Go Forth & Be Brilliant: Dr. Queenie’s Journey in Education & Equity

Go Forth & Be Brilliant: Dr. Queenie’s Journey in Education & Equity

Discover the inspiring story behind KIPP SoCal’s first-ever Director of Equity

If you had asked KIPP SoCal’s Equity Director, Queenie Johnson, Ed.D., what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wouldn’t have missed a beat to say she wanted to become an educator. She was constantly inspired by her teachers and always knew teaching was her true calling. 

She was also deeply inspired by her mother, a passionate community activist who always encouraged her to use her voice. She learned firsthand from her mother how to build a supportive community for young people, a trait she carried throughout her life. 

With a genuine passion for teaching and building community, she was determined to make her dreams of becoming an educator a reality. When it came time for college, she journeyed from San Diego to Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in Eagle Rock once attended by former President Barack Obama, to pursue her undergraduate degree. 

Surrounded by activism growing up, she wasted no time getting involved with her school community. While at Occidental, Dr. Queenie was highly involved as the Vice President of the Black Student Association, as a program manager for the Community Based Learning Center, and as a student intern at the Intercultural Community Center. She was also extremely proud of her work as an Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator, where she co-facilitated a “Women of Color” course that engaged in critical conversations about race and gender. 

During this time, she learned a lot about overcoming her biases, understanding how her identity is shaped, how she sees the world, and how she engages the world. She credits a lot of her growth and development during college to her psychology professor Dr. Jackie, who oversaw her work in the intergroup dialogue program and inspired her to major in psychology. 

Another set of transformative experiences was when she successfully advocated for much-needed dorm renovations and changed the campus marketplace’s hours of operation to make it more accessible to students on Sunday evenings. These experiences reaffirmed her belief in the power of using your voice to make systemic changes. 

“I had a lot of experience using my voice to make change growing up, and that sort of grounds who I am. I understand the power inherent in any individual to change any system,” she said

After Occidental, she pursued a master’s degree in human development with an emphasis on social change at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. This led her to find a position as a resource teacher at Hillsides, an organization in Pasadena that helps children, youth, and families heal through trauma-informed care. This experience sparked Dr. Queenie’s desire to see children for who they are and meet them where they are. 

Dr. Queenie's diverse experiences and teaching goals culminated when she received her credentials and became an educator at Pacifica Community Charter School (PCCS). There, she taught combo classes for 1st and 2nd graders and 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. 

PCCS was a progressive, project-based school that took a humanistic and child-centered approach to teaching and learning. PCCS practiced nonviolent communication and used language as a tool to empower students. Dr. Queenie quickly recognized that this wasn't just a teaching job to her—this experience was a philosophical shift that rocked her world and shaped her as an educator.

“I just really honed my skills as an educator. Knowing what children need, respecting them, valuing their insights, their ability to decide, trusting them — all of that was at PCCS. And then I also recognize the role that race and class play in having access to that type of education,” she said. 

As she progressed on her educational journey, she realized that the traditional classroom setting was not the best fit for her. She eventually decided to transition to homeschooling and after-school tutoring services, which allowed her to give her students personalized and specialized learning experiences. 

Dr. Queenie primarily provided tutoring services to Black students who attended private white institutions, so the students started calling the after-school sessions "Black School.” Building off the popularity and momentum of the program, Dr. Queenie co-founded Black School Inc. with her tutoring students in 2016 to assist Black students with cultivating a strong ethnic identity and developing 21st-century leadership skills. In response to the tragic death of George Floyd, Dr. Queenie expanded her programming and created Black School for White People, which resulted in the training of 300 allies around the world. 

Dr. Queenie serendipitously found her way to KIPP SoCal to become the region's first Director of Equity in 2022 and recently became a Global Executive Doctor of Education. Even though she’s only been at KIPP SoCal for a couple of years, her contributions have been instrumental in laying the foundation for the region to meaningfully foster an inclusive, welcoming, and genuine anti-racist culture for our students and team members. 

As our Equity Director, Dr. Queenie oversees the implementation of our first-ever anti-racist standards and policies, which focus on identifying, addressing, and eliminating disproportionalities and equity gaps across the region. She also recently launched the Equity Ambassador program to identify and address the root causes of equity challenges on our campuses.

Her journey is a true testament to the power an individual can have in creating positive change, especially when you allow yourself to tap into your brilliance. In her email signature, you’ll always find the phrase, “Go Forth and Be Brilliant,” constantly serving as a reminder to us all.   

“I have a fundamental belief that a lot of our problems in our society are because people aren't in their brilliance every day. And so, for me, I like telling people to be brilliant. To me, that's where your true freedom is and where your true contribution lies.”

Even without her email signature, Dr. Queenie exudes an energy that innately inspires change. As an education trailblazer with over twenty years of experience, it's easy to see that her journey has been paved with an unwavering commitment to equity and excellence that has guided her every step of the way. 

Learn More About KIPP SoCal’s Commitment to Anti-Racism