Angel of the Month
Each month, The Angelrock Project features an Angel of the Month, interviews of inspirational people involved in grassroots volunteer efforts and exceptional humanitarian endeavors. We hope that by reading their stories, you will be moved, inspired, and grateful for their tremendous efforts.
Dwight C. Johnson is currently president of Dwight Johnson Design, a full service communications, fundraising and graphic design firm. He is a mentor, volunteer, fundraiser and an avid traveler. He also prides himself as being a devoted friend, family member, and God Father to many.
Q. Please tell us a little bit about your background and your journey before founding Dwight Johnson Design?
A. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and was very fortunate to have a mother, father, and grandmother who gave back to the community and those in need. Particularly, my mother and grandmother shaped my life by leading a life of service and by their example; I developed the same need to give back to society.
I am an arts/educator. I am proud of the fact that I graduated from Pratt Institute in 1972 with a degree in Industrial Design. I was a full-time tenure track in the Foundation Art and Communication Design Departments of Pratt Institute and co-founded The Black Alumni of Pratt (BAP) in 1990.
While still a professor at Pratt, I was tapped as a special events consultant by Pratt Institute's President which allowed me to fine-tune my skills in creative event production. Though still very involved with Pratt Institute, I am now president and creative director of Dwight Johnson Design, a full service communications, fundraising and graphic design firm.
Q. What services does Dwight Johnson Design offer?
A. We offer an array of services, including advertising and communication, funder development, donor cultivation, market development, promotion planning, special events production, and collateral materials and exhibit design.
Q. As an event planning company, how does it feel to work on so many events that raise money for worthy non-profit organizations?
A. One of the reasons that I decided to leave Pratt Institute, when I truly loved teaching, was to raise awareness and funding for worthwhile organizations, while also utilizing my skills as an industrial designer. The combination of the two is extremely satisfying.
Q. What organizations have you been most proud to partner with and why?
A. I am on the board of New York Urban League and have had the pleasure of being instrumental in helping them to fundraise, as well as help create and spearhead Champions of Diversity, an annual awards breakfast where we honor corporations and individuals who have helped to diversify their corporations. We have a thorough vetting process that includes a lengthy questionnaire and review process. We want to know various things, such as the percentage of women and people of color on your board and working in your corporation. It is very satisfying because now companies want to receive the honor because they realize that diversity is important and necessary in today's workforce. Some of the companies we have honored include American Express, MTV, and Prudential.
Q. Your job can also be fun, creative and exciting. Please tell us something about this aspect?
A. Event planning is fun and exciting. Though I really like working on fundraisers, I also plan for profit events as well. Sometimes I am able to mix a really good party with great people and also raise funds like I did with director Spike Lee's 20th Anniversary of 40 Acres and a Mule Anniversary Party and Fundraiser. The event was held on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Sea cruise ship. The festivities lasted all night long as we celebrated, raised funds for scholarships and recognized many of today's most famous actors who have been in Spike Lee films. It was a magical event. Also, helping to plan birthday parties for my God daughter(s) are always fun and rewarding.
Q. Please speak a bit more about Pratt Institute and what it has meant to your life?
A. Pratt Institute is a private institution of higher education -- one of the leading schools in the United States in the field of art and design. A unique and important aspect of the school from my point of view is that it really taught me the process of solving problems. Some professors teach you how to follow or show you what to do, but at Pratt Institute, you are taught about critical thinking, problem solving, and taking risks. As well as being taught to come up with ways of doing things your way as an individual.
As an educator myself, I taught my students the same way and I continue to utilize this standard at Dwight Johnson Design.
Q. What else can you tell us about The Black Alumni of Pratt (BAP)?
A. BAP's mission is to identify and advance scholastic and professional opportunities for Pratt students and alumni of African and Latino descent. I co-founded it in 1990 and since then we have awarded scholarships to 940 students and have established an endowment of more than one million dollars.
Q. Please tell us about BAPS's annual fundraiser.
A. Our annual "Celebration of the Creative Spirit" benefit has honored such noted philanthropists, designers, and artists as Mica and the late Ahmet Ertegun, Jessye Norman, Iman, June Kelly, L.A. Reid, George Lucus, the late Brooke Astor, Manolo Blahnik, Philippe Starck, Kathryn Chenault, and many, many others. It is a wonderful event, which raises funds for BAP, but has also become one of the premiere fundraisers in New York City. It also happens to be a lot of fun and we integrate current Pratt Institute students into the program. It has been a blessing to not only honor a diverse group of people, but to plan and host an event that is creative and multi-cultural.
Q. You also donate your services often to new non-profits who cannot afford an event planner. Why do you do this and how does it make you feel?
A. Giving comes from within. Everyone can do it and should do it. You learn so much when you give to someone else. And giving is not just about money, but is actually so much more, such as learning and sharing experiences. I think now my plate is filled.
Q. What would you say to encourage someone else to give of their talents to a non-profit or social cause?
A. I would tell them to never forget giving is receiving.
Q. Recently, you have helped connect Pratt Institute's esteemed graduate and prolific architect Rodney Leon, recent Pratt Institute graduate Darius Somers to The Angelrock Project's partnership with Target to renovate The Salvation Army Bushwick Community Center's library and computer lab, as well as establish a brand-new art center. Why did you decide to take on this project?
A. The youth at the Salvation Army Bushwick Community Center are so inquisitive and intelligent. All they need are the extra tools and materials in order to excel. It is so important to invest in neighborhoods where the governmental resources are not adequately shared. It is up to us to bridge this gap.
Q. It was your idea to have Pratt Institute students teach the children who will one day utilize the renovated spaces? Why is this so important to you?
A. As an educator, I feel it is my duty to help instill a sense of service in young people. This is a perfect opportunity for Pratt Institute's students to give back to at-risk children who are living in a very tough environment less than 20 minutes away from the school's campus. I know through this partnership, both the Pratt Institute students and the children who attend the community center will grow in positive ways.
Q. Lets change directions. What is your favorite book and why?
A. I am currently reading The Norton Book of Friendship, edited by Eudora Welty and Ronald A. Sharp. It's extremely thought provoking. The book details the many different types of friends one can have. Also, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley is a favorite.
Q. Who are your favorite authors?
A. Joseph Albers. Alex Haley. Toni Morrison. Malcolm Gladwell.
Q. As an avid traveler and lover of architecture, what is your favorite city?
A. So far Florence and Milan.
Q. Who do you most look up to and why?
A. My mother, aunt, and grandmothers because they have always encouraged me to follow my dreams and helped me greatly along the way.
Q. Who has been the most influential person/s in your life?
A. Besides my parents, Professor Mary Buckley. Professor Buckley was a Caucasian educator at Pratt Institute who appreciated what I brought to the table as an African-American student from Detroit. She always told me "to keep doing what I am doing and do it in my own way." I actually went there to major in graphic and communication design, but she advised me to switch my major to industrial design because if I understood this vocation, I could understand them all.
In addition, artist and educator Benny Andrews was a wonderful mentor to me. He pushed me to see beyond Brooklyn, but to never forget it. Also, Franklin Thomas, former President of The Ford Foundation and consultant for The Study Group, is a great mentor to me as well.
Q. What is your motto?
A. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Q. Any last thoughts or information that you would like us to know about you?
A. Plenty, but I have to catch up with my work!
For more information on Dwight C. Johnson, Ph.D and Dwight Johnson Design, please click here.
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To view all past Angels of the Month, please click here.
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