STORY BY MARY KING-MOORE. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NITASHIA JOHNSON.
Have you ever met someone with great energy and just inspired you to be a better you? Nitashia Johnson is a creator who believes by showing the love and beauty in the world it will be contagious and make an impact. She is an encourager and knows what “never give up” means. Nitashia is a multimedia artist who works in photography, video, visual arts and graphic design. Her spirit for art and teaching is abundant and the city of Dallas is fortunate to have her in the community.
Born and raised in Dallas, Nitashia focuses on photography and video with the other media working as a support mechanism. “I combined everything that I’ve ever experienced to create things that really make a difference and make people feel good about themselves, because we need more peace in this world.”
Raised primarily by her grandmother and various family members, she recalls a time when her mother came to pick up her and one of her siblings NJ from up from her grandmother’s house. On the bus ride, her mother began doodling in a notebook. Nitashia remembers her drawing the back of a passenger’s head. He was wearing a white tank top and never turned around to look at the other passengers. Nitashia was amazed at all the details her mother picked up in the sketch. Even though she did not have a continuous close relationship with her mother, her mother had made an incredible impact on her. That drawing inspired Nitashia to become a creator. Although Nitashia only had the chance to live with her mother two short periods in her life she was able to draw inspiration from her life experiences. Nitashia believes her mothers’ creative energy was passed on to her and fueled her trajectory. Nitashia’s sister, NJ (Big Little Sis), also played a significant role in her life and has supported her creativity. NJ is the one who Nitashia bounces ideas with and has been a constant in her life. While her family provided some support, Nitashia recalls how one teacher, her junior high school art teacher Ms. Grisby, influenced her and helped her become the artist she is today.
We all have that one teacher we remember from our childhood. Teachers are so important to childhood experiences, and to have one that really cares and notices talents can change lives. Ms. Grisby was that teacher for Nitashia. Noticing her love of drawing, especially cartoons, Ms. Gribsy encouraged her and helped her put together a portfolio of her work. Ms.Grisby was aware of Nitashia’s financial struggles and difficult living situation. She helped Nitashia apply to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). The high school is a public secondary school located in the arts district of downtown Dallas. Nitashia was overcome with emotion and cried when she found out she was accepted.
During her junior year at Booker T. Washington, Nitashia began to think about college and pursuing art as a career. She applied to several schools, including Texas Woman’s University (TWU). She was denied acceptance to the university. Another teacher, along with an in-law family member and the high school counselor intervened, and they helped Nitashia draft a letter explaining her circumstances and asking for a chance. As a result of that letter and supporting ones, her journey to become an artist was progressing as she was granted admission to TWU. Upon graduation from Booker T. Washington, Nitashia entered TWU with a new outlook on her future. She kept her grades up working really hard and graduated with honors.
After college Nitashia said it was difficult to find employment in the design world so she took a job at a mortgage company and did some teaching at summer camps. Her passion to create was growing and she did not want to get too comfortable in the mortgage or retail industries so she applied to graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Nitashia would be attending the same fine arts school as notable artists like Dale Chihuly and Kara Walker.
RISD was a whole new world for Nitashia. A city she had never been to, a school she had not even visited, and a program that was geared towards teaching, something she had never thought about doing. Accepting the challenges presented, Nitashia knew it was where she was supposed to be and graduated with a Masters in Arts for Teaching (MAT) degree in 2015. She began teaching in a local high school. “These kids really made an impact because they reminded me of situations I dealt with while in school. I had connections with them.” Nitashia still keeps in touch with several of the students today.
Nitashia moved back to the Dallas area in 2016 to gain more experience in her craft of graphic design. In 2019, Nitashia was awarded the Sony Alpha Female Residency. Sony Alpha Female is a women-centric competition. In its first year, they awarded five winners with varying styles of photography. Aside from winning money, gear, and mentorship, Sony is taking charge and bringing light to a well-known industry problem. Women are consistently underrepresented in the photography world, not only within brand-specific ambassador programs, but within the teaching/education community as well. The program recognizes this problem and is taking steps to fix it. Sony is all in and is encouraging women to step outside of their comfort zones and start creating, encouraging them to identify what they want to do and try to come up with a rough game plan of how they can do just that. “The Sony Alpha Female program is what the industry needs,” says Nitashia. “It’s supportive of so many passionate women. The program was an eye-opener for me. It came at just the right time, right when my mind was starting to reject my dreams. Being a Sony Alpha Female to me means believing in yourself and going after your dreams, no matter what.”
The Residency helped Nitashia grow as an artist. She now has several important passion projects in the works. The first project is The Smart Project. It is a creative youth program mentoring students in grades 8-12 from underserved backgrounds. Lesson plans focusing on photography, digital media, and the visual arts are part of the program as well as providing creative community teaching opportunities. Students in the program are able to create portfolio pieces while gaining confidence. Nitashia knows the importance of keeping your word and helping when you can. She is passionate about this program because it provides instruction necessary to students who have the talent but may not be sure how to turn it into a career. She wants to be like Ms. Grisby to as many students as she can. The Smart Project has open registration now for summer workshops. To find out more about the program visit: www.thesmartproject.org/creativedallasyouthworkshops
A second project, The Beauty of South Dallas, is mostly finished, but as Nitashia notes, “It’s one of those projects that you can always add more because voices are needed to elevate in the community.” She worked with the South Dallas Cultural Center under the Juanita Craft artist residency program. This project captures the rapid change of a historical neighborhood due to socio-economic shifts, creating a document of South Dallas for future residents, visionaries, and developers. Inspired by what Juanita Craft did to help others, Nitashia wanted to capture images that make South Dallas special. There are plans to have an exhibit this spring featuring Nitashia’s photography. To find out more about Juanita Craft and the exhibit visit: www.thebeautyofsouthdallas.com/
Continuously wanting to help people and focusing on all the good in the world, Nitashia is working on a third project she has titled The Self Publication. When describing this project, she reflects back on her time at RISD. “I was learning a lot about myself as an educator, as an artist, and as a black woman. I saw a lot of things online surrounding colorism and how hurtful it can be to people, especially women in my communities.” Nitashia wanted to do something about the discrimination she saw. She began working with other Black women, documenting their stories and taking photos to showcase their beauty, and then combining all the interviews into a digital collection. “The series has turned into something that’s more so about others sharing what they’ve experienced, and also leaving uplifting information behind so those who read it can be inspired.” Nitashia is shining a light on community issues and affecting those around her. The tagline for the project is “self, what love starts with.” To explore and support The Self Publication visit: www.theselfpublication.com/
Nitashia is a beautiful Black woman doing what she loves, producing work showcasing interesting people and their stories. She is inspiring others to help make this world and our community a better place, one snapshot and one conversation at a time.