David Johns has been the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) since September 2017. The civil rights organization empowers the black LGBTQ community and aims to end racism, homophobia and stigma against black LGBTQ people.
The first event under Johns’ leadership was one that brought together nearly 60 community leaders, specifically those from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and legacy civil rights organizations, to discuss and provide information about policies impacting the black community. The aim was to develop a strategic plan and policy agenda to address the "disproportionate impact that HIV continues to have in the black community at large,” Johns explained.
During Johns’ tenure, the organization has developed a “Words Matter” HIV toolkit to help people have conversations about HIV more effectively and accurately.
Before joining NBJC, the civil rights advocate worked for President Obama as the first executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. During his tenure, which began in 2013 and ended when President Obama left office, the initiative worked to develop educational and workplace development programs that benefited African American students. The White House appointment came after Johns spent years working with members of Congress on education policy.
When looking at his time working for President Obama, Johns remembers fondly the experience of working on a White House summit for African American LGBTQ youth.
“It was the first time that I, as a black and same-gender-loving man, was invited to marry my personal and professional lives in a very public way,” Johns said. He added the summit gave students who are often told “they need to shrink or neglect critical parts of themselves" the opportunity to be part of something important and hear the message to dream big.
“We were having a reception in the Indian Treaty Room, which overlooks the White House. Young folks are literally voguing in the room that is typically not filled with so much joy and beauty in terms of its diversity,” Johns shared.
Johns is currently balancing his work with his pursuit of a Ph.D. in sociology and education policy at Columbia University. His research focuses on how public high schools shape and form black masculine identity. Informed by his work, and in an effort to use this research in his role at NBJC, Johns is looking to shift the way academic researchers think and talk about black students in public schools.