Clyde Johnson Jr., Carroll Community College’s first Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. (Courtesy Photo)

By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

When Clyde Johnson Jr., became Carroll Community College’s first Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on January 11, he stepped into a newly created position and onto a nearly empty campus, a condition resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown. Johnson was not discouraged by the turn of events and viewed the near “student-less” campus and limited access to faculty, administrators, the college family, and the community, in general, as an opportunity to focus on developing a strategy on which to build the initiative.

“The main focus, for me, was really getting to know my president, understanding how to support him, how to support his administration, and getting to know the board members as much as possible, with us meeting virtually and beginning to think about a diversity plan going forward,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, facing inequities began long before he started working in the field. He still recalls a White high school counselor’s comment, expressing her belief that Blacks weren’t equipped for college. “My high school guidance counselor asked, ‘What do we want to do? Where do we want to go to school,’ and I said, ‘I want to be a mortician.’ Then, she said, ‘Good, because all you people can’t make it in college.’”

That exchange was in stark contrast to the conversations he had with his father regarding which college (HBCU) he would attend. While his dad was not overjoyed with his stated professional goal (but willing to listen), there was no wiggle room when it came to college. The Rev. Clyde Johnson Sr., a proud alumnus of Shaw University, informed him, “Well, you can do that, but you’re going to a four-year school, first.” 

Johnson explains, “Dad’s thing was, ‘You’re going to go to a four-year school because you’re going to get that foundation, and it’s going to be a Black school.’”

Ultimately, Johnson went on to earn a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in clinical psychology at Virginia State University, the alma mater of his mother, Mary Alice Johnson.

Fresh out of college, as a psychologist working in North Carolina’s prison system, he recognized the disparities between sentences given to Black and White men jailed for the same offenses. His personal experience with on-the-job discrimination was an “in-your-face” reminder that the incarcerated were not the only ones seen as less than equal. Even, after his transition to work in healthcare, the prevalence of inequities was impossible to overlook. When Johnson’s career path led to diversity work in the college arena, those experiences provided perspective for the kinds of inequities anyone can face when trying to find his or her place in the world.

That perspective, coupled with two decades of experience working to create welcoming and inclusive environments for those in and around higher education communities, which include Eastern Virginia Medical School, Old Dominion University, and Maryland Institute College of Art, has proven invaluable as the new ED has acquainted himself with Carroll Community College and its neighbors, even in the absence of students. 

“An interesting thing that has happened for me is beginning to meet people in the community. I worked with a group, the Carroll County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, who wanted to acknowledge the tragedy of the lynching of Townsend Cook, in Carroll County, in 1885,” he explains. “Meeting with those citizens is allowing me to gain an understanding of how they look at social justice issues and their focus.”

When the fall semester begins, Carroll Community College will welcome its students and allow Johnson to see the campus in action. “The return to school in the fall really means getting to observe and learn the cultural norms of an institution,” he explains.

Johnson is pleased that students will return, and he will be able to begin working with them, directly. Looking forward to that opportunity, he says, “The joy of cultural understanding and often the pains of misunderstanding, are really most vivid with human interaction. I will get to be in classrooms with students, listen and understand their needs, and help shape the opportunities to help them prepare to be professionals in a global society.” 

For information about programs at Carroll Community College, visit https://www.carrollcc.edu/.

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Jannette J. Witmyer

Special to the AFRO