Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Favorite superheroes: “Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. I admire Wonder Woman’s physical ability, combat skills and heightened intelligence.”
Mokah Johnson was born in Jamaica and spent most of her childhood and early adult life in Florida before she and her husband, Knowa Johnson, relocated to Athens in 2012. “After visiting a family member… we fell in love with this small town,” she says.
Well versed in cultural organizing through their work in Orlando’s hip hop community, the Johnsons started the Athens Hip Hop Awards to “put a spotlight on Athens’ urban music scene, inspire unity and motivate [musicians] to work harder to build their brand.” The event, now in its fourth year, celebrates not only Athens’ most underrepresented creators but also the African American community that supports the scene itself.
“When I first moved to Athens, I thought it was a cool place to raise children and that it had a vibrant music scene. I still feel Athens has a wonderful mix of music, arts and family life.” says Johnson. “Yet I do feel there is room for improvement when it comes diversity and culture in our community. Athens’ music scene doesn't always reflect or cater to all that Classic City has to offer.”
Nor, she soon realized, did Athens’ downtown scene. After a Confederate-themed student bar was revealed in late October of last year to have a drink with a racist name on its menu, causing an uproar online, dozens of minority students and other residents came forward with stories of discrimination by local businesses.
“Prior to the [General Beauregard’s] story hitting the paper… many local African Americans had told us stories about being discriminated against downtown by local bars,” she says. “I don't want to live or raise my children in a town that allows discrimination, and it's upsetting to know that me or my children may not be welcomed in certain places because of our skin color.”
Johnson decided to take action. In conjunction with Athens for Everyone, she organized a protest march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The gathering drew a diverse crowd of hundreds, including Commissioner Melissa Link, who read from a recently passed resolution calling for a local anti-discrimination ordinance.
In addition to this year’s Hip Hop Awards, which happens Mar. 20 at the Morton Theatre, Johnson has embarked on a campaign inviting local businesses to display an anti-discrimination sticker, “to pledge to welcome every patron and to stand in approval of [ACC’s] proposed ordinance and human relations commission.” She’s also started a public petition in support of those measures.
“I no longer wanted to be a spectator,” Johnson explains. “I wanted to take action towards putting an end to discrimination in our community. As an African American woman, I [was] tired of being afraid to speak out about issues that negatively impact our community.”