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the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

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Senior Johnson champions youth voting

Johnson (middle left) leads a small group of Midtown Votes members registering people to vote in Piedmont Park.
Courtesy of Imani Johnson
Johnson (middle left) leads a small group of Midtown Votes members registering people to vote in Piedmont Park.

Senior Imani Johnson has tirelessly spent her high school career advocating for the youth vote and receiving recognition from the national organization “When We All Vote,” nonpartisan organization “Vote for Equity,” and Michelle Obama herself.

Johnson transferred to Midtown from Roswell High School as a sophomore after moving 13 times as a kid. Johnson discovered Midtown Votes, which has the mission to increase voter turnout among Midtown students, during her Journalism 1 class. She said this paved the way for her to become the club’s president, activating students to vote in all elections.

“I was trying out a story, and I went to former social studies teacher Christopher Rhodenbaugh, and I was like, ‘I have this class, and I need to do a story,’” Johnson said. “I never really stepped foot into activism at that point, but [the club] seemed like something I wanted to be a part of. So, I just started listening in and coming to the meetings, and that turned into me feeling excited [and] safe enough to share my ideas. I just stuck with it, and it went from there.”

Social studies teacher Jason Slaven took over as Midtown Votes club sponsor after Rhodenbaugh left the school last December. He said Johnson’s defining feature is dedication to the club.

“From helping me get onboarded to the club to any challenges that we run into, she’s a great leader in coming up with solutions and documenting things,” Slaven said. “If we run into issues, she’s always thinking about what’s our plan B, plan C or plan D, and then moving into those different phases of the plan. She’s just amazing at being able to come up with step-by-step plans to achieve goals, which is just such an incredible contribution to the club.”

Senior and vice president of Midtown Votes, Sadie Kyle, said Johnson’s communication skills make her a great leader.

“Imani has organized the way Midtown Votes runs and has set up a foundation for it to run smoothly in the future,” Kyle said. “She is good at connecting with people and getting her point across in an effective manner.”

In her sophomore year, Johnson became a Georgia ambassador for the national organization ‘When We All Vote’ – a feeder organization for school chapters including Midtown Votes. In this role, Johnson registers teens to vote, educates teens younger than 17 and a half on the importance of voting and trains other schools to create school chapters like Midtown Votes.

“At the beginning of my junior year, I worked about 37 hours a week on staying in contact with all the people that I registered to vote, some of the clubs that I helped start and some of the meetings that I helped start,” Johnson said. “[I also] gave feedback on the social media that the company ran and made everything more accessible to teens.

Johnson’s knowledge about voting and the registering process is very impressive to Slaven.

“I ask her questions sometimes about the voter registration process; her experience and knowledge are invaluable,” Slaven said. “Students will come to me and be like, ‘I checked my voter registration status and it says pending for this reason.’ And Imani is the person I go to [and] trust with understanding the intricacies of the voter registration process because she has so much experience registering people to vote.”

Slaven said Johnson is an excellent team member and can collaborate well with other students.

“Not everybody is super thrilled to register to vote, [and] sometimes it takes some convincing, you know [about] why it’s important [and] how it can actually change things,” Slaven said. “She’s amazing at being able to listen and understand and give you straightforward answers that students and other people listen to and respond to. She just handles this massive load of work so well, [and] I’m just happy to be in service of her vision.”

Kyle said she feels that Johnson is not only hardworking, but also approachable.

“She is very friendly to newcomers and will try to make a connection with everyone,” Kyle said. “Imani is super driven which allows her to get things done in an efficient and productive manner. She is a good communicator about what needs to get done, which makes her a great leader.”

Through her position on the ambassador board, Johnson was chosen to write an article for the magazine Teen Vogue about her love for activism and encouragement to other teens to also get involved in their local communities.

Michelle Obama, who founded When We All Vote, reposted the article on her own Instagram account, which Johnson said was incredibly surreal.

“I was in the mall [having] just finished one of the most stressful school days of my entire life, and as I’m eating my pizza, scrolling on my phone, I got an email from my boss,” Johnson said. “And right as I got an email from my boss, one of my friends was like, ‘This is your story,’ and she pulled up Michelle Obama’s Instagram. I literally started sobbing in the mall.”

Johnson ultimately said that she hopes to continue advocating for voter registration for the rest of her life.

“I feel like voter registration and activism has been my gateway to being an organizer in other realms, and has taught me so much about leadership and my ability to walk in a room and be able to take charge in a way where I don’t feel timid,” Johnson said. “I think this is definitely what I’m born to do, and definitely what I’m meant to do, and I’m always going to take it with me.”

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About the Contributor
Shalin Bhatia, Editor in Chief
Shalin is in his fourth year of the Journalism pathway and is in his third year on the Southerner staff, serving as the Editor in Chief over the News Section. Besides writing stories, Shalin is a member of the Speech and Debate team and plays for the tennis team. He is very excited to help lead the staff this year.

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