Editor’s Note: In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, SaltWire Network is highlighting the achievements of women across Atlantic Canada.
Bittersweet emotions shake Kathy-Ann Browning Johnson as she flips through the cards, artwork and gifts that her Grade 1 students placed on her desk at the end of her first year of teaching.
It’s common for teachers to receive little tokens of appreciation from students at the end of the school year, but Browning Johnson always felt there was more to it in this particular case.
“I also think it was like an apology from the parents,” recalls the 55-year-old Kentville, Nova Scotia resident from the nearby historic black community of Gibson Woods.
Browning Johnson didn’t get the warm welcome she was hoping for on her first day in class.
Far from there.
The new teacher was looking forward to greeting her class – the first class she would ever give – after dreaming of this moment since she was a child. She took the opportunity to apply for the position after learning that members of visible minority groups were encouraged to apply through an affirmative action program promoting diversity in the workplace.
“When I was in elementary school, I would come home and make up tests…and my siblings wouldn’t do them, so I would do them myself, but I would make mistakes and I would do them. corrected,” she recalls with a laugh. .
Browning Johnson watched her colleagues at Annapolis East Elementary School in Middleton greet their students as she waited for the chance to do the same. But as the crowded hallways emptied, Johnson Browning’s classroom remained empty.
“On the first day, no one showed up except for a boy, and his parents came with him,” she says.
The child’s mother who showed up at school that day told her they had no choice but to bring their child, but other parents kept their children at home to voice their opposition to Browning Johnson replacing a beloved substitute replacing an off-duty teacher. .
“I know I’m worthy”
Two decades later, memories of that day still bring Browning Johnson to tears.
The protesting parents insisted racism had nothing to do with it, but that was not the case for Browning Johnson.
“They didn’t think about what it would do on the other side,” she recalls.
“I know I am worthy. I’m not going to pretend not to be. I’m not going to act like I’m below someone else. I’m just gonna be who I am.
– Kathy-Ann Browning Johnson
Little did they know that her winding career path had twists and turns because others before them had told her that a woman of African descent could never be a probation officer.
Little did they know that when she was a child, she encountered other children who did not want to sit on a swing after using it solely because of the color of her skin.
Little did they know that the little girl who played teacher in her spare time wondered if she could ever become one for many years because she didn’t see teachers who looked like her at the head of the class in many public schools.
Little did they know that the moment they arrived, the little girl and young woman who had previously quietly absorbed outside interpretations of what she could and could not do had found her voice.
“I’m not going to give in,” she told herself. “Why would I? I had a right to be there. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
She had worked as a student support worker in schools before moving into teaching and recalled that she had the education and qualifications to do the job well.
“I know my value and that’s it,” she said. “I know I am worthy. I’m not going to pretend not to be. I’m not going to act like I’m below someone else. I’m just gonna be who I am.
Browning Johnson taught at Annapolis East Elementary School for three years, and she continues to enjoy success as an educator in the Annapolis Valley. She has participated in some cutting-edge programs to help students of African descent, including the work she now does as a literacy and numeracy teacher for African Nova Scotian students.
“Education isn’t about what you teach, it’s about how – how children learn,” she says.
Doors open to students
Annapolis Valley educator Krista Duncan worked alongside Browning Johnson for 16 years. She describes her colleague-turned-friend as “beautiful inside and out”.
“Kathy-Ann makes a difference in the lives of her students because she values the whole child. She really cares about her students and connects with them,” says Duncan.
“The students know that she loves them and that they can be themselves because she will accept them as they are. This, in turn, inspires students to do their best.
Duncan looks to Browning Johnson as a passionate role model who helps students excel in the classroom and beyond.
“Kathy-Ann is creative, imaginative and she helps students grow and work to their full potential, all with kindness and respect. Kathy-Ann is an educator who stands up for what is right. She is passionate about human rights and leads by example.
There’s a reason Browning Johnson goes beyond the ABCs and the 123s in her teaching career.
“Sometimes we think ‘making a difference’ is so important, and it’s so outside of us, and it really isn’t. It’s saying “Hi” to someone who may not have heard a “Hi” today. It’s being there,” says Browning Johnson, referring to the importance of compassion and community.
“Raise each other up because there are too many people trying to tear people down. If we’re not trying to lift each other up, then who is it?”
– Kathy-Ann Browning Johnson
“…Give them what they need. It’s simple. These are small things.
She fondly remembers advocating for a 9th grade student wanting to become a lawyer to be placed in a math class that would support her career goals. Her voice beams with pride as she proudly reports that said student has in fact become a lawyer.
“We just have to make sure we keep the doors open for everyone,” she says.
Browning Johnson grew up watching her mother, Geraldine Browning, a founding member of the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (VANSDA), open doors for others as a pioneer in human rights and social justice advocacy in the Annapolis Valley.
“The phone was ringing all the time growing up and mom was always there… working to help others,” she recalled.
Today, Browning Johnson names her own daughters, ages 18 and 21, as her proudest accomplishments. She has some sage advice for all women ahead of International Women’s Day.
“Raise each other up because there are too many people trying to tear people down,” she says. “If we’re not trying to rise, then who is it?”