When Rochelle Johnson, director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) at the College of Charleston, learned she would receive the MLK Humanitarian Award, she was speechless – something she says is rare. Then she reached out to make sure they had the right person.
“I was really thrown to learn that others saw the work I’m doing with students as exemplifying the life Martin Luther King Jr. lived,” she says. “It’s very exciting and humbling.”
Every year at the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the Black History Intercollegiate Consortium (BHIC) – comprised of the College of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), The Citadel, Trident Technical College and Charleston Southern University – honors someone from each institution who embodies the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr.
Johnson is the College’s 2022 recipient.
Three former CofC MLK Humanitarian Award recipients served as the nominating committee: Anthony Green (2019), director of the African American Studies Program; Kenyatta Grimmage (2020), associate director for access initiatives and pre-college programs in the Office of Admissions; and Charissa Owens (2021), director of diversity education and training in the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID). Upon reviewing the nearly 20 nominations, the committee landed on Johnson.
“I know in the times we are in with the pandemic and even societal pressures, it is often difficult to connect with students,” writes one of Johnson’s nominators. “Rochelle has not let anything stop the growth with students, nor has she given up on being an amazing example. She continues to advocate for our students of color!”
Johnson has worked in the area of diversity and inclusion at the College for more than 10 years. Prior to joining MSPS in 2015, she worked in the OID, developing diversity and inclusion programming for faculty, staff and students.
Johnson has played a pivotal role in revamping program and student LEADers for SPECTRA (Speedy Consolidation and Transition) and SCAMP (South Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation). She molds leaders through mentoring and plans activities for the Mentoring Matters Program. She oversees the planning of MSPS signature events such as the Holiday Drop-In, the Multicultural Graduation Celebrations and the ExCEL Awards. Additionally, Johnson works collaboratively across campus, partnering with numerous departments on student-focused diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“I love my job,” says Johnson. “I get to see students mature, develop and come into their own. It is so rewarding to see them become student leaders and bring social justice issues to the forefront so that we as a campus can help make changes.”
“I have never really seen myself as someone who is following in such a great person’s footsteps,” she says. “I just strive to make sure students are included and treated equitably.”
Johnson will be recognized for her role as a student champion on Jan. 18, 2022, at 6:30 p.m., in Lightsey Chapel at Charleston Southern University in North Charleston. Those who attend will be required to wear a mask. The ceremony will include CofC student and 1967 Legacy Scholar Tony Jackson, a senior majoring in English, who will give the MLK Reflection speech based on the BHIC 2022 theme, “Show Up, Speak Out, Act Now.” The theme is based on a quote attributed to King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The College has been fortunate to have someone like Johnson as an advocate for students of color. With her passion and professionalism, she promotes full engagement and academic success of historically underrepresented students, something that would make Martin Luther King Jr. proud.