Dr. Saundra Johnson: Afterschool educator is in a class of her own

Saundra Johnson
Photo by Louise Wateridge

It’s no surprise that Dr. Saundra Johnson’s motto is, “dear child, I see the beauty in you.”

The Woman of Distinction has been seeing the beauty and potential in Brooklyn’s kids for years, as director of Medgar Evers College’s Cornerstone and Beacon programs — the former providing young people with academic enrichment, homework help, and access to recreational activities; the latter partnering with the school community, neighborhood residents, businesses, and other community-based organizations to provide after-school programs incorporating a wide variety of activities.

“Keeping children busy is the key to saving them,” she says. “Providing alternatives to negative behaviors can offer better outcomes.”

Dr. Johnson is known throughout Brooklyn for her work in showcasing the talents of young people. She developed programs specifically designed to expose young people to the arts, implement sports and recreational activities of interest, and provide educational support, special events, work readiness and employment opportunities.

Her work is vital, claims her former supervisor.

“Saundra’s programming is provided after school, when many children are unsupervised and vulnerable to negative community influences,” says Dr. Madeleine T. Gamble, the retired special assistant to the Dean of the School of Professional and Community Development at Medgar Evers. “The programs, provided under qualified adult supervision, include educational support, sports and cultural activities, counseling support services, and opportunities for youth to demonstrate their success to the community.”

Children who participate in these activities learn teamwork, tolerance, and civic responsibility, Dr. Gamble adds.

“They learn that to be part of something good you have to work hard and strive to do your best,” she says. “These programs not only help students to do better in their day school, but also expand their options for college admissions because they have been exposed to athletics, music, leadership training, and community service.”

Dr. Gamble has witnessed Dr. Johnson’s dedication firsthand.

“I have seen Saundra inspire both colleagues and students to do their very best,” she says. “She has helped to train thousands of staff and provided afterschool programming for thousands of young people. No matter how challenging the work environments, how the negative influences that work against positive youth development, or how challenging it is to raise the monies to support students and their families through positive programming, she has never given up — her energy and commitment are endless.”

Being in a position to make a difference to others is the best reward of all, claims the honoree.

“I deeply care about the youth and families in our community and I try to stay connected and work alongside those whose mission is to serve,” says Dr. Johnson. “My work has been my pleasure so it has always been a welcoming activity to contribute to the families in my community.”

Consider her a community savior, say associates.

“Saundra works in communities that most people have given up on,” says Dr. Gamble. “Failing schools, high unemployment, gang violence, and crime discourage many from getting involved, but Saundra has never been afraid to try to help young people, no matter where they live — she is saving lives.”

Neighborhood: Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Occupation: Director.

Company: Medgar Evers College, CUNY.

Claim To Fame: “Helping children learn through play.”

Favorite Brooklyn Place: Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Woman I Admire: “My mother, Lena Mae Spellman.”

Motto or Life Saying: “Dear child, I see the beauty in you.”

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