Meet David Johnson, a former English teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and, the founder of a non-profit organization, Silent Images, A Voice for the Voiceless. After speaking with Mr. Johnson, I found his story to be inspirational and worth sharing. Throughout the interview, David constantly referenced “the least of these.” To better understand the reference that drives his work…
Cheryl Curtis: What is Silent Images?
David Johnson: A non-profit organization that seeks to use photos and videos to educate people about the needs of others around the world. Through videos and pictures, I try to visually connect people to social injustice. It doesn’t matter whether its hunger or genocide in Sudan or homelessness in our own back yard. I connect people to names and faces; hoping hearts soften and people will be inspired to take action.
CC: How did you get started?
DJ: It was just a matter of a whole lot of praying and asking God if it was the right time. When you really feel called to do something, the scariest thing is to not do it. I believed staying in the classroom, although a constant paycheck, with a predictable life is scarier because I was not following what I was called to do. I do miss being in the classroom, but, I am still an educator.
CC: What made you finally leave the classroom?
DJ: During the eight years I taught, I spent my summers doing work overseas. The more I traveled the more I saw students were disconnected from the rest of the world. Using my passion for educating, writing and taking pictures I decided to enlighten others concerning social injustices in the world.
CC: How does your work affect education reform? What type of change would you like your work to make?
DJ: I want students to feel empowered to make a difference. When I write a book or start a project I ask how is this going to empower people. How will it help to change people’s perspectives? I am a global student. People need to be knowledgeable. With knowledge comes responsibility. You begin to ask yourself, “How can I bring help to those who need it?” Students have the power to promote change. Students are pretty optimistic about the world--unlike most adults. I want to take students out of their world of self-indulgence. I want to re-shift their perspectives by introducing them to the images of people around the world. Students want to have a personal connection to people.
CC: Describe what you would call the most profound thing you have learned through your work with Silent Images?
DJ: Material things don’t make you happy. It’s amazing to learn that people stricken with AIDS, living on the street due to homelessness, in really difficult situations and have nothing but their next breath have contentment. All they have is their belief in God. Their joy comes from a state of mind--not an IPod, house, or car. Material things bring comfort, but, not true joy. I asked a friend visiting from Africa what he thought of the West. He was surprised that everyone is so busy. He said, “Americans own expensive watches. We own time.” The least of these--they get it.
CC: What do you want those who read this article to know about you?
DJ: Wow. I think sometimes I get mislabeled as a photographer or journalist. I want people to understand that photography is not my passion—loving people well and serving is. My joy comes from connecting with people and bringing their story to others so they can help “the least of these.”
David’s latest project, Voice of Beauty: A Photographic Celebration of African Women, is a photo essay book that celebrates the beauty and the heart of Africa—African women. You can find Voice of Beauty in Barnes and Nobles. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to help the women of Africa.
For more information on Silent Images, the non-profit organization, the book, Voice of Beauty, volunteer opportunities, or any of David Johnson’s upcoming projects, visit www.silentimages.org
“…the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when we saw thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink…or when saw we thee sick…and came unto thee?...And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25: 37-40