At the final “We the Women” series of the fall semester, Dr. Jacqueline Johnson sat down with Vonetta Lightfoot, the Multicultural Affairs Operations Manager, to share her experience as a community leader.

Johnson, chief operations officer for Caring Health Center and vice president of the STCC Foundation Board, started off by highlighting what it means to identify as Afro-Latina.

“It means the best of all the worlds,” she said. “Part of what it means is I have access to such a deep history of resilience. I don’t take that lightly. When I think of my father and my mother and the many, many people who came before them, I think of what strong people to be in community with. When I think about being Afro-Latina, it’s like a badge of honor, and I wear that proudly.”

Johnson said she views “We the Women” as way to network and “see how we can all be collaborative in our efforts as we come out of a time when all of us really felt isolated.”

The We the Women series began during the pandemic as a virtual series designed to open a discussion about women’s careers, accomplishments and the barriers they face. This fall, the series shifted to in person.

In October, STCC alumna Shirley Arriaga, a member-elect of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, spoke at the Student Learning Commons Forum for the first in-person event.

Lidya Rivera-Early, Community Engagement director who created the series about 2½ years ago, introduced Johnson and described the history and evolution of the series.

“My vision was to highlight women trailblazers in our community, women that are not only in leadership roles but are doing big things and are giving back and are passionate about the work they are doing,” Rivera-Early said. “We are super excited that we now are together. Being in person, I really feel the energy that our guest speakers are bringing in.”

Prior to the start of the talk on Dec. 9, Johnson spoke with 22News about the series. She said whether it’s face-to-face or virtual, We the Women offers a powerful opportunity for people to connect.

“I am most proud of my capacity to stand here as a leader in the city of Springfield committed to social justice work, public health work, and the work of institutions like STCC,” she said.

“I really want people to take away from today’s story that we all have something to offer,” Johnson said. “And the more we engage in … community events like this the more opportunity we have to really lift up this city.”

Dr. Johnson has over 21 years of experience leading diverse teams in community-based organizations across the education and healthcare sectors. She began her career at the Caring Health Center in 2008 and held roles as Program Director for HIV prevention and insurance navigation programs prior to becoming chief operating officer in 2012.

Raised by a strong single mother, Johnson’s upbringing motivated her to be her best self and instilled in her an unwavering determination that has guided her educational and professional journey. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and urban development from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s degree in social justice education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a doctorate degree in Higher Education Leadership and Organizational Studies from Bay Path University, where she is also a member of the faculty.