It was a story with one kind of happy ending that now has anotherexcept this time, Johnson is switching roles from model to designer when she launches her new fashion line at this years StyleWeek.
A love for fashion has always been a part of me, said Johnson, who describes her passion as her purpose. I actually got my first pair of heels when I was 5, and used to always dress up and strut around the house.
Johnson designed her first piece when she was 16. The zipper on a dress I was planning on wearing to an event ripped, she recalled. So I transformed that dress into something entirely different by attaching different fabrics using safety pins.
Johnson put her passion for fashion into practice, organizing an annual fashion show in high school, and took it to the next level when she received a dual degree in Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing from AIU Atlanta.
However, her trajectory in the field was knocked off course by the birth of her son shortly after college. It was then that her focus on fashion shifted to family.
Nonetheless, her lifelong purpose never fadedsomething that did not go unnoticed.
Since we met Caronah, I knew that she was going back and forth about pursuing her dreams, said Maria Gemma, executive director of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.
The Foundation has been like my second family, said Johnson, who has been part of the organizations Young Survivors program, which offers resources and support to women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40.
In Sedona, Maria told me how proud she was of me, and how much more comfortable Ive become in my own skin, she added. An annual getaway to a resort in Sedona, AZ is offered by the Pawtucket-based nonprofit exclusively to survivors and their families. Maria encouraged me to pursue my goals and helped me remember my purpose.
That conversation with Maria and the entire Sedona experience gave me a warrior strength to work towards achieving my goalsIve held onto that strength ever since. A month later in March, Johnson went through the interview process with StyleWeek organizers, and was selected.
It was really about just connecting the dots for Caronah, and thats what we do, added Gemma.
Since then, Johnson has been balancing motherhood and a full-time job with preparation for the show. To accomplish this feat, she credits a lot of patience, as well as mommys little helper. My 11 year-old son Damien always has been by my side, asking how he can help out, and even once asked to help me sew, laughed Johnson.
On August 25 at StyleWeek, Johnson will premier the Spring and Summer 2015 collections of Caronah Cassell Designs. Im showcasing eveningwear pieces that have the look and feel of the 1950s, a time of elegance and style.
Johnson has also been in the public eye" with the Gloria Gemma Foundations Women of Steel awareness billboard campaign. The billboard she is featured in has been on display since July, and its imagery includes the word Determinationappropriate given her journey, to say the least.
Addressing Breast Health Disparities Locally
Its very important for the Gloria Gemma Foundation to continue its outreach to minority and underserved communities, said Johnson, the daughter of Liberian immigrants.
Compared to white women, 41% more African-American women lose their lives to breast cancer in the U.S. For Latina women, breast cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer. Disparities are attributed to cultural barriers and a lack of information about risk factors, symptoms, and screening methods. Additionally, regular breast health screenings are lower and less frequent. As a result, breast cancer is detected at advanced and untreatable stages. To make matters worse, minorities with breast cancer are less likely to receive proper follow-up after treatment.
While outreach to underserved communities has been part of the Foundations work since being founded in 2004, special attention has been put forth on this effort since January of this year thanks to its community partners. With support from CVS Caremark, the nonprofit has hired a coordinator to manage outreach to African-Americans and is in the process of adding another to handle outreach to Latinas. Continued support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of RI has been directed towards the Hope Bus, an RV the Foundation has been using since 2011 to reach individuals directly in their communities.
Since connecting with the Foundation, Johnson also has volunteered her time providing information and materials to other women of color, an approach that is part of the Foundations strategy to reach the yet-to-be-served. They respect and listen to me because I look like them, and this makes the process of giving and receiving support a lot easier.
The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, established in 2004, offers free breast health education, awareness, and support programs statewide, in addition to some parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. For more information, please visit www.gloriagemma.org.