Apiece Apart Woman: Alencia Johnson

Apiece Apart Woman Alencia Johnson

As Planned Parenthood’s Director Of Constituency Communications, Alencia Johnson spends her working life figuring out the best ways to engage efficiently, thoughtfully, and proactively with the organization’s most impacted communities. It is work that is continual, ever-evolving, and always challenging. And yet for Alencia, it is a role that represents a bigger metaphor about our call to listen, to help, and to serve. We met her at her home in Harlem to talk about self-care, leaning into discomfort, and discovering beauty in our vulnerability.

Photos by Tim Hout, styling by Monique Wool

Apiece Apart Woman Alencia Johnson

Can you share more about your upbringing — where you are from, what your childhood was like? 
I'm a Southern girl from Virginia who loves the big city. My dad is a pastor, so growing up in the church instilled a belief in caring for others in any way possible and to have compassion for those around me. Outside of my dad, my family is full of women – all of whom are opinionated, don’t take “no” for an answer, and won’t stay down for too long.
Growing up, my parents made sure our home was filled with love and the belief that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. My parents pushed me to face my fears when an obstacle came my way. If something didn’t turn out the way I expected or I was hurt, my mom didn’t let me sulk or feel defeated. She taught me how to turn pain into triumph and strength.
My late grandmother is my inspiration. Her heart was one of a lover and a fighter. She used to take me to the ballot box, NAACP meetings, and also her bake sales. The older I get, the more I realize how similar we are and I’m grateful to carry her resilient spirit with me.
What are some of the themes at the forefront of your life right now?
My New Year’s resolution was a commitment to simplify my life a bit — both personally and professionally — to really hone in and excel at a few things instead of being competent at many things. I am more confident in saying “no” to things that aren’t helping advance the work I’m committed to for women, especially Black women, and really, help me grow personally. Saying “no” is really saying “yes” to yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This focus has been helpful in the current political climate, especially with the threats to Black and brown people as well as women. I’m very fortunate to do this work at Planned Parenthood — in fighting to protect access to care for the 2.4 million people we serve yearly and elevating how reducing access to reproductive health care severely impacts communities of color.
I also believe we make decisions in life motivated by one of two things: either love or fear. And when we operate out of fear, we essentially limit ourselves and remain in a constant state of comfort. I’ve been getting uncomfortable and facing fears.

Apiece Apart Woman Alencia Johnson

How do you properly take care of yourself when your day to day role is so dependent on caring for the needs of others?
Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Living in service and fighting against oppression is fulfilling yet also draining physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In order for me to give my full self to others and the causes I believe in, I've become intentional about my personal self-care. Because when we are whole, we are a force to be reckoned with. Self-care looks different for everyone, but it’s important to not feel guilty to fill your own cup first at times. For me, that’s traveling a bit more and really making time for loved ones as well as taking a break from social media. The fight for justice will always be here and if I’m committed to this for the rest of my life, it’s important I take care of myself.

I also firmly believe that women are powerful when we have the uncompromised ability to design the lives we desire for ourselves, one full of opportunity. We’re only able to do that when our needs are met - like access to health care, education, safe communities, basic dignity, and visibility.

In what moments do you feel most alive or fulfilled?
I feel most alive when I’m helping others. Acts of service and quality time are my love language, so when I’m giving, I feel renewed and alive. I also love to dance — literally like no one’s watching.  

Apiece Apart Woman Alencia Johnson


What are some cultural touchstones you consider a part of who you are today — i.e.: what specific films, books, artists, places, etc., have been most influential in shaping you?
My faith is a huge part of who I am. I grew up Christian, and as I started learning who Jesus was -- a radical man of color who fought for the most marginalized and was an enemy of the state — my appreciation for His life's journey has rooted my faith even more.

“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison is still one of my favorite books. I first read it in high school for a writing assignment my senior year, and I go back to it every now and then to immerse myself in it’s relevancy to what’s happening to Black people now — decades later. 

I studied abroad in Shanghai, China the summer before my senior year in college — the same summer as the Beijing Olympics. When we visited Tiananmen Square (where the 1989 protests occurred), it put into perspective how powerful student voices are in social movements.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?  
When you face your fears, you achieve things greater than you imagined. I never thought about moving to NYC, but when I was offered the opportunity, I had a couple of days to make the decision and did so. The same thing happened when I got the opportunity to work on President Obama’s re-election campaign. I had a few days to decide to move to Chicago. Both moves changed my life for the better — professionally and personally — and reaffirmed for me that fear isn’t something to run away from, it’s actually a sign that we’re about to embark on something bigger than our wildest dreams. 
I’ve also learned that it’s ok to not have it all together. When I stopped trying to have it all together, life started working better. Society puts enough pressure on women, and layered with the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, we’re literally killing ourselves. I’m ok with dropping the ball at times, admitting my mistakes and flaws, and most importantly, learning through them. 

Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, it’s actually a strength. It creates connection on a deeper level. I’m learning to be more vulnerable and more authentic in everything I touch.

Most importantly, I’ve come to learn and truly believe that we’re on this earth to live in service to others — even those we may never know. When we are connected to our greater purpose and realize our life's journey has an impact we may never fully understand, we don’t take the work we’re tasked with for granted.