I love Black History Month, although I am Black History three hundred and sixty five days each year. However, this is the one time we collectively learn together and share so much about our past, our history makers and who is doing what in our communities.
I took some time out to reflect and during this entire month I would like to portray each day going forward information on the unsung heroes who are positively changing our community. My interviews this month will expose to you change agents, advocates, mentors and authors making a difference. Through portraying these individuals I hope to give you inspiration through the greater efforts and accomplishments of our African American men and women who continue to strive for change through undying efforts. I hope to flicker a flame in those who are seeking ways to becoming more actively involved in their community. These unsung heroes are key leaders and they are leaving a mark whether you know it or not. Consequently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, Sonya Sanchez, Maya Angelou and so many notable others have sparked and ignited in me the energy and the drive to rise up and be heard.
Meet Annette Owens-Johnson, a true and sincere advocate for change. She is the director of Women Against Abuse, Inc. transitional housing program “Sojourner House.” We met a year after I launched my campaign, “Speaking up against Domestic Violence.” After the brutal murder of my sister-in-law, who lost her life at the hands of her abuser, I reached out to Women Against Abuse, Inc. (WAA) and asked them to allow me to support their cause jointly through my novel, A Woman Scorn’d and through my campaigning numerous copies of A Woman Scorn’d have been donated to the Sojourner House program to assist with their cause. I continue to support them by assisting with developing fundraiser events and spreading awareness at my book signings through my speeches, the brochures WAA supplies to me and from passing out the crisis hotline numbers wherever I go.
DG: Annette, as an advocate and a change agent working in the profession of assisting women who are transitioning from a life of abuse to a life of completeness and total control of their situation, I felt the need to show others how affective your input has been. Help me and others who are reading this article for the first time, to understand the importance of what you do for our community. What has motivated you to become an advocate?
AJ: My motivation to become an advocate began when I was just a teenager, as I witnessed various social ills, such as an unjust criminal justice system, institutional racism, and violence, both domestic and abroad. I was a witness to these social ills all throughout my environment, including my own home. Being a witness to various social ills throughout my life has had a profound impact on how I choose to live my life to combat these ills.
DG: Can you describe for me a typical day in your profession?
AJ: Well, as a social worker, a typical day in my larger profession is all-encompassing, as social workers at large work in just about every field, from health care, to politics, to the justice system. As far as a typical day in my particular occupation, as the director of transitional housing for Women Against Abuse, Inc. (WAA), this entails the overall management of WAA’s transitional housing facility Sojourner House, and includes hiring, guiding and supervising Sojourner House staff- case managers, the Children’s Program, maintenance and housekeeping, and an MSW intern; ensuring that the program is in compliance and external requirements, including extensive completion of reports; exploring various resources, through staff trainings, and meetings, including the distribution of these resources; and providing guidance for the actual physical structure of the facility, i.e., managing inventory, repairs, renovations, etc.
DG: What are the rewards in doing what you do each and everyday?
AJ: As far as the rewards to what I do each and everyday, first let me just say that the social work profession tends to be an undervalued profession. Our overarching goal is to assist and partner with those who are in need, and we do this throughout every facet of life, with relatively little respect or recognition, in terms of compensation, etc., compared to other helping professions. It’s a good thing we’re not in it for the money. I do want to bring awareness to this issue, nevertheless, as this is one thing that I strive to do every day within my profession. Actually, the real rewards for me and my fellow social workers lie in the fact that we are truly helping vulnerable and oppressed populations, from the elderly lady in hospice care, to my clients, who are families who are surviving the tragedies of domestic violence. Every day that I go to work, no matter how demanding it gets, and trust me, it does get really demanding, I see the positive change that is being brought forth, by virtue of our clients, the people that we are serving. I see it in the expressions and interactions amongst both clients and staff. And I can honestly say that I love what I do. That’s priceless.
DG: If there was one thing you could change in the community what exactly would it be?
AJ: Wow, only one thing that I would change about the community? There are so many needs. Well, if I was able to change only one thing, it would have to be that people would focus their efforts on a collective cause to bring about peace. Certain societies today seem to be so individualized that instead of thinking of the various ways that we can help our fellow person, our thoughts focus on how we as individuals and sects can remain in power, by any means necessary, mainly through oppression, and particularly through violence (by cultivating both war in the home, as well as war abroad), while simultaneously distracting us from the real needs and issues at hand.
Again, through my experiences in working with WAA, and in general, I have seen how making a concerted effort towards positive change can actually bring that change about. And there are so many opportunities to do this, for one, through volunteering to assist in various causes, combating various social ills, but also in our everyday life. As stated by our Maintenance Technician at Sojourner House: if everybody in the world gave just a little bit more, just imagine what a better world it would be.
DG: Thanks, Annette. I would like to thank you for giving of your time unselfishly for the sole benefit of others and for allowing me the opportunity to show the community how devoted and dedicated you are to such a worthy cause. It’s people like you who truly make a difference!
AJ: And I want to thank you, Dorothy, for giving not just a little bit more, but a lot more, to the cause. Be Blessed.
DG: Let’s all make a difference. Stop the silence and speak up against Domestic Violence. Together our voices will be heard!
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” _ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.