BUFFALO — The work that Kim Johnson does as a senior account clerk at the Erie County Probation Department is a fraction of her contribution to her community.
In addition to her full-time county job, Johnson, a CSEA member since 2012, serves as vice president of our union’s Erie County Probation/Detention Section.
Johnson also chairs the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Board of Trustees and is active in two community organizations that are aiding residents of Buffalo’s East Side community following the May 14, 2022, massacre at a local TOPS supermarket.
In addition to her union and community work, Johnson also does some event planning and bowls one evening per week.
Mother inspires service
Johnson wasn’t always this deeply involved in her community.
It wasn’t until after her mother passed in 2015 that Johnson was truly inspired to increase her footprint within her own community.
Johnson’s mother, Sharon Thomas, served as a library trustee. After Thomas’ passing, Johnson saw serving on the library board as an opportunity to stay connected to her mother.
“In filtering through [my]grief, I’m trying to hang on to her and find my way,” said Johnson. “She would be happy that I’m continuing her work with the library.”
Johnson joined the public library’s board of trustees in 2017 and became the board chair in 2021.
One of the first initiatives Johnson implemented at the library was called “Author Talk,” in which authors read excerpts of their work and sign books. Johnson’s goal in launching this series was to amplify unique, local voices.
“I would really just like to be a voice for people to express themselves,” said Johnson
She launched her series with a book, “Friendship Matters,” written by her sister, Rona D. Drinkard.
The event was successful, and Johnson continued the series.
Educating community members
One novel particularly inspired her, leading her to take the Author Talk series one step further.
That novel, “Hush Money: How One Woman Proved Systemic Racism in Her Workplace and Kept Her Job,” by Deborah Harris, Jacquie Abram and Delilah Harris, follows the struggle of a Black woman experiencing systematic racism on her job. The book, which was based on true events, became an international bestseller on Amazon.
As a CSEA leader and activist and a Black woman, Johnson said the book truly spoke to her and she was certain it would be relatable for so many others.
“Any protected class, if they were feeling this way, could recognize themselves in this book,” said Johnson.
However, she didn’t want to hold an ordinary “Author Talk” session; Johnson wanted to approach the book and its topic delicately to educate both employees and employers.
To do so, Johnson hosted two events: a corporate event and a community one.
“It all ties back to the working-class people who are overworked and underserved, and looking to unite to be heard and be seen,” said Johnson. “I want to give them that voice.”
While Johnson amplifies the voices of those in her community, she’s also echoing the voice of her mother with her work.
“My mother was my world; is my world,” said Johnson.
Not only has Johnson embodied her mother’s philanthropic and community-driven spirit with her library involvement, but she’s also reminded constantly of her mother every time she sees a ladybug. She calls the phenomenon “Ladybug Sharon.”
“Whatever I’m doing or whatever I’m struggling with, it’s that confirmation that whatever you’re doing, you’re on the right path,” said Johnson.
“Ladybug Sharon is my way of getting together, sharing information, sharing a common goal and creating something to be proud of.”
— Madison Ruffo