Michelle Johnson

Equity Consultant/Facilitator

What do you do at CEI?

I facilitate transformative race equity trainings with non-profits, activists and community groups. My facilitation style focuses on developing a practice that centers anti-racism. The tools I use to facilitate the process of creating racial equity and change work includes embodied practices that encourage participants to feel instead of focusing on intellectualizing an issue that is much more about feelings than thoughts. I invite people to connect with their heart and breath. I provide coaching for Executive Directors and at the staff-level, helping organizations’ integrate race equity into every part of their work. I develop curriculum focused on transforming the heart to inspire others to live into their humanity and to recognize our shared humanity.

What were you doing prior to CEI?

Prior to CEI, I wore many hats, some people called me a “Jacquie of all trades.” I am a native of Virginia and I lived there for the first 21 years of my life. For the second 21 years of my life, I’ve been in North Carolina. I have been a social worker since 1998 and I was licensed to practice clinical social work since 2001. I’ve worked in various non-profits and organizations based in North Carolina including: The Mental Health Association, The Orange County Rape Crisis Center, UNC-Chapel Hill in the Counseling Center and East Chapel Hill High School. I have a breadth of experience supporting people who are suffering from mental health issues. In addition to clinical social work, I’ve been a dismantling racism trainer with Dismantling Racism Works, dRWorks, since 2001. I’ve been leading trainings that focus on dismantling personal, institutional and cultural racism for many years. Somewhere along the way I realized that I wanted to enhance my work and I became a certified yoga teacher in 2009. Really this work of changing the world is all about embodiment. We have to be in our bodies, and connect with our feelings to change. Transformative work isn’t an intellectual process and I integrate embodied practice including movement and breath into all of the work that I do. Lastly, I dappled in politics and was elected to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in 2011 and resigned from the board during my second-term due to my relocation to Portland and my new work with CEI.

Why do you do this work?

This “work” isn’t a choice for me. It’s a way of living. It’s a practice. I have limited time on this planet and I want to use it wisely and for the collective good. I’ve always had a keen sense of the suffering that exists in this world and my desire is to create a world that truly allows all of us to experience liberation. Dismantling Oppressive systems is one way of liberating minds and hearts. Moving the body and breathing as a radical and act of resistance to white supremacy is another. I am a woman of color in a culture that annihilates my people physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally every minute of everyday. I want to acknowledge that, change it and create space of healing.

What do you believe?
I believe that all of us need to heal.
I believe in finding joy in this brutal world.
I believe that people hunger for change and that we live in a culture that forces us to disconnect from the very center of our being.
I believe that relationship building is central to creating equity.
I know that feelings trump thoughts and that we cannot intellectualize of quantify the damage done to us all by white supremacy.
I know for sure that this work requires love and compassion.

What is a question that guides your work?
What contradictions am I willing to embrace today?

Quote that resonates with you about this work?
TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn