Who she is: Nicole Johnson. Student, community leader, founder and creative director.
Why she shines: Nicole's dedication to her faith, her community and her craft is inspirational. Guided by purpose and passion Nicole has found a way to keep her faith first while striving to reach her goals.
GS: Tell us a little about yourself.
Nicole Johnson: I'm a 20 year old student at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study where I'm majoring in ethical management and production in the arts. I freelance in musical theater performance, dance, acting and videography/editing. I'm also a youth community service coordinator and Founder & Creative Director of Javanna Productions.
GS: That's great! Dance is definitely a huge part of your life. When did you start dancing and what has the journey meant to you so far?
NJ: I started dancing when I was 5 and it just became an integral part of my life.
Dance isn't necessarily the name I call for that part of my life - I like to call it movement, because honestly, I'm not a fan of what our society knows as dance or commercial performance. I'm more intrigued by movement quality and how music makes me want to move. I understand dance to be a visual experience for the audience, while movement is an experience for me.
GS: With that being said, where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
NJ: I hope to be working in the industry learning more about how it works, what artists need, what audiences want to see and how to achieve sustainable results in artistic production. With all that information, I can continue to empower my own company and eventually have the best company I can possibly own that will benefit the community at large.
GS: Within your production company, you have this amazing event, M.O.V.E. What's it all about?
NJ: Javanna Productions (JP) is a non profit 501c3 organization that raises funds and awareness for rising domestic and international social issues via the arts. Every year JP presents an effort entitled M.O.V.E. (Motivation Opportunity Vision Entertainment), where members and participants of the organization use their craft to raise funds and awareness for prevalent social issues such as Autism, Diabetes and Education. The company is home to an international base of dancers, visual artists, singers, spoken word artists, videographers, photographers, event organizers, fashion designers, producers and arts administrative managers who are dedicated to using their craft for the advancement of their community. In the past year JP has presented M.O.V.E. For Autism, M.O.V.E. for Cambodia, M.O.V.E. For Ghana, M.O.V.E. For Uganda, M.O.V.E. For Celiac Disease, M.O.V.E. For Liberia, M.O.V.E. Gluten Free!, M.O.V.E. For AIDS Awareness.
GS: What advice do you have for anyone trying to start a non-profit organization?
NJ: If you're trying to start a non-profit, invest in a consultant.
Find somebody who is proficient in the field of non-profit work to walk you through the steps of initiating your journey as a non-profit company. Keep your financial records as tight as you possibly can and define your mission so that you can tell everybody about it in two or three sentences.
GS: Who or what is it that inspires you?
NJ: My brother, Grant Johnson, really inspires me. He has autism and he's turning 15 this summer. His autism is such a blessing in my opinion. I think his it's what allows him to have such a care free personality.
Grant doesn't have that thing that is lodged in our brains that makes us stress and worry, therefore he's so peaceful and confident in himself. He doesn't care what people think about him and he doesn't care about the standards of this world, so he's just living his life and enjoying himself everyday.
It's been great watching him develop in the past 15 years. Although we are helping him to fit into society through means of education and therapy, he still maintains his peacefulness and I feel like he'll be a kid forever, which is a great thing to be in my opinion.
GS: He's very lucky to have someone who sees him the way you do. What was the most difficult thing you've had to overcome and how did you do it?
NJ: I think things get difficult when I'm not working to uplift God. When I am adhering to my Christian mission, things make sense, my path is clear, and I just do what I have to do. So lately, I haven't had to overcome anything "difficult." Don't get me wrong, things are always challenging, but with time and experience I'm beginning to feel like nothing is too difficult to overcome.
But one thing that had me stumped for a while was my passion for the entertainment industry. I was very excited about performing and dependent on the industry for my happiness. If I wasn't booking jobs, I wasn't feeling good, and that was definitely a road block for my development. I was thinking that I could make things happen by myself if I just worked hard enough and met the right people. I was serving two purposes and essentially worshiping two powers - myself and God. That struggle between the two was killing me.
I was separating my relationship with the church from my relationship with work and I was just making it more difficult to live. So, it wasn't until I died to myself that I was truly open to God's will, and that's when things fell into place as my dad said they would, if I kept God first.
GS: "Keep God first." Is that the best advice you've ever been given?
NJ: I feel like I get this advice every day from at least one of my family members or a church member. Every time I hear this, I consider it deeply, but the one time it really resonated with me was when my dad said it.
He gave me this promise ring a few years ago and with it he told me, "Keep God first." So now, every time I look down at my ring I remember the advice and it truly is the only piece of advice I need to be happy and successful.
GS: How do you keep your light shining?
I know my light is not shining when I get distracted from my Christian mission and when I'm not shining, I can sense it because I don't feel good about the things I may or may not be doing.
In order to keep my light shining, I constantly remind myself of where I come from, who created me, and what my purpose is. As long as I'm striving to adhere to God's word, I know my light is shining.
Photos by Amy Hendy