Danna Johnson is quietly making noise in her community!
Danna Johnson epitomizes what effective community engagement looks like! Danna is a native of Honduras and a Parents for Public Schools (PPS) Parent Engagement Program (PEP) graduate and parent leader in her community of Vardaman, MS. She is also a very committed, involved, and energized parent leader who saw a need in her community and did something about it. The small town of Vardaman, which is known as the “Sweet Potato Capital of the World,” has many Hispanic workers who harvest the crop for which the town is known, yet many of these workers are only able to communicate with fellow Hispanics since they do not speak English. Danna recognized this barrier to communication in her community, and using her innovative leadership skills, organized classes and began teaching English to Hispanics. As a result of learning English, the Hispanics are now able to connect to community resources and actively participate in community and school-related events.
Danna schedules the English classes around the sweet potato growing season to alleviate any work time barriers thus ensuring optimum participation from the Hispanic community. To truly relay the impact Danna’s classes have had, one of last year’s graduates included an elderly man who has lived in Vardaman for over 25 years and had never had the opportunity to learn to speak English – until Danna. After participating in Danna’s English classes, for the first time in over 25 years, this man was able to communicate with his fellow English speaking community members, which he did proudly! Danna took her classes even further by inviting some of Vardaman’s English speaking community members to join the class for a shared meal and some Spanish lessons, bridging the two cultures.
But Danna did not stop there! She also saw that there was a community need for many of the Hispanic women who wanted to learn skills to become employed in the community. Danna secured donations of sewing machines and fabric and helped many of the women learn to sew. They used their new-found skill to make aprons, scarves, and other items which are being sold at a local business. One of the women who learned to sew was able to find full-time work in one of the local furniture plants.
Yet another community barrier Danna recognized and addressed is that although nearly half of Vardaman’s school population is Spanish speaking, there are no school employees who speak Spanish. So now, Danna also serves as a liaison for Hispanic families and schools by bridging communication and culture barriers, creating much more conducive, supportive learning environments for children. She also quietly provides transportation and translation help to families so that they may be more effectively involved and actively engaged in their children’s education.
Danna connects Hispanic families to resources in and beyond their community. She builds bridges between the White and Hispanic communities who, despite living side by side, are sometimes worlds apart: their own churches, their own stores and restaurants, their own languages. As described by her PEP Parent Coach, Sally Gray, “Danna is just a quiet community leader who sees problems or needs and takes them on. She is amazing. She strives for justice and peace and respects the dignity of every human being.”