SCG is excited to announce that Joanna Jackson, Vice President of Programs at the Weingart Foundation, and Alex Johnson, Program Director at The California Wellness Foundation, joined SCG's Board of Directors in June 2020. We spoke to our new Board members about their journeys, the role of equity and trust in their grantmaking, and what's giving them hope for the future.
Alex Johnson is a servant leader whose life and work express his unapologetic commitment to advancing equity and dismantling injustice on behalf of communities that face systemic oppression. Alex brings significant professional experience working across multiple systems – from youth justice to education to public safety – from the public sector to the nonprofit sector.
After graduating from law school and having clerked at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, he served as a prosecutor in the Bronx County District Attorney's Office. As a prosecutor, his team advocated for victims of domestic violence, primarily women of color. There, he witnessed firsthand the often-unchecked power of prosecutors and law enforcement departments, as well as how punishment was meted out to those caught at the intersection of poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and unequal educational opportunities. A product of public education in Los Angeles, Alex has worked for the New York City Department of Education, briefly taught high school students in the District of Columbia, and has served as president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
Alex currently serves as a program director at the California Wellness Foundation. He leads a multimillion-dollar grantmaking portfolio that supports community-based organizations in creating healthier environments, preventing gun violence, developing community-led approaches to community violence, transforming the youth justice system, and advancing healing and wellness. Before Cal Wellness, Alex served as Executive Director at the Children's Defense Fund-California, leading statewide efforts to improve healthcare access, educational equity, end child poverty, and reform the juvenile justice system. He has also served as Managing Director at Californians for Safety and Justice and as a senior policy advisor for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. As a policy advisor, he worked to ensure access to high-quality universal preschool and early childhood education, reform the LA County Probation Department, and bring civilian oversight to the LA County Sheriff's Department.
At Cal Wellness, Alex prioritizes the perspectives of the people on the ground, working to solve the most intractable, systemic problems in communities of color. Alex's approach to philanthropy and social justice focuses on listening and learning from the community's voices while drawing upon his personal experiences. "As a statewide funder committed to racial justice, our role is to respond to the needs and desires of historically marginalized and disinvested communities through a strategic approach directly informed by these communities." He challenges funders to harness philanthropy's power to respond boldly and urgently to the challenges, hopes and dreams of communities of color.
Alex is not one to sit on the sidelines or tiptoe around issues to be polite. He believes in speaking truth to power and not falling into complacency. "One of my favorite quotes from Cornel West is to be aware of deodorized discourse' –– we must be strategic disruptors and boldly confront the ills that this nation has wrought." As the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery opened the world's eyes once again to the racism and brutality perpetrated against Black men and women, Alex published a profoundly moving essay, "Perpetual Wounds." Four years earlier, in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, he authored another personal reflection, "It Could Have Been Me." Despite the pain and trauma that endures from the need to continue reinforcing that Black lives matter, Alex remains filled with a sense of hope fueled by the uncompromising organizers, activists, and leaders who persist in their efforts to uproot entrenched inequities and ensure that communities can thrive.
Humbled by the struggles and sacrifices of those who gave and still give their lives in pursuit of equality and justice, Alex is grateful for the opportunity to serve on the board of Southern California Grantmakers. He joins the board guided by the values imparted by his parents and elders and fortified by the words from Sweet Honey in the Rock's powerful Ella's Song, "We who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.