Shawanda Johnson was born in Chicago, IL. She moved to Athens, where she lived from 1987-95, then went back to Chicago, where she graduated from Senn High School and earned a degree in Massage Therapy from the Illinois School of Health Careers. Shawanda came back to Athens in 2012 and worked in the University of Georgia’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-ED) and volunteered for what was then known as the Whatever It Takes initiative, helping to improve resources and access to education for families in underserved communities in Athens. In January 2020, Shawanda became the Neighborhood Leader for Winterville for Family Connections Communities in Schools. She is an avid couponer and uses them to help people in the community save money and get the things they need. Shawanda lives in Winterville with her three children, Nadia (a recent graduate of the University of West Georgia), son Sincere Lavow (14) who is here from North Chicago and daughter Janiah Lavow (11) who attends Coile Middle School.
What do you love about your career?
I love that I am definitely able to help people. I already have the passion to help, but now being able to get paid to do what I love is so rewarding. I love when people tell me, Shawanda I am on my last two Pampers, do you have any Pampers? I am like, yeah, I got you!
What is your favorite thing to do in Winterville/Athens when you are not working?
I love playing basketball with my kids in Winterville. We go to Pittard Park, shoot around and then–holy moly it is the bees’ knees–I love bowling! We go bowling at Showtime Bowl and Stars and Strikes.
If you could see any band or show anywhere, who would you see and where?
I think I would love to see Tina Turner. She puts on a show! And, I love What’s Love Got to Do With It. I would love to see her in a big venue because I know she is going to show out. I want it to be like an old school show, not where you have a screen up where the people in back can see, but I want the venue to have the raised seats so everybody is looking at the stage and we are all in there jamming.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Follow your first mind because a lot of times I doubt myself and we doubt ourselves. I have a dream that will be in effect next year. While I was in Chicago, I had a 24/7 childcare in my home. When I moved here, I decided I was going to do it here. Now, eight years later, I am just really pursuing everything I need to get started. So, just follow your mind. Don’t be scared. Everybody is going to tell you no and that doesn’t matter. If you can see it, it can happen. Definitely don’t put yourself on the back burner. Pursue, pursue, pursue.
Do you have a favorite book, or one that you find yourself re-reading, gifting or referencing most often?
I really love cookbooks, and I probably own over one hundred cookbooks. Any time anyone asks if I have any recipes, I say, girl I have a whole book! So, I am adamantly giving out cookbooks. I love Paula Dean, so maybe her holiday book [Christmas with Paula Dean]. I am a butter fan, I love butter. When I see her and how much butter she uses, that is my go-to. I cannot wait until this summer because I am definitely going to her restaurant! I plan on not eating for like three days so I can try everything on the menu.
Do you have a favorite movie or remember the first movie you saw in a theatre?
I do have a favorite movie. My favorite movie is Major Payne with Damon Wayans. I love Damon Wayans and that movie was funny the whole way through, but it also taught a lot of lessons. Like, not giving up even if you are the underdog. Let them hate on you. Let them sleep on you. Let them think that you are not about what you are about and in the end show them what you are working with.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
In the movie Eat Pray Love she goes to Italy and I’d love to go there. (I like that movie too. It is not my favorite, but it is in my top ten.) I love the fact that in Italy the whole culture is just so relaxed. They are not stressed like we are here where I gotta go, go, go until we are completely burned out and we need a vacation. Their lifestyle is like vacation every day! Plus, I love pasta! I want to go somewhere like that that is authentic and I can just go eat my life away there.
What is something interesting about you that most people do not know?
I actually used to dance in the East Athens Educational Dance Center when it was in Dudley Park. I still try to dance. I still try to cut a rug, but I used to study ballet, jazz, African, tap and modern. I did that for a couple of years before we ended up moving to Chicago, and I still own my toe shoes. Can I stand in them? No, but I still have them! Most people probably don’t know that I was a really awesome ballet dancer.
If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and where?
My grandmother has passed, but I would love for her to come back and have lunch with me. She was telling me things when I was growing up that I did not understand until now that I am actually an adult and have children of my own and living my own life. So, I would love to sit down at a Huddle House because she used to love to go to the Huddle House and have us some hashbrowns and just conversate about life and about things, everything and all the stuff that she went through. My family is originally from Morgan County so there is a lot of history of our Johnson family down there and her being the oldest of thirteen, she knew a lot and paid for a lot. I can’t imagine the stress that she had raising almost all of her siblings but she did a great with my mom, because obviously I am awesome! So, I would love to just talk with her and show her where I am in life and show her my kids. She didn’t think I was listening, but I was listening.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home?”
Love, peace and togetherness. If you cannot have peace at home, you can’t have family and if there is no love there is nothing. It is just a place to go.