Johnson puts focus on human services, economic equality

Mike Deehan, Special to the Reporter
Mar. 27, 2014

As a candidate campaigning to represent the majority-minority Fifth Suffolk House district, Jennifer Johnson stands out for her biography and her track-record as a activist devoted to a progressive agenda. Born and raised in Louisiana, Johnson is a white woman who has found a home in Dorchester and hopes to work on behalf of the district to improve economic equality for its constituents.

“I want to fight for the district and make sure that we continue to have somebody who fights for us in the State House because our district is frequently left behind,” Johnson said.

After eight years living in the neighborhood tucked between Fields Corner and Bowdoin-Geneva, just outside Ronan Park, Johnson is ready to apply her years of volunteer campaign experience to the fast-paced race to replace ousted Rep. Carlos Henriquez in the state’s House of Representatives. Johnson told the Reporter in an interview that she chose to move from Brighton to Dorchester due to the diversity of its population.

Johnson’s primary motivation for becoming the area’s representative, she said, is to protect social services for those in need. Her dedication to human services comes from events in her own personal history and has cemented her belief that they must be protected from budget cuts and political opponents.

Johnson came to Massachusetts as a college student over 25 years ago to work with environmental non-profits. She had no friends or family here, but came to live in the Boston area at age 20, she said “in a way, to have an adventure,” after leaving Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

One of Johnson’s reasons for moving to Massachusetts was to escape the trauma of a sexual assault she was the victim of her freshman year at Bryn Mawr. Dealing with the trauma led her to seek out help here in Massachusetts, an experience that kindled her advocacy for public services like health care, mental health services, food stamps and other benefits.

Another key issue Johnson said she will work on is the development of job training programs for residents in the district. Promoting economic opportunity and access to good jobs in growing fields such as health care, technology and entrepreneurship are important roles for the area’s representative to take on, Johnson said, and she would like to make it easier for residents to take advantage of the opportunities available.

Asked about the controversies surrounding the management and abuse of some of the state’s service providers, like fraud in the electronic benefit transfer system, Johnson said “fraud is overstated” and that most people are using the system appropriately.

As for her race, Johnson said she believes she can be an effective voice for communities of color.

“Ultimately, voters have to decide what’s important to them,” Johnson said. She pointed out that Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, a black woman of Haitian descent, represents a mostly Caucasian district in Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and South Boston.

“I think there’s a lot more to it than - I hope there’s a lot more to it - than just your racial makeup for voters,” Johnson said.