STAFF REPORT | Nashville Voice
The year 2018 has been quite a year for Tequila Johnson.
Not only does Johnson works a full-time job and is a single mom to her daughter Christian, but she also has found the time to lead the state’s voter registration efforts and started two companies.
“Since the midterm election season has ended, I have not stopped working,” she admitted. “My goal is to find people who are willing to take the steps towards creating opportunities for people in our communities. We can climb the ladder and also pull people up as we climb. We cannot be afraid to put other people on.”
It is for all of her efforts that Johnson was unanimously selected as Nashville Voice’s Nashvillian of the Year for 2018. Her work in politics from grassroots and advocacy to voter empowerment and campaign management is deft and robust. Johnson is a walking stick of dynamite with lots of ideas about how to create a better, more equitable future for Nashville and the entire state of Tennessee.
“I don’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel stressed out. I feel empowered,” she added. “When you do things out of good intentions and operating within your purpose, it doesn’t feel as draining.”
Further, the young political strategist feels confident that black women, and the women whose wings she stands upon, can handle nearly everything that life throws at them.
“It almost makes me kinda emotional,” Johnson admits. “I didn’t even think about how much I’ve done this year until someone asks me about it.”
Johnson’s journey into politics started roughly three years ago when she signed on to run the school board campaign of Christiane Buggs, her sorority sister and a fellow alumna of Tennessee State University.
Johnson said that experience was highly insightful and led to her gathering a group of like-minded individuals to launch The Equity Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit political group with aims to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives.
With several winning campaigns under her belt as a campaign manager, Johnson could have easily become a campaign operative, a lifestyle known for its flashy titles and lucrative pay. However, Johnson chose a different path.
“I have looked where there are needs and gaps within the community,” she said. “We have to learn how to share our resources.
In choosing advocacy and grassroots organization over paychecks, Johnson made a decision that many who know her find it hard to understand.
“The first thing that people do when they are in my position is to follow the money in terms of working for campaigns,” Johnson said. “However, I saw there was a greater need.
“For me, it was a no-brainer, I saw there was a need for people who liked like me and come from backgrounds like mine to become engaged in the political process. I saw there was an opportunity to start outreach into communities by targeting neighborhood influencers.”
Earlier this year, Johnson and The Equity Alliance’s President Charlane Oliver put together a visibility campaign to engage black women voters in Tennessee.
“We looked at what happened with black women voters in Alabama so we wanted to start the conversation with black women in Tennessee. So as we started to look into how we could create more policy around people of color, we came up with an idea to organize a group photo,” Johnson explained.
“We recognized that while policy reform was important, no one was having a conversation about showcasing black excellence and sending a message that we could come together.”
The effort spawned a number of conversations of positive messaging, enriching black families, intergenerational relationships. The effort has also grown to include an annual Women for Tennessee Brunch and a Facebook group with thousands of women from across the state who engage with each other.
“It was the start of a movement,” said Johnson said, who was later tapped to bring her talent for organizing and coach neighborhood activists how to engage and fire up those audiences.
After being successful in recruitment and engagement Nashville, she got an opportunity to lead voter recruitment throughout the state.
“I drove over 8,000 miles across the state from June to November. I sat in homes, talking with people who didn’t like to vote,” Johnson recalled. “While I was the leader of this initiative, I met so many people across the state from all kinds of backgrounds who were organizing and doing the work but were without the resources to adequately affect change.”
Early this year, Johnson and Oliver created a consultancy firm called The Equity Group LLC., an offshoot of their non-profit work with the Equity Alliance. So far, the company has been hired with some outreach efforts and messaging campaign, along with advancing some project management efforts around Middle Tennessee.
“Many of the people who I have been engaging are people who have never considered working in the space,” she said. “This past year has influenced, I think about this work from a different lens.”
Last month, just after elections Johnson and fellow political strategist Eric Brown founded WITCO Inc., a political strategy and engagement firm to grow the pool of political operatives in the state of Tennessee. Johnson founded the group with fellow strategist Eric Brown shortly after the midterm elections.
“One of the things I realized after working with some national and statewide organizations, there were not a robust pool of operatives to do the work here in Tennessee,” Johnson said. “The reality is that we need hundreds of people who understand and know how to run campaigns, whether it be around policy initiatives or candidates for public office. We need people to run issue advocacy campaigns.”
Ultimately, Johnson said she is just glad to be doing the work that moves Metro Nashville-Davidson County forward.
“The community that I come from, I have had people who have poured into me. As I am learning and growing and building myself up, I have to figure out how to do that for others. The more people who are empowered around me, the more empowered I become.”