Making use of her talents to bring about positive change around the globe, Natasha Johnson is a multimedia artist, alumnus of the Rhode Island School of Design, and recipient of the 2019 Sony Alpha Female Creator-in-Residence Award. Her passion is the education and inspiration of those who surround her. She was the founder of a creative arts after-school program known as the Smart Project and the creator of The Self Publication–a photographic book series that features photos and reflections from people in The Black community.

Nitashia recently had a conversation to discuss the topic with Photographers Without Borders (PWB) founder Danielle Da Silva as part of PWB’s ongoing “Storytelling for Change” webinar series. Below are edited excerpts of the conversation, which discuss mentorship, self-love and being positive and the best way to capture political movements and become a great BIPOC partner.

Da Silva: You’re an artist, youth leader and you’re publishing the magazine of your choice. What was the first step on the path you’re currently on?

JohnsonI was raised in an apartment in West Dallas, Texas. It wasn’t exactly the most ideal however, we did the best we could to make it through. When I was a kid, I wasn’t always able to see the bad things that were happening. I was a positive person and, I am grateful to my grandma and step-grandpa, I held my head to the sky. My granddad advised me to maintain the innocence in me since he saw my positive spirit.

I grew up being moved across the country. I even failed the third grade due to the year I lived with my mother. I don’t think I was in school all year. It was a very disruptive experience. It caused a lot of stress in my life. However, I was fortunate enough to have a number of great instructors and people who believed in me — and they helped me reach an even higher level. I’m able to say with certainty that if it weren’t for them, and the people in my family who were in my life, I would not have become what I’m today. So, I’m determined to achieve the same things that other people have done for me.

Da Silva: I’d like to discuss your involvement in conjunction with The Self Publication. Could you share some details about how you started this publication and, more specifically, what it is?

Johnson It is my opinion that the events of my life was the source of inspiration for the publication, but what truly drove it was the time I was in the graduate program. It was there that I grew distant from family and friends, as well as everything I had in Texas. However, I began to notice brutal memes and stereotypes of the Black community circulating on the internet. Certain stereotypes affected many of my friends and me. My friends were worried about the microaggressions they face at work as well as issues in their relationships and how they’re perceived as well as how they’re required to compromise, and even modify their voice or positions to gain jobs. It’s all extremely draining on our human spirit.

Therefore, I decided to create an opportunity that would allow Black people to speak about themselves in order for other people to connect with them. This is the reason why The Self Publication began. It’s a struggle, as I’m the only one doing it; however, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I am a huge fan of my heritage, and I am fascinated by the thought of people learning about it and comprehending it.

Da Silva: How do you locate the stories for The Self Publication? What’s the feedback you receive from those whose stories are included?

Johnson: If I’m looking for potential participants, they are either found through word of mouth or through an online article. It is important to me to find those who are extremely considerate, who value others, who have faith in themselves and are comfortable sharing their experiences. I’m not trying to make anyone take any action. I’m all for positive energy. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting more than 28 people who are energized, and they’re all for it. When the book is released they typically say, “Thank you for allowing me to tell my story.” However, I am grateful to them for sharing those tales with me.

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