Sue Johnson founded Galveston’s Nia Cultural Center Inc. in 1992. Nia means purpose and it is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, the annual holiday celebration of the African-American community, which Johnson has led for 29 years.
The cultural center is a community nonprofit dedicated to educating children about history and culture.
“Johnson’s purpose is to educate and empower our children,” said Lillian McGrew who nominated her as a Daily News Everyday Hero.
“Her work is making a difference in our children’s lives, our communities, our nation, and in the world,” McGrew said.”
During the summer, Johnson leads the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School for students from kindergarten through the 12th grade. She works to build literacy skills and empower children by providing a six-week reading program to counter the traditional fall-off in reading skills during summer vacations.
The effect is strongest in families with no tradition of reading and few reading materials in the home, Johnson said.
The Freedom School program reinforces the efforts of the Galveston Independent School District, which helps by providing the space for Freedom School.
“We are working to close the academic achievement gap between African-American students and Galveston students in general,” Johnson said.
“Our students have done oral history projects with elders in the community, and we’ve hosted an African-American Read-In for several years,” she said.
A central goal of the group is to make learning fun, Johnson said.
“For example, we host the Black History Quiz Bowl, an annual competition to test knowledge about African-American heritage in the United States,” she said.
Johnson is also an active member of the NAACP Galveston Chapter, where she helps prepare young people for their future through assistance in applying for scholarships and completing community service projects.
Johnson also works with the Family Service Center in Galveston and other support groups.
“We are about family,” she said. “None of our work would be possible without the support of the broader community.”