chicago. You’re from Chicago. What is your perspective on this issue? We are a country of immigrants and our city should be viewed as such. If we blame our issues on one demographic over the other, collectively we all lose. We need to understand the issues, develop a coordinated plan with resources and accountability to follow, and I believe these concerns will begin to blemish. In regards to being from Chicago, I am proud to come from an urban Chicago community and can bring my life experiences and skills to a leadership position that touches the lives of thousands of kids and their families.

8. Do you prefer being called Black or African American? I am okay with either.

9. What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities?  There have been many announced initiatives that have made headlines with little to no financial support compared to the problems that exist. These kinds of announcements and initiatives give our community false hope, but make good headlines. Our community need a systematic management plan that is fully resourced with a leader(s) who are  politically savvy. A team that has vision and can move a bold agenda forward. Until we add these components to the equation we will continue to stumble, fall and trip over these issues.

10. Tupac or Biggie? Listened to both coming up and don’t favor one over the other.

11. What 3 leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? Anthony Cooper and Mahlon Mitchell are my top picks. They are smart, savvy, well connected and are honest, humbled men. Peter Gray and Janine Stephens are tied for the number three spot.  They both are silent leaders who work smart and hard to help other organizations and causes that important to them.

12. What are the top 3 concerns you hear from the Latino community when it comes to their kids?  Access, inclusion, family programming and communication.

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