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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New chair of Africana Studies Department offers UMass Boston students advice on achieving success

Professor+Johnson
Professor Johnson

“I tell my students all the time that you have to learn to burn the midnight oil. As long as you never give up and work hard, you’ll be successful, just don’t ever give up”, said Dr. Robert Johnson, the new Chair to the Africana Studies department at University of Massachusetts Boston.
Johnson was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1948. His family moved to Boston when he was four years old. Coming from a poor background and growing up in Boston’s Orchard Hill Projects, Johnson developed a strong interest in Africana Studies.
After being accepted into a program that took minority students and sent them to study in private schools, Johnson realized that the education that he was getting at Boston English High School was not as worthy as the one he received at the Commonwealth Private School. Hard work at a prestigious school allowed him to enroll in Bowdoin College with a full scholarship.
However the journey to being a successful playwright, historian, and attorney did not end there. After college, Johnson went to get his master’s and doctorate degree at Cornell University.
Johnson also received a fellowship to travel to Kenya and write a play about his experience there. This particular experience inspired him to write two books on African-American lives, “Returning Home: A Century of African-American Repatriation” and “Why Blacks Left America for Africa: Interviews with Black Repatriates.”
The new department chair explained that he met many African-Americans in Africa, and although it was surprising to him at first to see that people moved from the United States to live in Africa, he could understand how they came to make that decision. “Being an African-American I felt that I was returning home after all these years”, said Johnson. “I felt that it was where I should be.”
“Black people were in power, blacks in the States had no power, but you go to Africa and everyone is black, from doctors are black to taxi drivers. So that was important to me to be a part of the black experience.” 
These qualifications opened doors to many great jobs and opportunities for Johnson. Recently “The History Makers,” which is the Nation’s largest African-American history collection, added his profile to their archives.  Amid all of his successes and accolades, Johnson chose to come back to Boston and teach Africana Studies at UMass Boston.
“I was coming back home to Boston and I knew there is a poor community, and I knew that I had some good skills from going to good universities and I wanted to serve my community.”
Knowing about the type of education public school students receive, Johnson understands that there are some students at UMass Boston who need extra help to do well. Fortunately for the students, he is happy to provide that help to them. In addition, he believes that other faculty members of UMass Boston share that understanding and a desire to serve the students.
Dr. Johnson expresses his love for teaching UMass Boston’s students, because he feels like that he can inspire them, and easily connect with them in so many levels.  
“This is the place I should be and the place I want to be and the place that I enjoy.”