Nashauna Johnson’s voice has a distinctive air of maturity consistent with her 27 years of age. Currently a laborer for interstate improvement in Rochester, MN and mother of four, Nashauna has grown up fast and takes pride in telling the details of a somewhat difficult story.
While spending much of her early life in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, Nashauna experienced a myriad of negative parental and familial influences. At age 4, her mother and father’s struggles with addiction led her to be moved to UCAN and placed in a foster home.
Nashauna admits that her first experiences with the therapists and counselors from UCAN were not always perceived as positive. Their constant questions about her feelings, her mother’s abandonment and some of the abuse she suffered only made her angry and closed off. However, she recalls a turning point in middle school where one counselor offered a different approach for her therapy. “She made it clear that I did not have to share my feelings aloud, but that it was important to express them to move forward in the healing process,” recalls Nashauna. “She suggested a journal so that I could make decisions and think creatively about my entries.”
Nashauna wrote about her past, but also imagined what she wished her life could be like and included details on her aspirations for the future. By age 13, she gained confidence in sharing the stories, which gained notoriety throughout UCAN as an inspiration for her peers. So much notoriety, in fact, that Nashauna was asked to speak at several meetings for UCAN’s Hands Without Guns program on how to effectively channel frustrations into positive output. She worked actively with then vice president of ULEAD at UCAN, Claude Robinson, to create a new award to be handed out at UCAN’s Annual Meeting, which at the time was largely focused on honoring adults for working with foster care youth. Nashauna’s suggestion was to fold a youth nominee into the event, an idea that planted the seed for what is now UCAN’s signature Youth Leadership Awards fundraiser.
While in high school, Nashauna was excited when a job as a columnist for the Chicago Defender became available. At 14, she was the youngest writer on the team producing the Bud Billiken news column and feeling more confident about her future. However, an unexpected conflict with her foster parent, pressures to fit into certain crowds at school, and a pregnancy at age 15 halted her progress to independence. Nashauna describes this as one of her worst years as the spiral into bad habits happened quickly. But UCAN also acted quickly by setting her up with a new foster mother, Freddie Brooks, who supported her in raising her daughter and getting back on track.
Today, Nashauna is in the final stages of accreditation to start her own nonprofit organization called Journey, an eight- week workshop and life skills program for teenage girls and boys. She also has passionate plans to write a book about her story, which she hopes will resonate with young people who have suffered trauma. She has made great strides to reunite with her family, particularly her father who loves to babysit and plan activities with his granddaughters in Rochester. Nashauna remains in touch with Freddie Brooks who she feels “is the greatest gift I’ve received in my life.”
Nashauna knows it was her tenacity and unwillingness to give up that got her through the ups and downs of her past. But she also confirms, “Without UCAN’s staff members I would not have been able to realize my full potential and channel my talents into success. I want to thank them for sticking with me and for being such a positive influence in my life.”