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Meet Birmingham’s Felicia Johnson, President of American Business Women’s Association

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — As national president of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), Birmingham’s Felicia Johnson helps women grow through leadership, education, networking support, and national recognition. Johnson was elected last fall, and said her journey to the presidency has a lot to do with her service in the Magic City.

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Felicia Johnson (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

By Ameera Steward

As national president of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), Birmingham’s Felicia Johnson helps women grow through leadership, education, networking support, and national recognition. Johnson was elected last fall, and said her journey to the presidency has a lot to do with her service in the Magic City.

“For me to be able to win, it’s phenomenal,” said Johnson, who joined the ABWA in 2003. “It’s awesome to know that people have that much confidence in me to [elect me] to lead this association.

“I’ve served in every leadership role on the local level. … When you do that, you get to interact with people, and people watch you over the years. When you look at where I came from and [see that] our chapter is not a large chapter, it’s special to get the [national vote].”

Johnson has served as president of the ABWA’s Birmingham chapter three times, beginning in 2006, and she was recently voted president for a fourth time this year.

“I’ve been in the association for more than 16 years, so over the course of that time people have watched me grow … [and] watched me at different events,” she said. “I think a lot of it has to do with personality, leadership skills, how well you get along with others.”

In addition to working on the local level, Johnson was instrumental in forming the ABWA’s Alabama Council in 2014, which is made up of chapters from Montgomery, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Anniston. She served as committee chair of the statewide council for 2014 and 2016, attending regional and national meetings to become more involved. Eventually, women on the national board asked if Johnson would consider a leadership position.

“After interacting with different people, I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can do something,’” she said. “So, I decided I would try.”

Johnson was elected ABWA president during the group’s 69th National Women’s Leadership Conference in Augusta, Ga., in October 2018. She also serves as the trustee for a foundation through which the association provides scholarships for women.

As national president of the Kansas City-based ABWA, Johnson oversees a nine-member executive board and six districts, each of which is represented by a vice president: “All of us together govern … all of the women across the U.S.,” she said.

Musically Inclined

Johnson, 58, was born and raised on the east side of Birmingham, where W.C. Patton Park is now located. She graduated from Carol W. Hayes High School in 1979. She attended Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville, where she was a biology major with a minor in chemistry; she graduated in 1983. During her time in college, she played baritone saxophone in the jazz and concert bands, in addition to playing tenor sax in the marching band—where she made history as TSU’s first female drum major in 1981.

“I love music: I sing, and I play. Music is a very important part of my life,” said Johnson, who is a lead singer and an alto with the W.J. Nickols Gospel Ensemble, a community choir in Birmingham that she’s been with for about 15 years, as well as with the Bernard Bowden Voices of Faith, a group she’s been part of for the past four years.

She also plays piano at her church, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on 14th Avenue North in Birmingham, where her husband of eight years, James Johnson, is the pastor.

“If you’re ever around me for long, I’ll be singing,” she said. “I’ve always got a song in my head. … Music is ingrained in me.”

In fact, Johnson grew up in a musical family. Her father, John Carter, who passed away two years ago, was a musician and singer who played trombone and sang at Ullman High School and at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in East Lake on Kentucky Avenue. And her mother, Hattie Carter, sings at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

Johnson’s siblings, two sisters and one brother, are musically inclined, as well. Her brother, John G. Carter, is the leader of and a singer with the Bernard Bowden Voices of Faith and also plays trombone, which he’s played since high school. Her older sister plays “any woodwind or reed instrument, such as the bassoon, oboe, and clarinet,” but she doesn’t sing. Her youngest sister, who sings and plays the piano and clarinet, sometimes serves as a backup musician at her church in Chicago.

“Music has been in our household throughout my life,” Johnson said. “All my life, when I sing, especially when I do gospel, it’s freeing and allows me to let the spirit of God that’s in me hopefully minister to other people.”

Her love of music goes beyond family and church, too. Johnson, who has been a business manager for AT&T Corp. since 1985, is also part of the Connie Carson AT&T Pioneer Singers, which is part of the AT&T Pioneers volunteer network. The group performs at company events, Christmas celebrations, and veteran’s parades, in addition to visiting and performing at nursing homes.

Joy of Reading

Johnson is also an avid reader. No matter what it the subject matter, “I love to read,” she said, adding that she is currently reading the ABWA’s two publications: Women in Business magazine and the Achieve newsletter.

She and her younger sister share their book lists, which they did recently, so Johnson is in the process of choosing something from her sister’s list. The last book Johnson read was Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.”

“I love that book. … It was a good read,” she said, adding that she recently finished “An American Marriage,” as a light read.

Johnson loves reading so much that she also works with Better Basics, a program that provides literacy intervention and enrichment activities for students in area schools. She reads to second graders through the “Ready to Read” initiative “… just [to] give students a love for reading,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You can go anywhere in your mind when you read.’”

Providing Service

In all areas of her life—whether through her work with the AWBA or her love of music and reading—Johnson has a passion for service. She is a board member with the James Lewis Tennis Scholarship Foundation, which gives “children from the inner city a love for tennis” and has an educational component. She has been with the foundation for nine years and currently serves as its vice president.

Johnson has been a mentor with the Dannon Project, a mentorship program and nonprofit organization that helps unemployed or underemployed at-risk youth and nonviolent offenders reentering society, for six years. She has served as scholarship brunch chair for the TSU Alumni Association for the last two years. She is president of the South Cahaba Council of the AT&T Pioneers volunteer network that works in the community. She’s a professional clown, too.

Johnson is known as FeFe Felicity the clown, and she appears at the children’s parade during Mardi Gras in Mobile, visits nursing homes, and participates in Veteran’s Day parades. She has been a clown for 10 years and is part of a clown alley, a term used to describe a group of clowns. She is a member of the Magic City Town Clowns, as well as an AT&T Pioneer clown.

“A lot of my volunteer work is done in association with AT&T Pioneers, but … I am owner of the name and business [of] FeFe Felicity, so I can do paid events [and] volunteer,” Johnson said, adding that FeFe is for anyone that wants to have a good time, not just children.

“FeFe gives you fun, honey. … Just a bundle of fun.”

Speaking of children, they are a big part of Johnson’s life. She and her husband have a total of 11 children from previous marriages, 17 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

“We’re a blended family,” she said. “We take [the grandchildren] as they come. … We still have five children that haven’t had any children, so there’s potential to grow.”

Johnson said service “gives her a fulfillment that she is able to give back.”

“I feel like I’m helping people, especially around education,” she said. “I think education is the only thing that will allow you to move forward. Once you get it in [your mind], nobody can take it from you.

“Being able to give back and help other people see the importance of education helps [them] grow. I think we ought to be able to bring somebody up … and send them on to go farther than [we’ve gone].”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Beloved Actor and Activist Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. Dies at 87

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Louis Gossett Jr., the groundbreaking actor whose career spanned over five decades and who became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” has died. Gossett, who was born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, N.Y., was 87. Recognized early on for his resilience and nearly unmatched determination, Gossett arrived in Los Angeles in 1967 after a stint on Broadway.
The post Beloved Actor and Activist Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. Dies at 87 first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

@StacyBrownMedia

Louis Gossett Jr., the groundbreaking actor whose career spanned over five decades and who became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” has died. Gossett, who was born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, N.Y., was 87. Recognized early on for his resilience and nearly unmatched determination, Gossett arrived in Los Angeles in 1967 after a stint on Broadway.

He sometimes spoke of being pulled over by law enforcement en route to Beverly Hills, once being handcuffed to a tree, which he remembered as a jarring introduction to the racial tensions of Hollywood. In his memoir “An Actor and a Gentleman,” Gossett recounted the ordeal, noting the challenges faced by Black artists in the industry. Despite the hurdles, Gossett’s talent shone brightly, earning him acclaim in groundbreaking productions such as “A Raisin in the Sun” alongside Sidney Poitier. His Emmy-winning portrayal of Fiddler in “Roots” solidified his status as a trailblazer, navigating a landscape fraught with racial prejudice.

According to the HistoryMakers, which interviewed him in 2005, Gossett’s journey into the limelight began during his formative years at PS 135 and Mark Twain Junior High School, where he demonstrated early leadership as the student body president. His passion for the arts blossomed when he starred in a “You Can’t Take It With You” production at Abraham Lincoln High School, catching the attention of talent scouts who propelled him onto Broadway’s stage in “Take A Giant Step.” His stellar performance earned him the prestigious Donaldson Award for Best Newcomer to Theatre in 1952. Though initially drawn to sports, Gossett’s towering 6’4” frame and athletic prowess led him to receive a basketball scholarship at New York University. Despite being drafted by the New York Knicks in 1958, Gossett pursued his love for acting, honing his craft at The Actors Studio under the tutelage of luminaries like John Sticks and Peggy Fury.

In 1961, Gossett’s talent caught the eye of Broadway directors, leading to roles in acclaimed productions such as “Raisin in the Sun” and “The Blacks,” alongside legends like James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Roscoe Lee Brown, and Maya Angelou. Transitioning seamlessly to television, Gossett graced small screens with appearances in notable shows like “The Bush Baby” and “Companions in Nightmare.” Gossett’s silver screen breakthrough came with his role in “The Landlord,” paving the way for a prolific filmography that spanned over 50 movies and hundreds of television shows. From “Skin Game” to “Lackawanna Blues,” Gossett captivated audiences with his commanding presence and versatile performances.

However, his portrayal of “Fiddler” in Alex Haley’s groundbreaking miniseries “Roots” earned Gossett critical acclaim, including an Emmy Award. The HistoryMakers noted that his golden touch extended to the big screen, where his role as Sergeant Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman” earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him a trailblazer in Hollywood history.

Beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Gossett was deeply committed to community activism. In 1964, he co-founded a theater group for troubled youth alongside James Earl Jones and Paul Sorvino, setting the stage for his lifelong dedication to mentoring and inspiring the next generation. Gossett’s tireless advocacy for racial equality culminated in the establishment of Eracism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating racism both domestically and abroad. Throughout his illustrious career, Gossett remained a beacon of strength and resilience, using his platform to uplift marginalized voices and champion social change. Gossett is survived by his children, Satie and Sharron.

The post Beloved Actor and Activist Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. Dies at 87 first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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COMMENTARY: D.C. Crime Bill Fails to Address Root Causes of Violence and Incarceration

WASHINGTON INFORMER — The D.C. crime bill and so many others like it are reminiscent of the ‘94 crime bill, which produced new and harsher criminal sentences, helped deploy thousands of police and surveilling methods in Black and brown communities, and incentivized more states to build prisons through a massive infusion of federal funding. While it is not at the root of mass incarceration, it significantly accelerated it, forcing a generation of Black and brown families into a never-ending cycle of state-sanctioned violence and incarceration.
The post COMMENTARY: D.C. Crime Bill Fails to Address Root Causes of Violence and Incarceration first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Kaili Moss and Jillian Burford | Washington Informer

Mayor Bowser has signed the “Secure DC” omnibus bill passed by the D.C. Council last month. But we already know that this bill will be disastrous for all of D.C., especially for Black and brown residents.

While proponents claim that this legislation “will make D.C. residents safer and more secure,” it actually does nothing to address the root of the harm in the first place and instead maintains a cycle of violence, poverty, and broken community ties. The omnibus bill calls for increased surveillance, drug-free zones, and will expand pre-trial detention that will incarcerate people at a significantly higher rate and for an indeterminate amount of time before they are even tried. This bill will roll back decades of nationwide policy reform efforts and initiatives to keep our communities safe and whole, which is completely contradictory to what the “Secure” D.C. bill claims it will do.

What is unfolding in Washington, D.C., is part of a dangerous national trend. We have seen a resurrection of bad crime bills in several jurisdictions across the country — a phenomenon policy experts have named “zombie laws,” which are ineffective, costly, dangerous for communities of color and, most importantly, will not create public safety. Throwing more money into policing while failing to fund preventative measures does not keep us safe.

The D.C. crime bill and so many others like it are reminiscent of the ‘94 crime bill, which produced new and harsher criminal sentences, helped deploy thousands of police and surveilling methods in Black and brown communities, and incentivized more states to build prisons through a massive infusion of federal funding. While it is not at the root of mass incarceration, it significantly accelerated it, forcing a generation of Black and brown families into a never-ending cycle of state-sanctioned violence and incarceration. Thirty years later, despite spending billions each year to enforce these policies with many of these provisions remaining in effect, it has done very little to create long-term preventative solutions. Instead, it placed a permanent moving target on the backs of Black people, and the D.C. crime bill will do the same.

The bill calls for more pretrial detention. When our loved ones are held on pretrial detention, they are held on the presumption of guilt for an indeterminate amount of time before ever seeing a judge, which can destabilize people and their families. According to experts at the Malcolm Weimer Center for Social Policy at Harvard University, just one day in jail can have “devastating consequences.” On any given day, approximately 750,000 people are held in jails across the nation — a number that beats our nation’s capital population by about 100,000. Once detained, people run the risk of losing wages, jobs, housing, mental and health treatments, and time with their families. Studies show that pretrial detention of even a couple of days makes it more likely for that person to be rearrested.

The bill also endangers people by continuing a misguided and dangerous War on Drugs, which will not get drugs off the street, nor will it deter drug use and subsequent substance use disorders (SUDs). Drug policies are a matter of public health and should be treated as such. Many states such as Alabama, Iowa and Wisconsin are treating the current fentanyl crisis as “Crack 2.0,” reintroducing a litany of failed policies that have sent millions to jails and prisons instead of prioritizing harm reduction. Instead, we propose a simple solution: listen to members of the affected communities. Through the Decrim Poverty D.C. Coalition, community members, policy experts and other stakeholders formed a campaign to decriminalize drugs and propose comprehensive legislation to do so.

While there are many concerning provisions within the omnibus bill, car chases pose a direct physical threat to our community members. In July 2023, NBC4 reported that the D.C. Council approved emergency legislation that gave MPD officers the ability to engage in vehicular pursuits with so-called “limited circumstances.” Sgt. Val Barnes, the head of MPD’s carjacking task force, even expressed concern months before the decision, saying, “The department has a pretty strict no-chase policy, and obviously for an urban setting and a major metropolitan city, that’s understandable. If our law enforcement officers themselves are operating with more concern than our elected officials, what does it say about the omnibus bill’s purported intention to keep us safe?

And what does it mean when the risk of bodily harm is posed by the pursuit itself? On Saturday, Feb. 10, an Eckington resident had a near-miss as a stolen car barreled towards her and her dog on the sidewalk with an MPD officer in pursuit. What responsibility does the city hold if this bystander was hit? What does restitution look like? Why are our elected officials pushing for MPD officers to contradict their own policies?

Just a few summers ago during the uprisings of 2020, we saw a shift in public perspectives on policing and led to legislation aimed at limiting police power after the highly-publicized murders of loved ones Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — both victims of War on Drugs policing and the powers gained from the ’94 crime bill. And yet here we are. These measures do not keep us safe and further endanger the health of our communities.  Studies show that communities that focus on harm reduction and improving material conditions have a greater impact on public safety and community health. What’s missing in mainstream conversations about violent crime is the violence that stems from state institutions and structures that perpetuate racial and class inequality. The people of D.C. deserve to feel safe, and that includes feeling safe from the harms enacted by the police.

Kaili Moss is a staff attorney at Advancement Project, a national racial justice and legal organization, and Jillian Burford is a policy organizer at Harriet’s Wildest Dreams.

The post COMMENTARY: D.C. Crime Bill Fails to Address Root Causes of Violence and Incarceration first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Mayor, City Council President React to May 31 Closing of Birmingham-Southern College

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — “This is a tragic day for the college, our students, our employees, and our alumni, and an outcome so many have worked tirelessly to prevent,” Rev. Keith Thompson, chairman of the BSC Board of Trustees said in an announcement to alumni. “We understand the devastating impact this has on each of you, and we will now direct our efforts toward ensuring the smoothest possible transition for everyone involved.”
The post Mayor, City Council President React to May 31 Closing of Birmingham-Southern College first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Barnett Wright | The Birmingham Times

Birmingham-Southern College will close on May 31, after more than a century as one of the city’s most respected institutions.

“This is a tragic day for the college, our students, our employees, and our alumni, and an outcome so many have worked tirelessly to prevent,” Rev. Keith Thompson, chairman of the BSC Board of Trustees said in an announcement to alumni. “We understand the devastating impact this has on each of you, and we will now direct our efforts toward ensuring the smoothest possible transition for everyone involved.”

There are approximately 700 students enrolled at BSC this semester.

“Word of the decision to close Birmingham Southern College is disappointing and heartbreaking to all of us who recognize it as a stalwart of our community,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a statement. “I’ve stood alongside members of our City Council to protect this institution and its proud legacy of shaping leaders. It’s frustrating that those values were not shared by lawmakers in Montgomery.”

Birmingham City Council President Darrell O’Quinn said news of the closing was “devastating” on multiple levels.

“This is devastating for the students, faculty members, families and everyone affiliated with this historic institution of higher learning,” he said. “It’s also profoundly distressing for the surrounding community, who will now be living in close proximity to an empty college campus. As we’ve seen with other institutions that have shuttered their doors, we will be entering a difficult chapter following this unfortunate development …   We’re approaching this with resilience and a sense of hope that something positive can eventually come from this troubling chapter.”

The school first started as the merger of Southern University and Birmingham College in 1918.

The announcement comes over a year after BSC officials admitted the institution was $38 million in debt. Looking to the Alabama Legislature for help, BSC did not receive any assistance.

This past legislative session, Sen. Jabo Waggoner sponsored a bill to extend a loan to BSC. However, the bill subsequently died on the floor.

Notable BSC alumni include former New York Times editor-in-chief Howell Raines, former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Perry O. Hooper Sr.

This story will be updated.

The post Mayor, City Council President React to May 31 Closing of Birmingham-Southern College first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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