It was a not so well kept secret dating back almost a decade, Brandon Johnson wanted to serve on the Wichita City Council and he was positioning himself intently to get there. He was out there, working in the community, being seen and getting things done. Johnson was strategic in his preparation, and his focused approach paid off on Tues., Nov. 7, when he won big in his race to represent Wichita’s 1st District on the City Council.
If you could turn back the clock a decade to 2008, to meet a young 20 something Johnson, you would have met a an individual who was: already serving on Kansas State Advisory Board on Juvenile Delinquency, working as a supervisor over three youth life skills training programs, and a young father. Surprisingly, Johnson wouldn’t have been new at many of these tasks. He was a teenage father at age 18, served 10 years on the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and had been volunteering to help young boys since he was just a pubescent youngster.
Johnson, learned early the benefits of mentoring by having positive role models in his life. At 9-years-old, he had “anger issues,” and his grandmother Lula McCray took him to Tommy Benford at Family Services Institute. Benford was running a program Men-to-Men, with a goal of helping boys become responsible men.
It’s hard to figure out who attached to who, but Johnson identifies Benford as his mentor, a person who helped turn his life around, but obviously Benford took a fancy to Johnson as well.
“He (Benford) really cared, really got involved in your life and invested time in you,” said Johnson.
With the help of Benford and Wichita Police Officers Riley Williams and Glendell Henderson, who also worked with the program, Johnson found the right road. Impressed by his achievements, Benford encouraged Johnson to stay around as a role model to other youth in the program.
Johnson began volunteering with the program because: it was something to do after school, he sincerely wanted to help others the way he’d been helped, and because Benford promised him a summer job if he hung around. True to his word, Benford came through and placed Johnson in the Summer Youth Program at the Lynette Wordard Recreation Center. There he worked with Director Cliff Fanning who proved to be another great role model in his life.
After High School Johnson attended Friends University on a football scholarship. He’d been a pretty impressive high school player, finishing his career at West High School as the teams quarterback. At Friends, he was back to another position where he excelled – running back. He played at Friends for three seasons before losing his scholarship on what he describes as an academic technicality. However, he stayed on in a paid position as a running back coach from 2008-2012.
Johnson transferred to Wichita State University, but never graduated. Somehow life just got in the way, he says. He got married, had another child, and just never finished. It’s something he’s committed to doing. He’s just 16 hours short of earning a degree in Political Science and he’s made a commitment to his wife to get it done. He says he’ll take at least one online course this summer, and now that’s on the record.
Connections Get Jobs
Not having a degree may have worked against him a little, says Johnson.
“There were jobs I wanted that I knew I couldn’t get, but I’ve been able to make it through connections,” says Johnson.
His first professional job took advantage of connections. His mentor Benford helped him get a job running three programs at Family Services Institute where Johnson had volunteered for years. He worked their four-years running three youth programs: Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Life Skills Training and the Summer Job Program.
He’s moved around quite a bit since his four years (2005-09) at Family Service. He left there when the non-profit organization closed its doors and went to work for Salvation Army Youth Services. He worked there for four years helping troubled boys, something he was obviously qualified to do. In 2013, he worked for NuVision a group home. Again he found himself working with youth.
In 2014, in a strategic move, he turned to politics. He took a job working with the Kansas Democratic Party as a Regional Field Organizer. In this position, he helped execute the party’s field plan with a goal of increasing voter turnout.
“That’s where I learned to run an effective campaign,” says Johnson.
By the end of 2014, he was at Workforce Alliance as a career coach, teaching some of the same skills he’d taught youth during the summer job program. The idea was to give program participants the skills they need to move from minimum wages jobs, to jobs paging $15 to $18 per hour.
In 2015 he worked for Sunflower Community Action, a non-profit focused on activism and making positive change in the community. There, he worked as the coordinator of a Water Access Program, a program funded through a Kansas Health Foundation grant. As with many grants, he found himself looking for another job after the grant funds ran out.
Community Minded Always
Even as he moved around in his professional career, Johnson stayed focused on the community. Towards that end, he and his mentor Benford founded Community Operations Recovery Empowerment, Inc. in 2011. The non-profit was organized to improve and empower members in the community around:
•Prevention/ Intervention in the legal system
•Mentoring, Tutoring, and Counseling
•Community Service and Neighborhood Revitalization.
Among the organizations more visible efforts were the small community gardens they installed on vacant lots in Northeast Wichita. Johnson and CORE received a lot of positive press for educational programs offered to help keep adults and youth out of the legal system. Working with Atty. Robert Moody, CORE has sponsored several EMPOWER U programs that provide much needed information on diversion, how to expunge your arrest record, how to get a temporary license that allows you to drive to work and other challenging legal issues.
In addition, the organization has focused on Economic Development with Johnson partnering with KS Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau to introduce an economic development bill in the Kansas Senate. The bill is designed to help lower income zip codes across the state attract businesses.
All Leading to This Point
“If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will get you there.”
Johnson knew where he wanted to go and he’s gotten there. He made it clear more than a decade ago that he wanted to serve on the City Council and he spent that decade positioning himself for the job. He worked In the community, made contacts, learned the political ropes necessary to reach his goal and waited patiently for his time to run. With two, four–term limits on the Wichita City Council, he knew exactly when his time would come. This year, the District One City Council member Lavonta Williams termed out and his time had come. He was prepared and he won. Now, on Monday, Jan. 8, he’ll be sworn in to office.
What can we District One residents expect from their new City Council member?
Johnson list some of his short term goals as:
•Focus on Neighborhoods He wants to help strengthen existing and create more neighborhood associations. He sees neighborhoods organizing and working together as an effective way to address community concerns including blight and crime.
•Developing an Entrepreneurial Spirit He wants to encourage new businesses to locate in 67214 and a lot of those businesses can come from developing entrepreneurs, says Johnson. He’s doesn’t have all the answers yet, but encourages the use of existing programs to help grow entrepreneurs like the Small Business Development Center.
•Enhance Parks in the District The parks in the district have been neglected says Johnson and they’re in Johnson would like to find funding to improve them. On the short term, he plans to meet with members of the community to make some decisions about McAdams Park. Should the pool remain open and what about continuing youth football in the park.
This will be the topic of his first Council member breakfast on Sat., Feb. 3, from 9 -11 a.m. This time, the breakfast will be held at McAdams Park, instead of usual Atwater location.
He admits there’s a lot of work to be done and he hopes to get a good start on this list this years
•Community Economic Development His major long term goal is economic development in the community. He realizes this isn’t something that will change overnight, but he’s committed to the long term objective of improving District 1 economically by creating jobs and providing more community services.