Story 12 of 20: The Right Path by Shaquita Johnson

For Story #12 in our series of 20 stories over the past 20 years of Umoja, we are proud to share Shaquita’s story. Please consider making an end-of-year gift to help Chicago students like Shaquita find their path.

In high school, I was a “handful.” I wasn’t going down the right path before getting involved with Umoja – skipping school, doing things I shouldn’t be doing. Umoja changed me forever. It made me set standards for myself and respect myself and respect my peers. 

I remember when I was 15, my friends and I were standing on the corner of 13th and Independence doing things we shouldn’t be. Then, Dre from Umoja saw us and came over, and he reminded me of the people in my life who had been impacted by the stuff we were doing, and he said, “Is this what you want for yourself and your future?” I didn’t.

I definitely have come a long way since before Umoja. I used to have a short fuse and a bad temper problem. I would talk and yell over others even if we were both pretty much saying the same thing. Umoja taught me to listen wisely. I’m much more humble now. I used to be really aggressive. Now I know how to avoid conflict. I don’t get in trouble. I make good decisions. 

I remember Umoja would take us to mock interviews in downtown Chicago and we’d meet all types of people of different career paths, and we’d get more comfortable talking to them. I still remember everything that Umoja staff taught me about interviews, elevator speeches, self-respect, even budgeting. They taught me when you see an opportunity, how you take it. 

I’m currently working at a group home for people with disabilities and completing my degree in Health Care Management. When I think about myself at 15, even I’m surprised at how much I’ve changed.

I received a lot of award certificates when I was in Umoja which I still have on my wall today. They read, “Spirit of Umoja,” “Miss Umoja,” and “Community Builder.” I look at them now, 8 years later, and it’s a reminder that every day is a new day to a new journey, and it helps me continue to take the right path each day.