Meet the Speaker: Shontavia Johnson
We recently asked Shontavia a few questions so you can get to know one of our CTRL + ALT + DEL speakers. Check it out…
What is your passion?
I am passionate about transformative education. As a forever student, I love learning new ways to think about the world and helping others do the same. Whether I am using Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s decision to trademark their children’s names to explain why the rest of us should think about family business and estate planning, or explaining why internet memes are likely changing the course of human culture, I legitimately believe that the world around us is the greatest classroom there is. With my multifaceted background in engineering, law and teaching, I bring all of those things together to pursue my passion. Any time I can feel or facilitate an A ha! moment, all is right in my world.
How did you decide to pursue your current career?
I have always wanted to help educate people using culture and the world around us as the foundation. When I was ten years old, I had a school book report assignment to research the Middle Passage—the ocean journey taken by slave ships from the African Continent to the Americas. I was so transfixed by this story that I could not just write a traditional report. I instead drafted several fictional diary entries, written from the perspective of an African man stolen from his homeland and making the Middle Passage journey. I wrote about his hopes, his dreams, and his fears surrounding his current and future circumstances. Not content to just write diary entries, I burned the edges of the pages. I used coffee stains to give them an authentic look and feel. I also bound all of these pages together in a worn, leather-like cover. I do not remember what grade I got on the report, but what I do recall is that teachers in local high schools began using my diary entries to teach their students about the Middle Passage. These students, who usually were less-than-interested in Social Studies topics, hung on to every word of those entries asked for more of them.
My company, Johnson International Group (JoI Group), is the grown up version of ten year old me. I founded the company after realizing that I could help people learn, answer burning questions, or solve huge problems by de-complicating their issues. Through my speaking, writing, and consulting through the JoI Group, I take complex topics and break them down into digestible pieces so that people can learn new things.
In my academic life, my research and work are similarly focused. I have academic agency to pursue my research, which exists at the intersection between innovation, pop culture, and law. My own belief is that I have a responsibility to connect academic research to real-world, pragmatic issues, and I am committed to doing that.
What did you learn about yourself during the process of preparing your talk?
I have learned to deeply appreciate the herculean, behind-the-scenes efforts happening to drive each TEDx speaker’s success. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a talk is made successful by one person—the speaker. This experience has taught me to be cognizant of, and grateful for, the talents and gifts of other people who play a huge supporting role in such things.
I have also learned that I should be confident that my ideas are worth spreading. In the past, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my voice couldn’t possibly add anything new or innovative into the crowded spaces of my professional life. This process has reinvigorated my commitment to my work and helped me realize that I have good, unique ideas to offer the world.
What drives you in challenging times?
During one of the most challenging times of my career, a mentor once told me that, despite the trying circumstances, we should all bloom where we are planted. I do not know where this quote originates, but the sentiment drives me when facing obstacles. I have confidence that my innate gifts will get me through difficult things and that I can survive the challenging times.