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Rising Stars: Meet Shavonda Johnson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shavonda Johnson. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Fun fact, I never wanted to be a social worker. Where I am up, social workers were only around to take children away from their parents and families. When I started college, I was a microbiology major and I had dreams of being a medical examiner. I learned that I wanted to still serve people in a different way, but science was not going to be my way of doing so. I decided to switch my major to Criminology. I liked learning about how systems, crime, and people were all intertwined. In the summer leading up to my senior year, I completed a summer research-based internship at Michigan State University. I fell in love with research, but there was one problem. I felt that the numbers shared were only one part of the story, especially when it came to urban crime. I felt that a lot of the research lacked anecdotal stories about what crime seemed to be higher in these areas and it should be shared about how it impacted people. Upon sharing these frustrations with my mentor, I shared that I was interested in going to graduate school so that I could add more to existing research. My mentor mentioned that I should consider going to graduate school for an MSW rather than a Master’s in Criminology because I could act as an advocate and researcher. I was against it, but she kept working on me, so I applied for the program. From there, I had an internship where I did a lot of research and curriculum development, but I still felt that missing piece of being authentic in connecting with people. In that internship, I was given the opportunity to conduct mental health treatment in the prison system and from there I fell in love with being a clinician. I still conducted research, but in a different way. I was able to connect with others and still embrace by the interest of painting the “bigger picture”. Currently, I have a hybrid position that allows me to still engage with macro social work in that I help implement policy and engage in supervision of individuals working to obtain their clinical license, but I also still have the opportunity to be a clinician. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
If today is the opposite day, then yes! To that point, I would say that my journey is the farthest from that. One of my biggest obstacles was getting past my own fear of my life becoming something that I never saw for myself. When I initially switched my major, I was so afraid to tell people, especially my family because I was afraid that people would think that I was not smart enough. I was smart enough to study science, but I was not passionate enough to study science. When I started in social work, I also had to work internally to accept that I was indeed going to be a social worker, which was not something ever on my radar. The internal battles are sometimes the more difficult challenge. I found that it was much easier to convince others before myself, that I was heading on a path that was a good fit for me. 

Along my journey, I also experienced a significant amount of grief and loss. One of my closest friends (my brother) passed away, I ended a few friendships that I had been in my life for over ten years and went through my own struggles with self-worth and confidence. It was a lot to be in a space where I was showing up for others but was having a hard time showing up for myself. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Currently, I am a clinical social worker for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. In that role, I serve people who are incarcerated. It is a very special role as I get to play a small role in helping people learn to navigate some of the most challenging seasons of their lives. 

Outside of prison, I am known as “The Mental Health Manager”. This is my brand and platform that I created to connect with people and businesses by teaching them how to implement therapeutic skills in non-traditional settings. I provide workshops, courses, and lectures about how mental health-based skills can be effective and personal and professional development. Therapy has a way of becoming a “cookie-cutter”. I am not knocking traditional means of anything, because it is effective, but it is not a good fit for me. I have a running joke that I am not a “cookies and cardigans” therapist I love cookies and a good cardigan, but my best therapy is in my Jordans and my hoodie. I feel the most like myself and when I show up authentic, I can serve people better. 

As a therapist, I specialize in trauma work, especially among those from urban and inner-city areas. In my treatment of trauma, I use a lot of Hip Hop Therapy to help with coping, expression of feelings, and self-reflection. I am also developing a specialization in therapy surrounding friendships. I want to start doing therapeutic sessions to help people heal in friendship. 

In the community, I work part-time at Meadows Counseling Group in Columbus, Ohio. 

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
I feel that being authentic is the most important. For me, I was often a “people pleaser” and spent a lot of my earlier years working to make others happy. Once I stopped doing that and started to be who I was, l learned to embrace being “enough”. I learned to be proud of who God allowed me to be. I learned to find peace in being able to go to sleep every night knowing that I showed up as the person I wanted to be. As a result of being authentic, I gained more confidence and freedom to continue learning, switch my career and become exactly who I wanted to be. Being authentic has allowed me to chase purpose and not just paper as well as impact and not just income. 


  • Workshops: Start at $100
  • Keynote Speaking: Starts at $100
  • Individual Therapy Sessions: $120 per hour
  • Consulting: Staring at $50 per hour

Contact Info:

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