Jennifer Johnson founded the Hummingbirds Foundation with the goal of combining sisterhood, adventure and outreach in order to spread love and give support to underserved communities worldwide.In her hometown of Las Vegas, Jennifer and Cathy developed and coordinated the program For Kids, For Art, For Charity to restore teacher resources for arts education funding and to create an education program at Opportunity Village, a center for people with physical and learning disabilities. After the success of For Kids, For Art, For Charity, Jennifer began work on Songs for Darfur, a project to build a school for refugees in the Sudan.
She has worked as a Community Organizer and Fundraiser for the Obama Campaign and was a Founding Parent for City Middle School. In 2012 Jennifer founded City Language Immersion Charter (CLIC), an elementary public school in her own community of West Adams, which was one of the poorest and densely populated communities in Los Angeles.
Letter from our Founder
Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
My dad was half gypsy and half hippy. He was never motivated by money which meant we never had any, and I really mean… We. Never. Had. Any. He was also an alcoholic, and although he was always the smartest and most charming person in the room, he often made bad parenting choices. Once when I was around six I went to jail with my dad. It might have been because he was driving drunk or the car wasn’t registered, or maybe he had started a fight. I remember sitting in the police break room for hours watching TV with a can of Coke, something I didn’t get to do at home. Once he was released, it was as if nothing had happened; we hopped in the car, rolled the windows down to feel the cool night air on our faces, and sang our hearts out to Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. Even in the chaos of my childhood, I had a magical connection with my dad.
As an adult and parent and functioning member of society, it’s easy to see my dad as totally irresponsible. And he was. People judged my dad as reckless for all the times I spent in bars with him or in the backseat as my 10 year old brother drove because my dad was too drunk. My dad was wholly and honestly himself, and he shared that freely. What can remain hidden is that for all the harm my dad did, he also cultivated a curiosity in us for how the world works and a self confidence in showing this world who we really are. Aren’t we all the most empowered when we get to be our true selves?
My dad did a lot of stupid stuff, but I never doubted that he loved me. That fact alone has made it possible for me to forgive him. It’s easier to find beauty in a desperate situation when you know you are valued. He nurtured a confidence in me that gave me the strength to break through to the other side. He advised me often to keep the song in my heart, the fire in my belly and to always walk in like you own the joint, no matter how short my pants or how busted my shoes.
I learned so much through my dad’s rare gift to really see people. He engaged and pulled out the best in folks. Both my parents had a knack for finding the folks who needed them and granting them access to their community. If you were with us, at the bar, or in our trailer, you belonged. What I came to understand is that the tragedy isn’t that I grew up in disorder and poverty; the blessing is that I was seen and loved.
The legacy my father left me was to see the humanity in everyone and engage in the world around me. My family faced a lot of challenges, like we all do, but we never went at it alone.
The Hummingbirds Foundation is named for my mom’s favorite bird and her generous soul, and our mission is inspired by my dad’s ability to engage with the world around him. The essence of being a Hummingbird is celebrating human connectedness and engaging in those connections.
Our contribution says, I may not be going through what you are going through, but I acknowledge you as my sister and value your place in our collective story.