First Recipient of the Josie Johnson Fellowship Says it's the 'Opportunity of a Lifetime'

Public policy student Kania Johnson to study inequities in education
September 6, 2019
Portrait of Kania Johnson
MPP student Kania Johnson is the recipient of the first Josie Robinson Johnson Fellowship, which will
support her research into racial inequities. (Photo: Melanie Sommer)

Read the description of the type of student being sought for the new Josie Robinson Johnson Fellowship at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Kania Johnson is the perfect fit. The fellowship, which was established in 2018, supports Humphrey School students who have specific interests in addressing racial inequalities and injustice. 

Kania Johnson, a first-year Master of Public Policy candidate, is the first recipient of the fellowship, which is named in honor of longtime civil rights activist and Humphrey School advocate Josie Johnson. 

Kania Johnson (no relation to Josie) has been pursuing those interests for years. The oldest of seven children, Johnson grew up on St. Paul’s west side and attended Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, where she was a standout track and basketball athlete. But she also stood out for her volunteer work with various school organizations, as a tutor, and as a youth coach.   

Johnson began her undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri, where her love of research blossomed while studying relationships between black mothers and their children—how they communicate with each other, how they manage conflict within the family, and the like. 

She conducted another research project last summer, as a McNair Scholar, which examined how experts on racial inequality in the Twin Cities talk about the topic based on their proximity to the communities they serve. 

“My eyes were opened,” she says. “I hadn’t realized the extent of the disparities in education, housing, and unemployment in the Twin Cities area.” 

Student Kania Johnson with Josie Johnson
Kania Johnson and Josie Johnson

Johnson transferred to the University of Minnesota for her senior year, and completed her bachelor of science degree in family social science this past May.

Although she spent just one year in the College of Education and Human Development, Johnson made quite an impression; she was chosen to deliver the student address at her commencement ceremony. 

Her decision to study public affairs at the Humphrey School grew out of her desire to address the inequalities she was seeing.  

“I find myself asking questions about why schools are failing. Why are black students under-performing? Why are their schools under-resourced?” Kania Johnson says. “People who are implementing policies don’t have the same lived experiences as I do. How can I help kids so they have time to learn, and so they can advocate for themselves?”

Johnson and Johnson: Similar Beliefs

On this goal, Kania Johnson and Josie Johnson are closely aligned.

Josie’s area of study as a scholar was racial inequality, and she taught a course on Black families in white America at the University of Minnesota beginning in 1969.  

“I am very interested in what’s happening to our children and the achievement gap in our schools,” Josie says. “We must look at it carefully, study, and try to figure out how to get our children back on track for quality education and learning. As Kania is developing her own studies around this topic, I hope that we can work together on that.”  

Josie and Kania met for the first time a few weeks ago, and they came away with deep admiration for each other. 

“I wrote in my application about the dreams I have for our society and the changes I hope to make in my life,” Kania says. “[School officials] told me that so much of what I believe in is similar to what Josie believes in. Her energy is exciting and uplifting. She’s like a bright light.”

Josie says she is “so very impressed” by Kania’s passion.  

“She is someone you pray will become a person of great service to others,” Josie says. “She seems to look forward to being a model for the future of student engagement, and the commitment of the University and the Humphrey School to make a difference in society.”

As a first-generation college student, Kania Johnson says receiving the Josie Johnson Fellowship has given her “the opportunity of a lifetime” to pursue her goals around inclusive education for all students. 

“I am so grateful to the Humphrey School and Josie Johnson for believing in students’ hopes like this, for believing in these kinds of visions and dreams,” she says. “I’m excited to work across sectors, to get at it, and make the lives of young people better than they might be right now.” 

About the Josie Robinson Johnson Fellowship

The fellowship was established in 2018 to honor Josie Robinson Johnson, the first African American regent of the University of Minnesota (1971-73) and a valued advocate for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The fellowship supports students at the School who have demonstrated strong academic achievement, and is especially intended for students interested in pursuing remedies to racial inequities and injustice.

The fund will assist the Humphrey School in enhancing the diversity of its student body. The Humphrey School’s intent is to establish a legacy of support by building this fund as an endowment.

Make a gift to the Josie Robinson Johnson Fellowship