Post-Katrina, New Orleans native Jasmane Johnson has had one focus – a north star – to help her guide many major decisions concerning the future and well-being of her oldest daughter, Teja. That north star continues now to serve her with her youngest daughter, Aniya, and her stepson, Lionel.
“I need them to make good decisions for their future and not wait until they are 30 to figure them out, like I did,” she said.
At 38, Johnson is a role model of leadership and strength for her children. As a graduate-turned-trainer for the Medical Assistant New Orleans Works (MA NOW) program, she’s a health care professional on the rise within New Orleans’ largest health care system. She has her sights set on continuing to advance in responsibility using her natural love for investing in people.
Johnson grew up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. When Katrina was coming, she had to beg her mother to leave. She succeeded in getting her to relocate to Atlanta, but her mother wanted to return to New Orleans as soon as possible after the storm and the breaching of the levees.
“It was devastating to come back,” Johnson said. “We came back in October after the storm, and I remember my daughter (who was 6 years old at the time) just cried. It looked like a desert. Everything was upside-down. I couldn’t let her stay in that, so we left for Atlanta.”
They were ready to come back a year later because, “There’s no place like New Orleans. Everything’s different – the food, the festivals, all of my family’s here – even the people were different.”
Since then, she said New Orleans has been changing, but the changes have been mostly good.
“So many new people came here trying to help us rebuild. There were new businesses, new ideas and the culture was changing. It helped a lot of people to see what had been missing in New Orleans, and it made you want more – expect more,” she explained.
Johnson’s expectations for her daughters’ education were among those raised. “I saw how schools were changing the ways they taught kids,” she said. “It made me pay attention to what my daughter was doing in school and to care about how she was learning.”
Her expectations for her own education also grew. While working in the Coumadin Clinic at a health center in the Ochsner Health System, she completed her bachelor’s degree in health care management. At the same time, she joined NOW, a training program launched by the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation piloted the program with Delgado Community College and the city’s largest health care employer, the Ochsner Health System, to train and hire medical assistants. NOW connected the community college with Ochsner to offer guaranteed jobs to people who completed a customized program.
Johnson used the opportunity to grow her skills. “Before I participated in the program, I didn’t think I had a future or a path to something better at Ochsner,” she said. “But we learned so many things: how to handle patients better, communication skills, problem solving in teams, how to express myself better and understanding different personalities.”
She excelled in the program – so much so that Ochsner asked her to be a trainer for the next class. She also earned a recent promotion to Ochsner’s pain management clinic.
“I enjoy the role I play in counseling not just the patients, but the people I work with. I am a leader, and I learned new and better ways of managing my team to get the best from them and the best for our patients. The class motivated me to do more,” she said.
Her success and encouragement are also influencing her daughters’ preparation for the future. Teja, now 16, is doing well in school and hopes to attend Howard University after graduation. Lionel, now 14, is doing well in school, is a member of his school band and plans to go to college and become a judge one day. Aniya is 8, and Johnson and Teja team up to help her with her homework and test her in skills like spelling and math.
Some Ochsner staff members have talked about Johnson one day taking over leadership of the MA NOW program that was so beneficial to her. “I think I might like that,” she said. “But I also want to stay close to the clinical side, working with patients. I might like to be in a patient relations role, because they deal with the problems patients encounter, and it would be my job to make it better.”