Advocacy Corner: Announcing Lauren Johnson as the Reentry Roundtable Advocacy Fellowship Mentor!
The Roundtable is pleased to announce Lauren Johnson as the Reentry Roundtable Advocacy Fellowship Mentor. This position was created in 2021 to support the Reentry Roundtable Advocacy Fellow in achieving their professional development goals and building long-term advocacy skills. Lauren was Reentry Roundtable’s first Advocacy Fellow in 2016, and we are very excited for this full circle moment as she steps into the mentor role!
Barbara Ornelas (Advocacy Fellow) interviewed her mentor, Lauren Johnson, for the latest installment of Advocacy Corner.
Barbara Ornelas: What do you do as your full-time employment?
Lauren Johnson: I am the policy advocacy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. I have been with the ACLU for 6 years. I have been doing advocacy work for 12 years.
BO: How did you get started?
LJ: I had received a speeding ticket that would inadvertently propel me into this work. That ticket would require me to do community service work writing blogs for Conspire Theater’s website. I ended up running out of things to write about, so I attended a subcommittee hearing at the Capitol. Not wanting the water rates to increase at my home became the door to my advocacy work. Going into the Capitol and sitting there and watching the senators and representatives fighting for the people dispelled a lot of myths about who I thought politicians were and what happens in the Capitol. This is where I learned I too could have an impact on what happened in the Capitol. This is a full circle moment because The Reentry Roundtable was probably the first organization that I plugged in with when I started doing advocacy work.
BO: In what capacity did you end up working with the Reentry Roundtable?
LJ: I went to a stakeholder meeting and was part of starting the program that is now referred to as RAP. The Reentry Advocacy Project. So, it is kinda cool to be back in this space.
Lauren was the first Reentry Advocacy Fellow in 2016.
BO: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?
LJ: The Food Stamp Bill. It was a big deal for a lot of reasons. It was the first thing I ever worked on and it was my first goal in advocacy. “I’m gonna try to change this thing and if it works, if it succeeds, then what, because this seems like an impossible task. I’m going to try to get food stamps for people with felony drug convictions in Texas.” People had been trying to do that for 16 years. I worked on that for three sessions and finally got it through.
BO: What are some things you can contribute to your success?
LJ: One is having a supportive community. Two is having opportunities, and three is having people that invest in you. If everybody that’s coming out of prison had those three things, we would not have people going back to prison.
BO: What do you do for self-care?
LJ: I’m gonna tell you what a friend of mine told me last year. She said, we always talk about self-care, like getting a mani, a pedi, getting your hair done or getting a massage. Those things are all great but that’s after-care. That’s recovery. Self-care is setting strong boundaries so that you don’t need aftercare and recovery.
BO: What is your advice, as my mentor, to me and the next generation of leaders?
LJ: I think that the area that so many of us with justice involvement struggle with is when we find out that there’s a world in which we can use our lived experiences and our history as an asset instead of a liability. I think we tend to take on too much. I think the best advice is to find a couple of things that really spark your passion, because otherwise you’re going to drown in all the things that you care about. So, find one to three things that are the most important to you, and figuring out what those things are a little earlier in your career will help.