Deidre Johnson Says You Are In The Driver’s Seat Of Your Life

Deidre Johnson is the CEO and Executive Director of the Center for African American Health, a community-based nonprofit in Denver that empowers the Black community to make informed health decisions.

“I have learned so much and I’ve really grown and enjoyed being in this role,” Deidre shares. 

Since taking over the role 8 years ago, she has helped transform the center into a one-stop location for health screenings, mental health services and parenting classes. 

“My favorite part of it is being out in the community and representing us at tables where we need to make sure we’re not forgotten,” Deidre says.

Deidre loves the work she does but she never imagined this was where her career path would lead. However, she’s an entrepreneur’s kid and from an early age, she learned to stay open to opportunities.

“My father raised my sister and I to always understand that we’re in the driver’s seat,” she explains.

Deidre attended an all-girls high school in Denver before going to Princeton for undergrad and eventually Yale for her MBA. Her career journey has included the early childhood space before she moved into a philanthropy role as a program officer for a local health foundation.

“I was responsible for all their grant-making for children’s access to health coverage and care,” she says.

The program officer position was eliminated after Deidre had been in the role for 7 years, but she didn’t let that transition slow her down. She spent the next year consulting for nonprofits and foundations until a board member of the Center for African American Health approached her about the director position.

“The reason I applied was when I was in philanthropy, I was in so many discussions

where foundations wanted to support the Black community but didn’t feel that there were any organizations that had the capacity to be able to do the work,” she says. “One of the things I love to do is capacity building.”

Finding Moments to Celebrate

Deidre hit the ground running when she joined the Center for African American Health.

“I like complex problems,” she shares. 

In her first five years as director, she tripled the budget, changed the business model and moved the center into a new building.

“We know what the problems are, we know what the solutions are, we don’t need to study it, we just need to move into action,” she says. 

Deidre says that systems rely on us getting overwhelmed or giving up, which is why she prefers to talk about solutions rather than focusing on problems – and she launched a podcast called Pearls of Wellness to give those conversations a broader audience. 

“We talk about the state of something, whether it’s early childhood, or the wealth gap or health. But we always end on the solutions because that’s what people really need to know,” she shares.

Deidre enjoys her work but serving a community with a lot of needs, along with being a single mom, means she doesn’t always have time to prioritize herself.

“I’m a work in progress, but I’m taking breaks and finding moments to celebrate more because I can get into workhorse mode where once something’s done, I’m onto the next,” she explains.

Deidre recently spoke to the graduating seniors at her former high school. Preparing for the talk gave her time to reflect on the twists and turns her own career path has taken. She wants young women to hold space for each other and move forward no matter what life throws their way.

“I have moments of fear, but you can’t let that stop you. You just have to move through it,” she said.

Although she doesn’t know what the future holds for her own career, she’s excited to see what’s next. Deidre is currently working on a memoir and says she doesn’t plan to stay in her current position forever. 

“Even though it doesn’t feel like it, always remember you are in the driver’s seat of your life

because we’re living in systems that someone else imagined for us,” she shares. “Create the life that you want to have.”