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TRINITY Magazine 2006 | A Conversation With Sheila C. Johnson

“We have to focus on our youth because they are our future.”

In your inspiring Commencement remarks to the 2006 graduates, you spoke eloquently about the empowerment of women, and said, “Our mothers and sisters worked hard for us to be where we are today. And we must do all that we can to ensure that their legacy continues.” Who are some of the women who have inspired and mentored you?

My dear friend and teacher Susan Starrett and my mother are mentors to me to this day. My mother showed me strength and encouragement and taught me never to give up. Susan was my orchestra director and I learned so much from her. She taught me to accept people for whom they are and she set a standard for me on how to grow gracefully and deal with people. Susan has an inner strength that I greatly admire. I try very hard to emulate her.

You also spoke passionately about passing the torch to a new generation. What are some of the ways that you are passing the torch?

I’m passing the torch through mentoring my basketball team and trying to encourage young women to live exemplary lives by challenging them to be the best that they can be. I have also been teaching them to give back through community outreach so that they, in turn, can mentor and teach our community youth. Through my philanthropy work I am also able to pass the torch by helping young people to realize their potential.

Your philanthropic focus is on youth and the arts. How did you come to focus on these priorities, and how do you see these initiatives making a difference?

We have to focus on our youth because they are our future. And, we have to put our resources behind our young people, who are challenged now more than ever. We need alternative ways to reach these young minds and the arts do this. Arts teach children discipline, boost self-esteem and help them to express creativity. Young people get into trouble when they do not have sufficient outlets to express their creativity.

How can parents better equip their children to be the leaders of tomorrow?

It’s really important for parents to take an active role in their kids’ lives and to teach their children the importance of giving. There’s a selfishness I see in many young people which is very disappointing and very dangerous to future society. I feel that we as parents need to be stronger role models and give our children a solid foundation to grow from.

As a classically trained concert violinist, how does the discipline and creativity of music influence your professional life?

Music gave me the foundation for life skills. It has taught me discipline, focus and how to be a team player. Most importantly, it has taught me how to listen.

You have developed an innovative initiative around fitness and nutrition among young girls. What are you learning through this important project?

There’s a lack of information and education in these areas. We are learning that many young people are open to better nutrition and organized activity. We have also learned that there’s a positive response when young people know that people care about them.

You are infusing a new vitality into women’s basketball as president of the Mystics. What do you think are some of the positive outcomes of youth – especially young girls – attending women’s basketball games and getting
involved in sports?

Team sports keep children out of trouble and teach them how to focus and how to function as part of a team. Sports improve self-esteem, positive body image and teaches important life skills. Women’s professional sports also opens up new doors for young women looking to pursue sports careers.

Many Trinity graduates aspire to be entrepreneurs or nonprofit leaders so that they can “give back” to their communities. As an entrepreneur and an active leader in the nonprofit community, what words of advice would you give these graduates as they embark on a new chapter of their lives?

Building a business takes tremendous focus. So, I would suggest that you build your business first. Once the business is established, it is important to give back and to mentor others. Many people believe that giving back is simply about writing checks but there is so much more you can do. Get involved with the organization that you’re interested in giving to and you’ll be able to make a larger impact.

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