Zenani D. Johnson

Where do you find your motivation?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace.” I know this to be true because I have always been active in my community. I realized very early that public service was not just a passion, it is definitely my calling. Working towards the Congressional Award offered a different opportunity to add meaning to the work I was already undertaking in my community. It is easy to be motivated when you recognize the need for programs like Teens & the Law and Youth Health Leadership. The realization that I could potentially have a direct and significant impact on an individual’s life was the only motivation I needed. I was fortunate to have the support of my family, advisor, and friends who assisted me in striking a balance between school,  extracurricular activities, and my service. To remain motivated, I remained laser focused on the reason behind my service, which was to help to positively change myself and my community. I encourage anyone working to earn the Congressional Award to remember the ‘WHY” of their service as well. 

What are your current ambitions?

After earning my psychology degree from the University of West Florida last spring, I accepted a position with the Escambia County Administrator. In my role as Governmental Affairs and Special Projects Coordinator, I am constantly learning new information and working with lots of different organizations to assist my colleagues and our citizens. Being an essential worker during a global pandemic made it even more critical to stay agile and prepare for anything. 

Between Tallahassee and Pensacola, I am a part of several organizations where I continue to serve as a mentor for students at my former high school, James S. Rickards, and here at the University of West Florida. As it relates to my community involvement, I am a board member of the DeBoles-Johnson Foundation, and I recently helped launch the UWF Black Alumni Network, of which I am an active council member. I am also working towards my master’s degree at Florida State University in the Rueben Askew School of Public Administration.

I am also very excited about the launch of my new consulting company, Groundbreaking Strategies, LLC. 

How did you earn The Congressional Award?

My Congressional Award journey was very interesting. I earned two awards and focused on several projects that were deeply personal to me. I continue to rely on and practice the important lessons from my experiences. 

VPS: First I joined the Youth Health Leadership (YHL) program in partnership with the COPE Coalition. It was a newly formed initiative focused on improving youth and community health outcomes. It was an incredible opportunity to partner with university professors, health organizations, community members and other youth from around the city. Our cohort led health campaigns, created health challenges,  participated in health seminars, spoke at community events and was instrumental in recruiting new YHL cohorts. I helped my community learn more about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle  and about the long-term effects of not developing and sustaining healthy habits throughout your lifetime.

PD:  I wanted to learn more about law enforcement and what it takes to be a part of my local police department. I researched the position I was interested in, which at that time was Public Information Officer or PIO position. I applied to participate in a summer camp for youth interested in law enforcement careers and was accepted. I  participated in ride-alongs, spent a lot of time researching law enforcement careers, and applied to the Tallahassee TAC summer camp. I volunteered as a camp counselor the following year.  I learned to conduct police investigations, in and how the Public Information Officer receives and disseminates information to the public, and I shared my insights and experiences within the community and on television. I also had the opportunity to speak with the Governor about the program.

I also worked with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) to host an event at my high school to teach youth how to interact with law enforcement officers if they were ever stopped. Teens and the Law was a huge hit with the students and by the end of the day, we all learned important information and had a little fun too. Both opportunities afforded me invaluable insights into the law enforcement profession. 

PF: I wanted to learn more about physical fitness and  decided to join my school’s cheerleading team. My goals were to be more physically fit and to learn how to tumble. To prepare for tryouts, I worked out three times per week, and also attended an overnight cheer clinic to learn new cheer skills. Joining my high school cheer team was an incredible experience for me! What was even better was that our team competed locally, advanced to state and came in fourth place. It was a truly remarkable year. 

EXP: I attended a specialized cheer camp overnight at the UCA Cheer Camp. During this experience I learned the skills necessary to compete at the state competition. It was demanding work, but it was necessary to achieve my goal. The new skills and techniques that my teammates and I learned helped us to place first in several categories at competition. Those were memories that I will never forget. 

Finally, I was part of several really impactful service projects during my “Summer of Service” across the state of Florida. I volunteered at back-to-school events, book drives, fitness camps, renovated homes, helped to host a fitness camp for children  in order to teach them about the importance of staying physically fit, spoke at several community events and participated in a  community-wide pajama party which promoted literacy. 

My Congressional Award experience was one that I will forever be grateful for. I challenged myself in lots of ways and excelled in ways that I am still very proud of. I helped to change lives through service, and I had a great time while doing it. 

If you want it, go for it. I promise you will not regret your decision.

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