1:00 P.M. EST May 18, 2010
Kimberly Johnson plays with an infant during floor time in the Early Head Start Program. A UMNS photo by Tonya Pass.
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Kimberly Johnson used to spend her days watching “Ryan’s Hope” and
“All My Children” in a small, cockroach-infested apartment, waiting to
collect her next welfare check.
“Back in those days, I was a real humdinger,” Johnson said. “I was
always looking for a fight. I had no ambition to better myself.”
In 1993, representatives from a United Methodist ministry dropped by
to recruit for their child care and Head Start programs. She eagerly
enrolled her four children just to get them off her hands.
But Johnson soon discovered that the leaders of the ministry — the Marcy-Newberry Association Inc.
— had more expectations of her than she had ever held for herself. The
association required her to volunteer to work in its early childhood
education program, and Johnson made a surprising discovery: She was good
at it. She loved working with youngsters.
Today, she is the ministry’s director of program operations, overseeing its work at 10 sites in Chicago.
“Without the Marcy-Newberry Association, I would be dead or in jail,”
she said. “I now feel that God put me here to help a lot of other
Kimberly Johnsons — parents who need intervention. I, too, had people
who saw the potential in me.”
The Marcy-Newberry Association Inc., supported by the Women’s
Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, has served
impoverished residents of Chicago’s West Side for more than 126 years.
In addition to its child-care programs, the ministry offers
recreational activities for teens, job training for adults, transitional
housing for the homeless and services for the elderly. In 2009, the
ministry helped 3,500 clients.
For Johnson and others, the ministry’s main work is transforming
lives. In the 17 years since she first sent her children to
Marcy-Newberry, Johnson, 42, has gone from living on welfare to working
on her doctorate in educational leadership.
Johnson’s turning point came one day when she squabbled with another parent at the Head Start program.
Benjamin J. Kendrick, Marcy-Newberry’s executive director, interceded.
“I don’t want to see you ever doing that again,” he told Johnson.
However, he tempered his criticism with what turned out to be
valuable counsel. He told Johnson that she had a talent for teaching,
and she should go back to school.
“My approach with Mrs. Johnson was no different than it has been with
so many others,” he said. “I want these parents to know they can do so
much more than watch TV all day. They can accept the challenge to
Johnson was reluctant to take Kendrick’s advice. Nevertheless, she said, it eventually sank in.
She returned to evening school and earned her high school diploma in
1995, and then she went on to nearby Malcolm X Community College, where
she became president of the academic honor society. She went on to earn
her bachelor’s from Kendall College in Chicago, where she graduated with
a 4.0 grade point average.
She is working on her doctorate of education through Walden University. She expects to complete her dissertation next year.
Never give up
Throughout her education, Johnson said she has had help from
Marcy-Newberry staff members. They helped teach her to write a resume
and prepare for a job interview. She said her experience as a volunteer
also helped her become an effective communicator and a more
“I never thought about giving up, never,” she said. “I knew the
minute that Marcy-Newberry propelled me forward I was going to go all
Johnson has left behind the sort of cramped, noisy public housing
where she grew up. She now lives in a spacious house on a tree-lined,
More than helping her, she said the ministry has imbued both her and
her family with the value of education. Her son, Robert Hamilton, 23, is
completing his junior year at Harold Washington College, where is
majoring in accounting. Her daughter, Imani Hamilton, is graduating high
school and has recently accepted admission to Clark Atlanta University.
Johnson, who has seven children, said her family studies together around the kitchen table.
“Education is the key,” Johnson said. “It truly has unlocked so many
doors. It really made me a good parent and showed me the possibilities
of what I could be.”
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.