Nitashia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. My name is Nitashia Johnson. I’m a photographer, graphic designer, and creative teacher from Dallas, TX. Growing up was a bit rough for me. My dad was deported back to Nigeria when I was just a baby so I’ve never met him in person. I didn’t live with my mother growing up either. I believe that the disruptions in my family caused by substances and poverty had a huge influence on my growth. I lived in different households over the years of family members that came to our aid, with one of my four older siblings who was only a year older, on my mom’s side. Our family was small and those who did take us in did the best they could. I just hated feeling unwanted or like a burden at times. I know that God has his plans; as a child, I didn’t see it though.
In junior high school, I was able to work with an inspirational art teacher by the name of Mrs. Grisby. She noticed my interest in art and design. Because of her, I learned what graphic design was. Although I didn’t grow up with my mom the time I did have with her influenced my creative life. One day while we were out on the town, traveling on public transportation, I saw my mom sketching locals on the bus. I was amazed by that. I asked her if I could try it too. She handed me the drawing pad and from that moment on I’ve been creating art ever since.
My art teacher from my junior high school years really took her time to get to know me. At that point in my life, I lived in a very poor neighborhood with little to no money for garments. She noticed my hardships but also my talents and urged me to prepare a creative portfolio and try out for the art high school located in downtown Dallas. I had never heard of such a school before but it did spark my interest. I worked hard with her during my 7th-grade year, all the way up until auditions held during my 8th-grade year. After waiting several weeks from the audition date, I found out I had been accepted. Boy, was I happy! That was a vital moment in my life! It opened many doors for me. If not for that moment with my mom, the times spent with my art teacher, love for family, and being accepted into Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My hardships didn’t stop there though. During my high school years, they were evident and very inimical, but I was grateful enough to have caring teachers to push me through. A few of those teachers were Mr. Davidson, Mrs. Washington, and my art mom the great late Eva Kutscheid.
My grades suffered because of my living conditions but I made it through, the college that originally rejected me later accepted me with the help of my teachers, a letter from an “in-law” family member, and my very own personal letter to the college. In it, I stated, “If you give me a chance I promise to maintain a good GPA. By the end of my undergraduate year, I was labeled Cum Laude. I continued on to grad school at the Rhode Island School of Design. From that time forward, all the events I endured in life pushed me to use my art and create projects like The Self-Publication and The Smart Project. Projects meant to help others.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome? Not at all, I come from a poor family and had no parents. I had to create a foundation my own with the help of others not responsible for me. I really love those that helped. I’ve lived places like hotels and the projects. Life is love and I understand that my journey had to be that way.
The Self-Publication & The Smart Project – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition? I am a professional designer, photographer, video editor, and animator. I freelance and I actually have two companies. The one that is more project-based is The Self-Publication-a collection of photography and personal essays designed to uplift women and men of color and combat the harsh stereotypes associated with the Black community. The series features 14 participants a year. I have finished the 1st publication and would like to share it with you. I’m currently working on volume 2 which will arrive this fall. In it, each participant is photographed by me and asked to reflect on topics such as self-love, colorism, unity, and more. There is also a social media campaign that includes videos along with this project.
I also have The Smart Project- a new creative after-school project under the AIGA organization. To give a summary of the program, students in grades 8-12 who participate will meet and work to tackle projects alongside artists, designers, and photographers in the DFW Metroplex. Constructive workshops and demonstrations will be available once a week to mentees after school. Our dedicated college mentors and local professionals will assign creative projects while maintaining a fun and safe classroom environment.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on? Using my art to help others and growing into a better person.