Haverford Heritage: Four Questions for Taylor Johnson ’24

As Haverford celebrates Black History Month, we asked members of our community to share what their heritage means to them.

In this installment, Taylor Johnson ’24 discusses finding her voice and working on a forthcoming documentary on Professor Ira De Augustine Reid.

Hi, Taylor. Thanks for speaking with us. To start, can you tell us, from your perspective, what it means to be Black?
The beauty of it, something I’ve learned a lot both this year and during my time at Haverford, is that there is no one way to be Black. I think that’s really great. 

I’ll be in different classroom situations or walking through campus or scrolling through social media, and I’ll see the stereotypical, textbook style of what you would expect from Blackness. It’s very much from a Eurocentric point of view of the story of resilience and the struggle to overcome.

I think that’s valid, but a lot of things are less talked about when it comes to being Black. It’s the freedom and the creativity and the love that our communities have for one another. So when I think of Blackness, I think of love and I think of funniness. I genuinely think that we’re some of the funniest people on this earth. So whenever I think of Black culture or Blackness in general, it’s warm and love and smiling.

In what ways do you manifest or express your identity as a Black person at Haverford, if at all?
That’s something that didn’t come naturally to me because this is the first time that I’ve ever been in a predominantly white setting. During my freshman year, I was very timid but thankful to be introduced to the Africana Studies program through my mentor. Because of my leadership there, I have become more comfortable exploring Black identities and who I wanted to be while offsetting some of the stereotypes that I’d learned previously.

But there’s a certain factor about being a minority in this large space. You are proud and you want to showcase. That’s translated into my previous work with the Black Students’ League and the events that we’d try to do. 

I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable and confident in my identity and however I come off to people. So, unapologetically Black.

Can you tell us about someone who inspires you?
My immediate go-to is my family. And I say family plural, because if I single one person out, somebody’s going to feel some type of way. But I love my family, they’re great and really supportive.

But I think if I had to choose a figure outside of family dynamics, I would say the mentor who put me in contact with the Africana Studies program, Assistant Professor of Education and previous Director of Africana Studies, Chanelle Wilson. Whether it’s personal, academic, or life advice, she is a great go-to. She’s also my Chesick mentor, so I was very fortunate to have her starting out.

She was a bridge between my introduction to this school and exploring my identity with Blackness. She put me in contact with a lot of cool professors and a lot of cool people in general and researchers who are motivated and have a sort of sympathetic heart toward Black advancement. 

One of her mottos that has stuck is, “You do what you can do and what you can’t — it’ll get done with or without you. It’s not your responsibility to give more energy than you’re able to.” And I think that that’s a really important thing that I need to remember, but also a lot of other Black individuals need to remember.

Can you tell us about your involvement in the recent documentary focused on Professor Ira De Augustine Reid?

During the summer of my sophomore year, I was introduced to the project through Denise Allison, a former staff member. She put me in contact with the Ira Reid Foundation Board, which was looking for someone to help conduct research about Dr. Reid. Since he was the first Black professor at Haverford and he established the Ira Reid house as a home away from home for a lot of Black students, it was surprising that there wasn’t much research about him before and nothing that cemented his legacy here. 

It was also really cool to see the different projects that he worked on and the different subcategories of Blackness and Black advancement that he was interested in. He was really into family dynamics and also a little bit of gender studies, but also creating a space for Black students in this world and navigating this type of life to feel that they had somewhere to go to and someone to look up to. I have fond memories of the project and I’m very happy to still be part of the process.

The people on the team are great people in general, and they contact me every few weeks with updates about the film and the copyright process. We’ve also been in contact about trying to get more screenings on campus and elsewhere, and I’ve also been asked to be part of the board when I graduate. 

It all started with Denise, just from knowing her and her having a network of connections. It’s an amazing thing what the community is able to do for each other and where we’re able to go from there.