We all know that public schools are underfunded, and usually the arts programs are the first to go. Instead of letting that just be the status quo, CJ Johnson decided to do something and she started Fashion Benefiting Youth Artists, a Dallas nonprofit that hosts fashion-themed events in order to support students who dream of studying the arts, either in high school or college.
After interviewing CJ, I have to say that my inspiration has been renewed. Not only does she have a great vision, but she also has some words of encouragement for those of you looking to bring a little change to the world.
1. How did you decide to start FBYA?
I decided to start FBYA when I was laid off as a teacher from the Dallas School District in October 2008. I was a history teacher in one of the roughest and most challenged high schools with a very low socio-economic status. However, I had many talented students that were illustrators, musicians and some that dreamed of acting. However, the high school had no drama department, the art department did not have canvasses or acrylic paint and there were no other music enrichment classes besides band and choir. These kids were working with just their raw talent and I thought it was pathetic that there were not more enrichment classes offered at this school.
So, when my time with DISD came to an end, I thought about my love for fashion, the arts and youth. I decided to create a non-profit organization that would provide advanced art supplies to under-served Dallas high schools, sponsor young artists to attend out-of-state summer enrichment programs, and award college scholarships to young artists who desired to pursue a college degree in the arts.
2. What’s been the response so far?
The response so far has been overwhelming. With our first fashion show, I was able to secure an amazing venue for free, and all others involved (make-up artists, hair-stylists, DJ, a rock band) volunteered their services for free. We even received a mention in D Magazine and several other arts and lifestyle related publications. We have selected our first two students to receive sponsorship to a summer dance enrichment camp and are awarding a college scholarship to a graduating senior. Now, we are working on a college job fair for creative industries at at local college here in Dallas in late July.
Backstage at Spring 2009 Fashion Show
3. What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned so far working with the youth, partners, etc?
The best lesson that I have learned so far working with inner-city youth is that they are more resilient and talented than people would give them credit for. They will never cease to amaze you. Throughout this process, what I have discovered thus far about people in general is that more people are willing to donate their time, services and energy for philanthropy than I previously thought…if you just simply ask.
4. Any words of wisdom to someone who wants to step out and change the world (in their own way)?
To anyone who is inspired to do something philanthropic or to be a social entrepreneur, I would tell them to make sure that it is something that you’re passionate about. You can start small (like a clothes drive at your job) but do not hesitate to dream of starting off big. I did! Just don’t hesitate or have self-doubt. Just do it! Believe me. There is a segment of the population that can benefit from your dream! Be a leader and crusader for those who can not and you will be rewarded mentally!
CJ, I appreciate your time! Ladies and gents, check out Fashion Benefiting Youth Artists online at www.fbya.org and FByouthartists.blogspot.com!